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Wednesday, May 31 • 4:55pm - 5:20pm
(Unique Objects/Unique Treatment) Development of Cleaning Treatments for Asian Lacquer

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Over the last four decades, the knowledge about Asian lacquer formulations has grown exponentially, particularly through application of pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with thermally-assisted pyrolysis and methylation (THM-PyGCMS). Analytical research has revealed that Asian lacquers are complex mixtures of materials, each of which influence the behavior and deterioration processes. This perspective explains why safe and effective cleaning methods for lacquer have yet to be established. In this paper, we will describe current practice, the present state of knowledge, ethical considerations and research goals towards developing safe and effective methods of cleaning Asian lacquer. Current practice is limited to a few marginally successful methods, most of which involve aqueous cleaning. The skill of the conservator in limiting contact time of the solution dictates success, regardless of whether the solution used is low pH or simply distilled water. Asian lacquer is susceptible to blanching, sudden discoloration or erosion with the slightest misjudgment. Research on cleaning must take into account a range of lacquer formulations, which have been shown to vary by country, region and time period. By adopting the analytical protocols taught in the Getty Conservation Institute ‘Recent Advances in Characterizing Asian Lacquer' (RAdICAL) workshop, researchers around the world are establishing patterns of materials and methods, which can be used to make mockups that reflect the main components of Asian lacquer. Methods of accelerated aging, developed in research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, have produced weathered surfaces that closely approximate the appearance of naturally-aged lacquer. Better understanding of the chemistry of Asian lacquer surfaces has come from detailed analysis of aged lacquer mockups. In developing new methods, ethical issues of cleaning must be considered. What are the goals for the treatment? Removal of dirt alone seldom makes Asian lacquer look better, whereas removal of the degraded lacquer surface layer often improves the appearance by revealing a fresh, glossy subsurface layer. Should the approach to lacquer be similar to the removal of tarnish from silver, or should methods be developed that separate dirt from the degraded surface layers? Should coatings be applied to improve the appearance, or might there be a middle ground? Observation of surface interactions of the mockups with solvents, solutions and dirt surfaces will be an important aspect towards the development of effective cleaning methods for a wide range of lacquer formulations.

avatar for Marianne Webb

Marianne Webb

Conservator, Webb Conservation Services
Marianne Webb is an independent conservator and researcher on the west coast of Canada. Previously she was the Decorative Arts Conservator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto where she developed her keen interest in Asian and western lacquer. Marianne received an honor’s degree... Read More →

avatar for Herant Khanjian

Herant Khanjian

Assistant Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute
Herant Khanjian received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from California State University, Northridge and has been a member in the Science department of the Getty Conservation Institute since 1988. His research interests involve the detection and identification of organic media... Read More →
avatar for Michael R. Schilling

Michael R. Schilling

Senior Scientist, Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage
Michael Schilling is head of Materials Characterization research at the Getty Conservation Institute, which focuses on development of analytical methods for studying classes of materials used by artists and conservators. He specializes in gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 4:55pm - 5:20pm
Crystal Ballroom B Lobby Level, West Tower

Attendees (125)