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Title: Conserving tangible and intangible cultural heritage : cleaning degraded East Asian lacquer
Author: McSharry, Carolyn Heather
ISNI:       0000 0004 2682 0680
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2010
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East Asian lacquer (urushi) is a natural, thermosetting polymer, characterised by its durability and gloss. Prolonged exposure to light, however, causes photodegradation, which initiates microcracking in the surface layers. Accumulation of dirt, grease, or non-original materials, such as varnishes applied during attempted restoration, contributes to deterioration of the lacquer’s appearance through discolouration. This build up must be removed in order to conserve affected pieces, and the potential use of solvents to achieve this aim is investigated here. This work presents a review of the chemistry of this unique material, and the distinction between different East Asian lacquers is investigated. Valuable, rare lacquer samples could not be taken from naturally aged museum pieces in order to investigate the applicability of solvents in cleaning conservation processes, and so the damage featured on the models used was recreated artificially. The advantages and limitations of such an approach are assessed in terms of the practical value of the resulting samples as credible models compared to the naturally aged material. In free film studies, solubility parameters were determined for a range of lacquers, and the morphological changes that result from solvent exposure are also investigated to determine potential ‘safe’ solvents for conservation cleaning. These studies show that most solvents are damaging to photodegraded lacquers to some extent, and the possible risks must be assessed against the need for removal of a damaging layer. The findings reported here have implications for the choice of solvents used in conservation cleaning, but other solvent properties and behaviours must be considered along with these data when identifying the least damaging, yet effective solvents.
Supervisor: Faulkner, Rupert ; Shaffer, Milo ; Rivers, Shayne Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral