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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: From Trash to Treasure

by Conservation


Lining paintings , conservation science , conservation research , behind the scenes , conservation

Along with many other areas of research, conservation scientists test the materials that conservators use in treating works of art.  They employ the best analytical approaches to ensure that we conserve with materials that will remain stable, and reversible, over time.  Often though, the scientists encounter the problem of determining how a material ages.  It is rarely possible to wait for years or decades for a test sample to age naturally.  Conservation scientists therefore usually use “artificial aging,” applying excessive light and/or heat to mimic the effects of time.   While the results provide good data, they are still based on a simulation.

In recent weeks here at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Paintings/Objects lab was emptied out to prepare for renovation.  The space has functioned as a conservation lab for the past seventy or more years, so there were a lot of nooks and crannies to empty out.

Buried in one of the deep storage areas was this small collection of sample linings.  The scrap paintings and mock-ups were lined to several different fabrics, with a variety of conservation adhesives, and all were carefully labeled.  They seemed to have been done by the museum’s conservators thirty to forty years ago.  Most of the materials and techniques employed to make the samples are no longer used, but paintings conservators today certainly come across paintings that have been lined with them.

Not wanting to waste such a treasure trove of naturally aged samples, our paintings conservator reached out to the Getty Foundation, which launched an international initiative to study the lining of paintings a few years ago.  The Getty in turn reached out to the program’s participants, and within a couple of days, the samples were snapped up by a conservation scientist at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  They truly went from trash to treasure!