Polymers in Art Conservation

The field of art conservation routinely uses polymer resins to repair and protect artworks that have been damaged.  The requirements for these polymer materials must meet various demands, the most important being that the resins can be removed or retreated without harming the original artwork, which may be thousands of years old.  The adhesive must also be stable for decades and ideally be nearly invisible by matching the refractive index of the repair to the material of the artwork.  In addition, although the repaired bonds must be strong, they should not be too strong such that any future fracture occurs in the bond at the existing fault lines and not a new locations in the art.

For historical reasons the field of conservation has long used a series of different acrylic resins originally developed by Rohm & Haas.  Although there is great interest within the field about the properties and best uses of these materials, there is limited funding available for direct fundamental research on these resins.

In collaboration with Chief Conservator Renée Stein at Emory’s Carlos Museum, the Roth lab is conducting research projects with undergraduate students to characterize these polymers used in the preservation and restoration of artworks.

As polymer properties are highly dependent on how they are prepared, we are hoping to provide some scientific insight into the various preparation steps commonly used in the field in an effort to understand which steps are important and why/how a given resin may function better in a given environment.

Sunmin Kim at the Carlos Museum Conservation Lab next to an ancient Egyptian coffin lid dating back to the 22nd Dynasty (900-700 BC).  Repair locations in white are visible, corresponding to B-72 bulked with glass miscrospheres that was injected into the cracks and around fragments as part of a triage treatment to stabilize the piece for transport to Atlanta.

Honors theses research by Benjamin Kasavan and Olivia Boyd have characterized the glass transition, refractive index, and fracture stress of various resins and blends.  Sunmin Kim is currently continuing these efforts.