The Conservators go to Montreal, Part 1

--Stacey Kelly, Paper Conservation Fellow

Last month, the paper conservators at the Amon Carter travelled to Montreal for the 44th Annual Conservation Meeting organized by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property (CAC). The meeting featured numerous talks covering multiple disciplines in conservation, including books and paper, photographic materials, paintings, textiles, objects, and so on. There were also hands-on workshops focusing on new conservation techniques, networking receptions, discussion groups, exhibitions, and various other activities related to the historical and cultural areas of Montreal.

Conservation techniques are constantly evolving with the development of new technologies and materials. Jodie Utter, conservator of works on paper, and I, paper conservation fellow, had the chance to attend a workshop on the application of rigid Gellan gels used for conservation treatment. Gellan gel is a nontoxic biopolymer produced naturally by a microorganism. In conservation, the gel is formed in sheets of varying thickness and sizes for controlled wet treatments. The gel, when placed over paper, pulls soluble degradation products out via osmosis. Compared to other treatment methods, it is a gentle process that minimizes changes in the surface of the paper.

During the workshop, we made several batches of Gellan gel in different concentrations. We also tested gels with different additives like alkali and reductive bleach on aged and discolored paper samples provided by the organizers. Take a look at the pictures below to see the Gellan gels in action.

Luckily, I won a bag of Gellan gum in a drawing at the end of the workshop! Needless to say, we are excited to practice some of the techniques we learned at the workshop in our own lab.

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Above: An excited Jodie watching the preparation of Gellan gel.

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Above: Mixing the different ingredients needed for a batch of Gellan gel.

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Above: Placing a sheet of Gellan gel on a discolored sample.

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Above: Removing the Gellan gel after "washing" a discolored sample.

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Above: A sheet of Gellan gel showing the discoloration removed from the paper sample after 15 minutes.

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Above: Discolored used sheets of Gellan gel.

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Above: Gellan gum for the Amon Carter's lab!