Graduate Symposium


The conference-style event was created to not only demonstrate the commendable work and high level of research that students put into their dissertation projects, but like our other conferences meaningfully contribute to the existing body of knowledge in our field with insightful inquiries.

We hope this will be an opportunity for recent graduates to celebrate their achievement and share their work among the wider BPG community. Abstracts of the dissertations presented can be found below.


2023 Winter

Movement and Degradation of Optical Brighteners in Local Treatment

Fenna Engelke, University of Amsterdam

Optical brightening agents (OBAs) are a ubiquitous part of our surroundings. They have been used in paper since the 1950s and can cause issues during treatment due to their solubility in water.

Inspired by a treatment where OBAs migrated from a tape carrier into an intaglio paper without OBAs, this research looks into the potential consequences of the presence of OBAs in a paper that previously did not have them. Paper samples were created to compare local treatment with OBAs and local treatment without OBAs. These samples were then aged and compared.

The aged samples with optical brighteners do show examples of OBA deterioration by way of quenching and discoloration. However, the results also act as a general warning about the discoloration and effects that can occur due to local application of water during treatment regardless of OBAs. Additional observations from this research include a cautionary tale of the presence of optical brighteners in plastics and the ease of the migration of OBAs between disparate materials.

Close Encounters of the Archival Kind: Considerations for Treatment of a UFO Scrapbook

Emma Guerard, SUNY Buffalo State College

The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections include the Science Fiction and Popular Culture Collections. These collections bring together materials related to the creators of popular genre fiction and the communities of fans and enthusiasts that grow from their special interests.

A scrapbook of magazine and newspaper stories related to sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), or “flying saucers,” was donated to the library. Consisting of clippings from popular magazines like “Life” and “Look” dated from 1947 to 1956, the scrapbook reflects mainstream American reactions to the UFO phenomenon.

As part of the final internship year, these fragile ephemeral materials were selected for treatment to stabilize the scrapbook for digitization, classroom use, and access to researchers. The treatment eventually presented an opportunity to redesign the treatment plan to account for the ecological impact of materials used. Treatment focused on stabilizing clippings adhered with pressure sensitive adhesive tape to the album pages. Staining on the album pages was deemed appropriate as an indicator of the original process of making the scrapbook, but staining on the clipping made printed magazine pages translucent and difficult to read

. After initial tests with solvent reduction of the stains, it was apparent that the volume of solvent needed for the full treatment could have a negative environmental impact in the immediate area. Rather than seeking an alternate solvent for stain reduction, the treatment plant was revised to prioritize mechanical stability of the object and reversibility of the treatment to allow for a future, greener approach to stain reduction.

Climate Change: How Are Latin American Conservator Playing Their Role?

Josefa Orrego Trincado, Unversity College London

Climate change effects are becoming increasingly evident worldwide, with actions requiring a multi-actor and multisector approach. Conservators are not exempt from this issue: its impacts challenge their duty to protect and preserve heritage. Simultaneously, it confronts them to rethink and modify their practices, which may be undesirably contributing to the climate crisis. Recent tools and resources are being developed to assist conservators in making more informed decisions regarding environmental sustainability. Nonetheless, these discussions are led mainly by conservation bodies and networks from the Global North, prompting the question of what is being done in other regions. Interviews were conducted to acknowledge how Latin American conservators address climate change within their practice.

Findings revealed their awareness of unsustainable activities involved in conservation, mainly concerning the use of certain solvents and energy-consuming environmental parameters. Among their initiatives to combat this reality were reusing materials, reducing the use of hazardous chemicals, and researching less toxic alternatives. While environmental concerns led to these actions, other relevant aspects boosted these initiatives too, i.e., complex material procurement and financial constraints. In this regard, although Latin America might initially seem challenging for a “best practice” conservation, its reality triggers positive changes toward environmentally sustainable conservation. Finally, the importance of exchanging experiences and solutions found locally was highlighted, as it can be valuable information to enrich and diversify the paths for reducing the environmental impact of conservation in the region.

Conclusively, tackling climate change can be pursued differently, and it is through collaboration that positive results are achieved.

