Results of Research Proposal Feedback Session — CAC Conference 2010

During the June 2010 annual meeting of the CAC, CCI organized a brainstorming session where delegates could propose topics for potential research.

CAC members were informed prior to the meeting that CCI would be looking for their input on conservation research topics. The question posed to the members was: "What is the most important conservation problem that CCI should be addressing through research?" Members were encouraged to send in their ideas to CCI or to submit them at the meeting. Ideas were collected during the first two days of the meeting; on the third day, the delegates ranked the proposals.

Nine proposals were received prior to the meeting and 26 were submitted at the event. The top 10 issues from this year's exercise, as ranked by the conference delegates, are listed below.

  1. Investigation into the lighting of sensitive materials using light emitting diode bulbs (LEDs).
    Research on museum lighting practices and the use of new energy saving methods/technologies like LEDs. How do they compare in their performance, effect on objects, and in their cost savings for museums?

  2. Access to conservation services. The smaller museums require basic services. How can a network be developed to utilize the service of existing and underused private conservators in addressing the needs?

  3. How to consolidate leather and develop a dressing that visually and materially improves its condition.

  4. Given the recent efforts to broaden safe relative humidity (RH) guidelines for loans, I recommend additional research on the effect of RH fluctuations from 40% to 60% (or 50 ± 10%) over short time periods (12–24 hours) on sensitive artifacts such as illuminated manuscripts, thin ivory, thin lacquer ware, thin panel paintings, etc.

  5. Look into dry cleaning sponges for surface cleaning acrylic and oil paintings. Soot eraser (vulcanized rubber); cosmetic sponge wedges (latex, non-latex). Composition, residues, potential problems (if any). Are there real risks?

  6. How to engage university staff and students in many research projects at CCI.

  7. Study and treatment of copper green pigments and corrosion problems in manuscripts and works on paper. (New chemical stabilization techniques similar to calcium phytate treatment for iron gall ink?)
    Copper corrosion on paper — oxidative catalysis.

  8. Dealing with actively corroding iron metal (or other metals) with significant painted surfaces, e.g. rusting industrial objects, signs, containers, etc. that could have quite ornate paintwork on them.

  9. How to treat new materials with regards to contemporary art, i.e. how to treat synthetic materials or other non-traditional materials.

  10. Research "green alternatives" for conservation practices and their effect on cultural heritage objects (i.e. replacements for toxic solvents/surfactants, etc.).

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CCI Research

CCI has plans to address four of the topics on this list in the near future through a combination of research and training.

Lighting (#1) — In the spring of 2011, CCI will be offering a professional development workshop on lighting in display areas. This workshop will be facilitated by conservation scientists and a lighting designer, and will address various lighting options (including the new LED bulbs coming on the market) as well as tools to assist in making decisions on visibility vs. vulnerability. The workshop will also demonstrate the capabilities of new tools that have been developed to assist in making lighting decisions: the micro-fade tester (which can be used to assess the vulnerability of colorants) and the light damage slide rule (which helps predict colour loss over time).

RH guidelines (#4) — While many years of observation and experience have identified those artifacts and assemblies that are vulnerable to humidity fluctuation, there is a need to characterize this sensitivity more precisely to assist with decision-making related to collection assessment and the determination of appropriate environmental control. CCI will be putting together additional information on the vulnerability of certain classes of objects, and will be pursuing further research into the fracture of wood due to RH fluctuations. CCI is also carrying out research to refine the calculation of isoperms, which may have implications for issues such as archival storage and the use of high temperature fumigation.

Copper corrosion on paper (#7) — Research in Europe has identified a number of antioxidants that can be used to address the problem of copper-catalysed paper deterioration. CCI has planned a research project to carry out further testing based on the European research, and make recommendations on treatment approaches.

Green alternatives for conservation practices (#10) — This will be an ongoing area of development in coming years. CCI is currently preparing a paper on the use of "greener' coatings in museums.

In addition to these topics, there were two general themes that emerged from the suggestions.

One of these relates to CCI and conservators in the broader conservation community. Both response #2 (access to conservation services for small museums) and #6 (engaging university staff and students in CCI research) are a reminder that the conservation community in Canada is small, and that we need to work together to address preservation challenges.

Access to conservation services (#2) — The topic that was put forward stated the need for small museums in Canada to have access to conservators, but it is not clear whether the need expressed here relates to a lack of funds or the lack of a network. CCI is not a granting agency, so we cannot address funding issues. If there is a need for a network, is this something that could be addressed by CAC? Small museums normally look to their Provincial Museums Associations for assistance, and CCI meets regularly with representatives from these associations to discuss the needs of their member museums. CCI assists smaller museums through publications such as CCI Notes and through our workshops (which are delivered in association with the Provincial Museums Associations).

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Engaging university staff and students in CCI research (#6) — CCI has always had regular meetings and exchanges with the faculty of the Master of Art Conservation (MAC) program at Queen's University in Kingston, but there would be benefits to closer collaboration. CCI and Queen's will be meeting in the coming year to examine areas of common interest.

The other theme relates to the treatment of contemporary art. CCI does not currently have the resources to establish a research program on conservation problems related specifically to contemporary art. However, we do have expertise in the area of polymer degradation, and have published on preventive conservation of polymeric materials and some specific types of contemporary art such as outdoor murals. Conservators are encouraged to bring specific questions to CCI, and we will do our best to help answer them. It should also be noted that Dr. Alison Murray at Queen's MAC carries out research on conservation issues related to acrylics.

Although CCI is not able to address all of the items at this time, input from the conservation community is important to help us define our priorities and plan for the future. Even if we do not have resources in a particular specialized area, a demonstrated need from the community might allow us to justify moving toward or acquiring expertise in that area. We encourage you to contact us for assistance whenever you encounter a specific question with a treatment or a preservation problem. If we cannot assist you, we will put you in touch with someone who can.

I would like to thank everyone who contributed suggestions and participated in this process, and also express my appreciation to CAC for allowing us to carry out this exercise during their conference.

Charlie Costain
Associate Director General of CCI
Director, Research, Conservation and Scientific Services