Time to Get Cleaning

It’s been another exciting two weeks working in the lab. Among some great bonding activities such as cheering for the US soccer team in the world cup and experimenting with liquid nitrogen ice cream flavors, work has finally begun on making new comparisons of the solvent cleaning methods. As a recap, we are comparing the effects of solvent treatment using a free solvent versus gel-solvent form on 10 year old paint samples. We had previously treated samples with methoxypropanol, and we are continuing to treat those samples on a weekly basis. This past week we began treating new samples with isopropanol. A 2% isopropanol gel was made and applied to one sample using a tissue method while another sample was swabbed with plain isopropanol. The results of the first test runs showed that the gel-solvent only penetrated to a depth of roughly 150 um, which is less than even the methoxypropanol gel. The plain isopropanol sample produced interesting results with two peaks of signal reaching further into the paint. At this time, we have not been able to explain the appearance of the two peaks, but the reason for them may become more clear as the treatment is repeated. The plan moving forward is to continue repeating the treatments on both samples on a weekly basis. Readings of the samples will be made while they are dry and wet which allows us to see the signal that results from the solvent alone once the difference of the data is taken; essentially removing any signal pertaining to the paint. Though at first glance it appears that the gel-solvent is indeed showing less signal at a more shallow depth, the repeated trials will tell us if this trend holds.

Perhaps the most exciting event from the past two weeks was taking a field trip of sorts to the conservation labs at the Colonial Williamsburg facilities. It was a very educational experience for us to see what the physical aspects of art restoration and conservation look like. We met with the head painting conservator and discussed some of the cleaning methods and solvents she uses to give us a better understanding of how the techniques we are studying could be applied in a conservation setting. We also got ideas for other areas of painting conservation that would be worth while and interesting studies, such as the effects seen in the paint due to lining the backs of canvases with wax during restoration which provides stability but could compromise the chemistry of the paint. This trip did a lot for confirming my interest in art conservation and giving me a glimpse as to a possible career path. I look forward to further exploring the world of art conservation and contributing to it with the work I am doing this summer and beyond.


  1. gladysshaw15 says:

    It is so interesting how the worlds of science and humanities mix together so well. Also, it is great to see how the two worlds are used for career fields many think is devoid of science. I think more examples that mix the two worlds of art and science should be introduced to middle and high school students to help keep interest in STEM fields high, especially for young women in the upcoming generation.

  2. Marshall says:

    I am glad your research has given you insight on possible career options! Unfortunately for me, research has only made me more confused about my career options. After almost a year of research, I realize that there is vast potential in terms of research; however, I may want work somewhere that is different, that allows for a multitude of experiences. For me, I don’t want to feel trapped in a career, but then again, I am severely under-educated in terms of adulthood.
    Also, I am curious as to how many people are against art conservation, as they may feel that the painting will not be “natural”.