Mercury in Mamluk Manuscripts: Block-stamped Leather Doblures and Paper-Discolouration in Islamic Bindings

Luca van der Zande, University of Amsterdam

A group of seven Islamic bindings in the University Library Leiden from the Mamluk era (1250-1516) show a pattern of paper discolouration on the pages adjacent to block-stamped leather doublures. A combination of XRF and UV-fluorescence has proven that mercury is present in the discoloured areas of the paper. Imaging with visible light, raking light and a multispectral camera were used to conclude that the paper discolouration occurs solely at contact pointswith the leather, indicating that the mercury originated from the leather, although no mercury was detected in the leather itself.

Literature research was conducted to find a possible explanation for the presence of mercury in the manuscripts. Besides artistic use the medicinal use of mercury was common in the Islamic world, mainly in the form of mercuric chloride and elemental mercury. Its application to human skin and its use as a toxin against pests such as lice or nits explain its presence in leather. In later centuries, mercury was used as a preservative or biocide.

The bookbinder or tanner could have applied mercury to the leather as a preservative or biocide, likely in the form of mercuric chloride or elemental mercury, which could be dissolved in lipids. Over the centuries it has disappeared from the leather through migration and possibly sublimation. Block-stamping created relief, resulting in air pockets where the mercury may have sublimated. At the contact points between the doublures and the paper, the mercury migrated into the paper instead, acting as a catalyst for discolouration.

A Brief Introduction on Chinese Book Publishing Practice During 1920s-1940s

Yuhong Zhang, University of Melbourne

Yuhong will be presenting her findings on Chinese book publishing practice during the modern era, 1920s-1940s: an insight on the history, printing techniques, paper manufacturing and collection survey. This talk is stemmed from her dissertation ‘Care and Collection Survey of the Modern and Contemporary Chinese Women’s Dress Collection at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne.’ Five aspects will be covered during her presentation.

Firstly, Chinese Collection project, where she conducted condition assessments on a set of Chinese cultural materials including thirty booklets and eleven embroidery knitting pattern books. Secondly, she will talk about historic background of China in modern era through a timeline and explain how the complexity of that time period has impacted on the research of China’s publishing practice.

The third part is about manufacturing techniques which covers practices on paper making and printing, and different book binding styles. In this section, Yuhong would also like to discuss what is the suitable way to describe Chinese collection under Western art institution setting. The fourth will cover collection survey to provide an example of documenting Chinese collections and some thoughts she gained from the process, and finally her conclusions through her dissertation.


2022 Summer

The (im)permanence of fading smoke: A conservation case study of Diane Victor’s soot drawings

Laura Esser, University of Pretoria, South Africa. 


Even though soot has been used for thousands of years, it is relatively unexplored as a medium in contemporary art. Only a handful of artists internationally have created works from soot. The South African artist Diane Victor is one such artist who has explored the medium,using candles to create magnificent artworks on paper, and more recently on stone and glass. The main focus of this mini-dissertation is a detailed artist interview that records Diane Victor’s technique, material use and preferences regarding transport, installation and exhibition of her soot drawings. More importantly, the artist’s interview explores the artist's intent regarding the stability and longevity of her soot drawings, as Diane Victor does not use fixatives on her soot drawings. This preference imparts a certain fragility to the artworks placing them at risk of smudging, lifting of pigment and abrasion, in addition to tears, staining and distortion of the paper through improper handling, poor exhibition techniques or accidental events. Although Diane Victor has returned to and reworked drawings she has made in the past to repair damage to the image, she would instead leave damage to the paper substrate to the expertise of conservators, and there is as such a need to better understand her preferences in addition to the material itself. The artist interview attends to the former, whilst a detailed visual documentation of soot drawings samples attends to the latter. Using various lighting techniques and microscopy, the dissertation hopes to highlight the relationship between the paper fibres and the soot; to establish a baseline for future research into how these fragile artworks could be stabilised and conserved. 

Research on the ageing and removal properties of seaweed adhesive "Shi Hua Cai" applied to traditional Asian mounting

Zaffer Chan, Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan. 


“Shi Hua Cai” is a seaweed used as adhesive for traditional mounting in Hong Kong SAR and the Guangdong Province, China. It is a natural polysaccharide derived from Florideophyceae as plant-based adhesives. Due to inadequate scientific basis and uncertain species definition found in traditional literature, part of this research attempt the genus identification through literature review, gelling property, and physical appearance. The impact of “Shi Hua Cai” paste on the paper support’s color and folding endurance were examined after accelerated aging, the changes in viscosity and pH value of the paste stored in hot and cold environments were analyzed. The removability of the paste was conducted via the measurement of the paste coated filter paper’s conductivity, weight, and color difference before and after washing. 

