Akron, OH

The "sticky business" of preserving antique artworks

Paul Krasinic

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Students at Conservation Centeruakron.edu

AKRON, OH — Collaboration between The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University (NYU) and The University of Akron’s (UA) School of Polymer Science and Engineering has resulted in a collaborative research endeavor to find better lining adhesives for the conservation of canvas paintings, going from Old Masters to Modern and Contemporary painters. The Getty Foundation funded the research as part of its Conserving Canvas project, which focuses on developing knowledge and skills for the structural preservation of paintings on canvas.

The research collaboration tackles a vital need for the development of a viable alternative for the original formulation of Beva 371, the industry standard for lining adhesion in painting restoration that is no longer supported by market ingredients. Conservators and scientists will collaborate to fine-tune and maximize the adhesion performance of the new lining adhesive materials and to customize their strength to reduce dangers to the diverse types of paintings on canvas.

Throughout the grant period, Michele D. Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation and chair of the Conservation Center at NYU, and Christopher McGlinchey, senior research scholar at NYU's Conservation Center and the initiative's project director, will oversee this multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary project.

The project was developed in response to proposals from prominent experts in the area, following a gathering of the international painting conservation community in 2019, the Conserving Canvas Symposium, convened by the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University with support from the Getty Foundation.

“The Getty Foundation’s generous grant brings together two industrious institutions at the cutting edge of museum work and applied macromolecular chemistry,” remarked Marincola.

According to McGlinchey, “The Linings Adhesive project has all the promise of fulfilling a crucial need in the conservation field. We aim as well to take advantage of the emerging trend of bespoke polymer structure, something perfectly suited for the demanding but limited scale that conservation materials comprise for the chemical industry. The award affirms the Conservation Center at NYU continues to lead the field of identifying the qualities of those carefully tailored conservation materials.”

The two-year project will include two postgraduate fellows: a Getty Conserving Canvas Research Fellow based at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, and a Getty Conserving Canvas Science Fellow based at The University of Akron.

The Fellows will report to Marincola; McGlinchey; NYU’s Clinical Professor Dianne Modestini; Ali Dhinojwala, interim director of the School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering at the UA; and Abraham Joy, professor of polymer science at the UA.

Dhinojwala observed, “We are excited to collaborate with the IFA Conservation Center at New York University on this innovative project. Our goals are to develop new adhesive formulations for adhering paintings on canvas. We already have several key ideas on how to formulate the next generation of adhesives and are looking forward to working with a talented cross-disciplinary group of experts. The sharing of expertise amongst our two institutions and colleagues will result in innovative research that will have a significant impact on the future approach to the conservation of canvas paintings.”

Experts gather virtually in late September 2021 to kick-off the project. In the long term, the team will host two further expert meetings in New York and Florence in 2022 and 2023 that will archive, discuss and disseminate the program's research on adhesion science. Another conservator training course will be scheduled during summer of 2023.

The project's additional members include conservators from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art—together with scientists from Virginia Tech, Paris Tech and Delft University of Technology's Adhesion Institute.

Conservation scientists from SUNY Buffalo State College, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and the University of Amsterdam will also participate. The program is working with industrial partner CTS Conservation.

"Conservation has always been a core area of our grantmaking,” said Antoine Wilmering, senior program officer at the Getty Foundation, who oversees the Conserving Canvas initiative. “This project is an exciting and essential step forward in identifying a viable alternative to Beva 371. The paintings conservation community worldwide will be eagerly awaiting the results.”

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