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Thursday, June 1 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Wooden Artifacts) Old Meets New: Consolidation Techniques

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As Chinese export lacquer degrades, it becomes increasingly more sensitive to staining by polar solvents. This is a particular problem when trying to consolidate the lifting and cracked surfaces that frequently occur on export lacquer pieces. Choosing a consolidation material and method often becomes a difficult challenge. Proteinaceous adhesives, such as hide glue or fish glue, are more sympathetic with the binder in the ground, making retreatment in the future simpler. However, these adhesives are transported in an aqueous solution which can be damaging to the lacquer surface. As part of my fellowship year, I was charged with treating a six-paneled screen in need of extensive consolidation. Standard consolidation techniques which had been used for the treatment of other export lacquer pieces within the collection were proven to be too damaging to the screen for two reasons. One, the screen had never been varnished, leaving the lacquer surface exposed to staining from consolidants, and two, it was highly sensitive to both water and ethanol. Synthetic adhesives, such as Lascaux MFC and Plextol B500 were tested and were deemed insufficiently strong. Additionally, because the screen was being treated as part of a collection of objects as part of an IMLS grant, consistency between interventions was highly desirable. Three major changes to the technique were made. First, the humidification technique was abandoned; the combination of heat from warmed steel shot baggies and injected 1:1 ethanol:water created a microclimate that severely damaged the lacquer surface. Instead, Vivak, a clear acrylic used in mount making, was bent to form long, rectangular humidification chambers that removed contact of liquid solvents with the lacquer surface. Second, fish glue, with its longer open time and fluidity at room temperature, replaced the hide glue, which required frequent reheating of the needle to maintain fluidity. Last, and most important, a new consolidation technique using silicone solvents to flood the surface and protect it from excess adhesive was tried. Silicone solvents D4 and D5 had been successfully used as part of a cleaning regimen as a protective barrier for another lacquered piece in Winterthur's collection. As a barrier for consolidation, they were found to not stain the surface, to evaporate slowly enough to allow the removal of excess adhesive safely, and to not leave any noticeable change to the surface after evaporation. This new technique has been extremely successful when applied correctly and was particularly helpful in stabilizing this particularly difficult object.

avatar for Elizabeth Peirce

Elizabeth Peirce

Objects Conservator, Library of Congress
I studied Art Conservation for my undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware (2009), then came to the UK to get my MA in Principles of Conservation (2013) and my MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums (2015) at the University College of London. After graduating from... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 2:30pm - 3:00pm CDT
Acapulco Ballroom Level, West Tower