“Shi Hua Cai” is mistakenly referred to Gelidium species, now determined to be Eucheuma denticulatum. Carrageenan remains tacky solution at room temperature. “Shi hua cai” paste had shown to improve the folding endurance of filter paper and Xuan paper after 28 days of accelerated aging with increasing paste concentration. The UV aging had a more significant impact on the paper fibres than heat and humidity aging, resulting in a greater drop in folding endurance. The colour change of filter paper was more apparent under UV aging, whereas Xuan paper had similar colour change in both types of aging. Viscosity and pH value of the dropped at a slower rate in cold environment, with no obvious changes in chemical structure within 14 days from its FTIR spectrum analysis. Experiment result showed that “Shi Hua Cai” paste made trace colour difference. The paste is removable with water, with its weight and conductivity dropped with subsequent washing. 

Getting a grip on Delaware solutions in agarose: a literature review of chelators in rigid gel for paper conservation treatments

Elizabeth Gralton, University of Melbourne, Australia. 


In recent years, in Australia, paper conservators have increasingly used a set of six of aqueous solutions, developed at the University of Delaware, for paper washing. The use of these conductivity-adjusted ‘Delaware’ solutions, containing chelating agents and buffers, and the specific method of delivery using agarose gel poultices is also taught in the Masters of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne. Few publications, however, are devoted to the use of chelating agents in agarose gel for use on paper. The increasing use of the ‘Delaware’ solutions in Australia for paper conservation treatments has raised many questions among conservators and students. How and in what circumstances do chelating agents work to reduce discolouration? Should conservators be concerned about what these chelators are removing from the paper and what they’re leaving behind? What exactly is the impact of conductivity on paper? And what are the implications of using agarose gel for applying and removing these solutions? 

My dissertation is an initial attempt to acknowledge many of the areas of uncertainty and to synthesise the relevant literature in a way that could be useful to professionals and students. 

The Identification and Conservation of Blood on Paper

Heidi Forsyth, Northumbria University, UK. 


Little has been researched regarding the identification and conservation of blood on paper despite the documented presence of bloodstains in collections and an increasing number of contemporary artists utilizing blood in their work. Equipment used in conservation science, such as Raman spectroscopy, high-performance liquid chromatography, atomic force microscopy, and MALDI-TOF mass spectroscopy, can be highly conclusive in detecting blood. However, the equipment is costly and requires extensive training to use, making these options inaccessible to many conservators. Cost-effective, fast, easy to use, and thoroughly researched presumptive and confirmative blood detection tests used in situ by forensic scientists have the potential to be integrated into conservation practices. These tests, which utilize the peroxidase activity of haemoglobin and immunology, can identify whether suspected bloodstains contain haemoglobin or primate antigens. Thus, they are much more effective than methods, such as x-ray fluorescence (XRF), used in conservation to detect the iron ions found in bloodstains. Methods such as this can lead to mistakenly identifying the iron-containing and similarly appearing iron-gall ink as blood and vice versa. Providing an overview of the molecular properties of blood, blood detection methods, DNA degradation, conservation and storage recommendations, safe handling of bio-hazardous materials, and ethical considerations via a thorough literature review will aid paper conservators in making informed decisions regarding objects with bloodstains. 


2021 Autumn

The Gel, the Colour, and the Complexing Agent: An Investigation of a Rigid Gel Application of Benzotriazole for Verdigris-Damaged Paper

Leah Humenuck, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, UK. 


The aim of this research was an investigation into creating a rigid gel application of benzotriazole (BTA), a complexing agent, as a new potential way of treating verdigris-damaged paper. Various gel recipes were mixed and tested on historical samples. The gel recipes varied in gellan gel concentration, BTA/solvent solution concentration, and BTA concentration. The recipe effectiveness was assessed using Hulthe’s indicator paper and MQuantTM Test Cu indicator strips, two types of indicator papers which detect free copper ions. The results showed that rigid gel application of BTA is effective in complexing the copper ions which may inhibit further damage to the paper caused by free copper ions. Some of the other effects of the gel were the simultaneous removal of paper discolouration by the gel. Further research is needed to refine the gel recipes as well as the treatment process to prevent or reduce potential tidelines and other possible negative side- effects of gel treatment. 

The full thesis is available in the library at West Dean College.  

Conservation and restoration of chromolithography “Hercegovina′s slaves”

Lidija Martinović, Academy of Art Novi Sad, University of Novi Sad, Serbia. 


