The CAPS workshops integrate emerging scientific research (from the GCI’s Modern Paints project and from research leaders such as Tate, the Dow Chemical Company and the University of Delaware) with the latest perspectives on cleaning technology within art conservation as provided in the workshop venues by practicing conservators.
Cleaning acrylic paintings has been a challenge for paintings conservators. Dirt and grime becomes tenaciously adhered to acrylic surfaces due to the physical properties and composition of acrylic media. Acrylic paintings can be very sensitive to aqueous (water-based) cleaning solutions, but non-polar organic solvents that are safe for acrylic surfaces have poor cleaning efficacy. Acrylic paint surfaces can also exhibit marked changes in gloss, clarity and character when cleaning is attempted, and may also clean unevenly. Yet, as is well known in the FSR lab, the appearance of an acrylic painting is very dependent upon the maintenance of subtle surface characteristics; thus, the difficulty in obtaining good cleaning results becomes obvious!
The workshop in Ottawa was ably instructed by eminent conservation professionals: Tom Learner and Alan Phenix, both Conservation Scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute, Bronwyn Ormsby, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Tate,
London, UK, and Chris Stavroudis, an experienced private conservator in Los Angeles, CA. Eighteen participants from Canada, the US and Europe attended the four day workshop, which included lectures on new advances in cleaning of acrylic paints and a significant amount of hands-on application and testing of different materials and approaches.
From the lectures and the lab activities, Sarah learned an enormous amount about the technology of acrylic paints and the cleaning of acrylic painted surfaces. She was able to test commercial and custom prepared cleaning materials on acrylic paint surfaces, and participated in group discussions to evaluate materials, techniques, applicability and effectiveness. Of particular interest were new testing protocols for cleaning acrylic media, control of conductivity in aqueous cleaning systems, formulation of new micro-emulsion formulas that combine water, nonpolar organic solvents and surfactants, comparative effectiveness for dry surface cleaning materials and the use of silicone solvents and silicone gel cleaning preparations.
Back at the FSR lab, the conservators are already acquiring new cleaning materials and applying the testing and cleaning systems that were presented. In September, the FSR paintings conservators cleaned an oversize acrylic painting by David Millar, received from the Yukon Department of Tourism, removing dirt and grime with the new cleaning materials and systems.