Bernacki & Associates, Inc. Consolidation and Conservation of Painted and Decorative Surfaces
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Consolidation and Conservation
of Painted and Decorative
Surfaces:
Polychromatic Conservation

All decorated surfaces with polychromatic
materials and designs have a unique set of
properties. These properties are both physical
and chemical. They work together to form
a foundation of layers that are built up in
a laminated structure. The interaction between
the adhesive qualities of materials like; paint,
gesso, gilding or varnish, and the substrate
on which they are applied can in time change,
resulting in inherent flaws and incompatibilities[1].

There are three main factors in the deterioration
or change of decorative surfaces: (1) the poor
application of materials, or the use of lesser quality
materials; (2) storage or display in an unsuitable
environment, such as one with too high or low
relative humidity (RH) fluctuation in temperature,
and the prolonged exposure to ultra violet light; (3)
poor handling or damage caused by wear and tear.
All three of these factors can result in the loss of
integrity to the whole of an object as well as the
rapid deterioration of decorative finishes.

The conservation of decorative finishes starts with
the consolidation of all loose and lifting materials.
Localized areas of surface material such as
released gesso, flaked paint and lifting layers of
lacquer need to be stabilized prior to any cleaning
or in-filling. Through a variety of techniques and
specified adhesives or coatings such as fish glues,
rabbit-skin glues & polymer based coatings - the
compromised material is gradually stabilized and
its integrity regained. Always, testing and
reversibility are determined prior to final treatment
to determine aesthetic appearance and
material longevity.

Specific materials such as tempera paints, oil
paints or gilded surfaces all have properties that
must be understood before cleaning can begin.
It’s important to have a stable, clean surface to
work on so that color matching, patina and surface
sheen can be fully recognized and matched.

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After the surface décor is stabilized, cleaning may begin. It is crucial that all surfaces
be treated to remove any foreign debris (dirt, dust & grime) or non-original materials
(poor touch ups or previous repairs). Cleaning is prescribed related to the material and
its chemical and physical make up.

In-filling and in-painting polychromatic surfaces on decorative finishes require a
conservator’s skill and understanding of the material and the process of application
specific to the object. It is important for the in-fills to be cohesive in color and tone
and not to stand out from the original intent of the design. Final appearance and the
overall aesthetic unity is then the conclusion of the treatment. After all repairs and
in-fills have been completed a reversible and durable coating such as wax, shellac or
varnish can be applied to protect the object and the decorative finish from future
damage caused by moisture build up, ultra violet exposure and minor surface
wear and tear.


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[1] Shayne Rivers, Nick Umney, Conservation of Furniture, (New York; Elsevier Butterworth Heinmann, 2003), 566.

424 N. Oakley Boulevard, Chicago IL 60612, Tel: 312-243-5669, Fax: 312-243-3573, stan@bernackiconservation.com

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