Master thesis was designed as research in both artistic and scientific field of paper conservation dealing with the research of chromolithography as one of the printing techniques and conducting conservation - restoration treatment of the chromolithography "Herzegovina slaves" from the collection of the Gallery of Matica Srpska from Novi Sad (Serbia). The first part of the paper refers to the historiographical research of the occurrence and development of the technique of chromolithography, which appeared at the end of the 19th century in Western Europe. In addition to the research on historical and cultural climate which have conditioned mass production of the reproductions of oil paintings made on paper, special attention was paid to reveal the characteristics of the technique of lithography. The way the printing process has been implemented to reach a final product is important for the research of the main topic of this master theses. By answering these issues, we come to a better understanding of the very technique and its importance for our cultural heritage. The second part of the paper describes planning and implementation of conservation - restoration treatment. Selecting an appropriate way of removing surface dirt is key to the aesthetic result of the conservation, where the goal is to avoid or reduce color loss. During the cleaning, we insisted on a combination of water-based solvents in the form of buffer solutions with the addition of surfactants, as well as mechanical methods. The big challenge was the structural restoration of the losses of the paper support, which affected the stability of the work. Paper with appropriate thickness and color that best suits the original was selected for the inserts. The restoration of the painted layer (retouching) was a big challenge due to the presence of the brown overpainting at the upper right corner. This non aesthetic layer was impossible to remove during cleaning, so it was minimized with the retouching, as well as other losses of in the paint layer. The conclusion of the paper has completed the overall topic with the aim to resume the facts about the chromolithography as a historical technique and to present one typical example of its conservation and restoration, analysed from a scientific and artistic point of view. 

A Library and Information Science Informed Conservation Paradigm

Lauren Moon-Schott, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, UK. 


Conservation emerged as a distinct field during the second industrial revolution, coinciding with the formal division between libraries, archives, and museums. While the value of historic objects was already well established in the social conscious, books and other library materials were slower to be recognised for the value of their tangible nature, and largely escaped the attention of the emerging conservation field. This means that early conservation, an object-oriented profession, developed in tandem with the museum field, and became inherently linked to its values. This influence is still reflected in the objects-based ethics that have traditionally dominated the conservation mindset. Book and paper conservators, more often found in libraries and archives than museums, have long acknowledged the difference between static museum objects on display and the dynamic nature of books destined for user’s hands, but only recently has conservation literature begun to reflect a new, human-centric approach more appropriate to their needs. This thesis proposes reframing the conservation paradigm through the lens of library and information science (LIS), a field which from its foundation has centralised the needs of the institutional user rather than the perceived needs of a personified object. Within this paradigm, objects are understood as semiotic tools for the storage and transmission of information, and damage to the object as noise on an information channel. When faced with a responsibility to the user’s needs as a central mandate, conservation decision making benefits from the myriad tools developed by LIS professionals to mediate user’s information seeking behaviors, and conservators become an integral component to collections access, rather than its gatekeepers. 

The full thesis is available in the library at West Dean College. 


Fragile layers: Consolidation of the Painted Designs in Turkey Red Pattern Books

Bethany Procopio, Northumbria University, UK. 


This dissertation focuses on the consolidation of friable paint on paper in the context of a particular case study concerning pattern books used in the manufacture of Turkey red textiles, on loan to Northumbria University from the National Museum of Scotland. This selection of 15 unbound pages features hand-painted designs, which, due to the high pigment volume concentration (PVC) of the paint as well as the handling of the pages as practical items, have suffered damages in the form of flaking and powdering paint. The delicate nature and fragile condition of the paint as well as the complex construction of these double-sided, collaged pages presented challenging conditions for consolidation. 

Research was conducted into the materiality of the paint through historical references as well as technical analysis. ATR-FTIR analysis appears to have evidenced the theory that the red paint is an alizarin lake, known in this context as Turkey red precipitate. A similar paint was reconstructed based on an historic recipe in order to create samples for comparing consolidation methods. 

Based on the literature review, Funori, isinglass, gelatine, Paraloid B72, methyl cellulose and ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose were selected and various application methods were tested, including brush application, with and without a vapour-saturated atmosphere, and the use of an ultrasonic nebuliser. Although subject to further testing, the most likely options for the consolidation of the painted designs were ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose for local applications and Funori in an ultrasonic nebuliser for general applications.