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Thursday, May 16 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Tough Challenges Need New Techniques) Use Of Er:Yag Laser Systems to Target Cleaning Challenges at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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For over 15 years, the conservation staff at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been carrying out treatments with a neodinium laser (Nd:YAG, 1064 nm), a tool increasingly recognized for its unique cleaning potential. More recently, an erbium laser cleaning system (Er:YAG, 2094 nm) was gifted to the Gardner’s conservation department with the express purpose of using it to learn more about its potential for cleaning works of art. Previous studies have shown that an Er:YAG laser works well in removing some types of aesthetically unappealing surface layers from art works in a more controlled and beneficial way than other cleaning techniques. Hydroxyl or OH-containing molecules absorb the erbium energy particularly well, or a solution containing a hydroxyl group, such as water or alcohol, can be added to a surface that does not already contain it. Energy absorption is restricted to the upper surface layer, and the unwanted material is broken down so that it can then be reduced or removed with gentle swabbing. The Gardner Museum staff and other local colleagues continue to test options for using this new tool and will review some successful Er:YAG cleaning applications on both objects and paintings. For instance, darkened and intractable layers, such as bronze powder (copper-alloy metal flake) paints and waxes that are often a challenge to remove from delicate gilt surfaces, appear to respond well to cleaning with the Er:YAG laser. Use of the Er:YAG laser can significantly reduce the amount of mechanical action required to clean these fragile surfaces. Similarly, darkened and oxidized varnish layers on a late 18th century oil painting that required strong solvent mixtures for reduction were targeted with the Er:YAG laser and then easily reduced with isopropanol. In addition to reducing abrasion of the paint film, there are also health benefits to working with less toxic solvents. The Gardner Conservators have also found that the Er:YAG laser can work in partnership with an Nd:YAG laser for certain applications. Nd:YAG lasers are commonly used to remove black pollution crusts from stone surfaces, however, a darkened appearance is often revealed below the crust. The Er:YAG laser system was extremely effective in reducing this appearance on an ancient marble sarcophagus after pollution crust removal with an Nd:YAG laser system. The Er:YAG laser was also employed for select cleaning in areas of pollution crusts that were either known or suspected to be obscuring original ancient pigment and gilding. In these areas the Nd:YAG laser might remove any original paint, however, the Er:YAG laser system could slowly reduce pollution crust in thin layers, exposing original pigment and gold in several locations. The Nd:YAG laser has become one of the essential tools in the Gardner conservation toolbox – like a scalpel or a swab. In these early stages of working with the Er:YAG laser, it appears possible to add another tool to that box, which has great potential for controlled and safe cleaning of artworks in the museum’s collection.

avatar for Jessica Chloros

Jessica Chloros

Objects Conservator, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Jessica Chloros is the Objects Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where she has worked since 2008. In 2007, she received her M.S. in Art Conservation, specializing in objects, from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She has completed... Read More →
avatar for Holly Salmon

Holly Salmon

John L. and Susan K. Gardner Director of Conservation, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Holly Salmon is the John L. and Susan K. Gardner Director of Conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where she has worked for 15 years. She received her M.S. in Art Conservation from the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2001. Her internships... Read More →

avatar for Ellen Promise

Ellen Promise

Conservator, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Ellen Promise (MS, Art Conservation, Winterthur/University of Delaware, 2012) was a third-year conservation intern at the Peabody Museum in 2012 and conservation assistant in 2013 focusing on MALDI analysis (peptide mass fingerprinting). She is currently a Samuel H Kress Conservation... Read More →
avatar for Gianfranco Pocobene

Gianfranco Pocobene

Principal, Gianfranco Pocobene Studio
Gianfranco Pocobene is the Principal of Gianfranco Pocobene Studio specializing in the treatment of easel paintings and murals. He is also the Chief Paintings and Research Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. From 2004 - 2018 he was the museum's John L. and Susan K... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Salon B2, Uncas Ballroom
  General Session, Tough Challenges Need New Techniques
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Holly Salmon, Jessica Chloros, Gianfranco Pocobene, Ellen Promise
  • Abstract ID 18979
  • Tags Laser cleaning,Nd:YAG,Er:YAG,gilding,bronze paint,oil painting,varnish,marble,pollution crust