Virtuality and Materiality: Decision Making in the Treatment of Margel Hinder’s Construction With Perspex Corners (Flight of Birds)

Paul Coleman

Shifting Forms: Temporal Developments in a Material World

Margel Hinder’s Construction with Perspex Corners (Flight of Birds) is a modern abstract assemblage of welded steel bars and Perspex triangles. It is characterised, like much of her work, by strong angular lines and an abstract geometry. The shapes formed by the interrelation of the bars shift and flow as the work rotates (like the flight of birds[1]) around its central hanging fixture and with the changing perspective of the viewer. The ideal rationalist concept of a static, fixed identity is thrown out the window. The work refuses capture. There is no front-facing side, no singular point of return. It is in constant flux. It casts virtual planes that constantly actualise, fluid forms becoming and evolving for interpretation within the eye of the observer. Understanding this temporal, conceptual relation between sculpture>world>observer was essential to appropriate decision making.

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The Many Hands of a Treatment: The Conservation of The Railway Hotel Pimpama

By Rachel Davis


There is perhaps a stereotypical image of a conservator that many might have in their heads. That image might consist of a lone person, tucked away in a hidden lab, methodically swabbing away at a painting. But that has been far from the case in the treatment of one particular painting; The Railway Hotel Pimpama, by an unknown artist.

Two photos showing the front and back of a painting
Figure 1. Before treatment photos of The Railway Hotel Pimpama, recto and verso (unknown, c. 1875, State Library Queensland 4651, photo by Sasha Kozyrevich).

In fact, many have had a hand in the conservation of this painting. Railway Hotel was selected to be treated as a group project. But our group (consisting of paintings conservation students Jordan Aarsen, Sasha Kozyrevich, Paddy Mitchell, and myself), were not the first conservators to undertake treatment of the painting while it has been in the care of the Grimwade Centre. Additionally, our treatment also showed the benefits of working with a large team of conservators and what can be done with the support of many hands.

Previous Treatments

The Railway Hotel has been dated to around 1875. Now part of the State Library of Queensland’s collection, the painting is an important example of early colonial era painting in Queensland. This importance was explored further in Michael Houston’s Minor Thesis (2014), which was an in-depth study on the materials and techniques of the Railway Hotel.

The aim for our treatment was to complete the next stage in the treatment process, which had first been started at the Grimwade in 2014, by Houston and others. The condition of the painting at this time was not the best.

Two photos of a painting on an easel, front and back
Figure 2: Before treatment images of The Railway Hotel Pimpana, photos from Diana Tay’s treatment report (2014, pp. 3-4).

The varnish layer significantly discoloured the painting, and there were large tears through the canvas. Previous repairs of the tears were also no longer offering any support. The first round of treatment in 2014 focused on some initial tests, cleaning, and taking those first steps in addressing the issues with the primary support. Nearly every year since, treatment has continued. Various methods of removing the discoloured varnish layer with solvents and gels continued, and the tears were addressed largely using the Trecker system (for a useful summary, see Laura Hartman’s (2011) article: ‘A Useful Tool for the Repair of Gaping Tears: The RH Trecker’). By 2021, the painting was nearly ready to be lined.

Lining Treatment

Many of the previous treatment reports had suggested that the Railway Hotel be lined, and in an updated assessment of the painting, this is what our group decided to focus on.

Lining is a technique used in conservation to reinforce a weak or damaged original primary support. While a great amount of work had been put into the Railway Hotel to address the structural issues, it was decided that it still needed the extra support and protection that a lining could provide, as well as to reinforce the tear repairs that had already been completed. The primary support consists of a very thin cotton canvas, which is still susceptible to tearing and damage. As seen in above images, it also had staining from previous adhesives and cleaning.

First, the painting had to be prepped for the lining process. This involved some final mechanical cleaning, to further remove some of the stains and remaining varnish, which could potentially cause issues if heat, which we would be doing as part of the lining process.

Two students working on a painting
Figure 3: Paintings conservation students Jordan Aarsen and Sasha Kozyrevich mechanically removing varnish residue (photo by Rachel Davis).

We also faced some of the more fragile areas of the media. Facing involved pasting down strips of Japanese tissue paper over the tears and the edges of the painting, with a glucose based starch paste.

Then came our lining day. This meant a little field trip to the Grimwade Commercial Services (GCS) facility based at the Public Records Office of Victoria, where Principal Conservator, Paintings, Caroline Fry, and Graduate Conservator, Jessica Walsh, assisted our group, which also included supervisor Nicole Tse and John Hook, Executive in Residence at the Grimwade, in further prepping the painting.

To line the painting, BEVA 371 film adhesive and synthetic sailcloth were used. BEVA 371 was created for dedicated use in the conservation field, and its properties have been shown to provide long-term stability when used in lining treatments as was being undertaken in this instance (Bianco et al. 2015; Ploeger et al. 2014). The use of sailcloth was also chosen due to its stability, but also isotropic, a desirable quality to reduce areas of stress in the painting (Hedley & Villers 1982, p. 155). This was important for this painting, due to the number of tears that had weakened the support.

The BEVA 371 film and sailcloth were cut to size. Moving to the hot suction table, a layer of silicone release was placed down, then the sailcloth, BEVA, then the canvas, with a final layer of Mylar. The suction was turned on, keeping everything in place, and then the table heated to around 70 degrees celsius – enough to melt the BEVA film, and activate its adhesive properties. While suction was on, we had to be careful to make sure no ridges were developing, especially near areas of tension at the tear repairs, but also be delicate enough to ensure we were not possibly adding any further cracks to the media. After a few minutes under the heat and pressure, the painting was left to cool and set for a few days, before being returned to the lab at the Grimwade Centre. The lining had been successful, and now had to be re-stretched onto the strainer.

Photo of a painting on a canvas lying on a table covered with a sheet of mylar
Figure 4: Lining treatment – the canvas on top of a film of BEVA 371, sailcloth, silicone release, on the a suction table. A sheet of Mylar is being placed on top before the table is turned on (photo by Rachel Davis).
Two students pressing on a painting on a table
Figure 5: Students Sasha Kozyrevich and Jordan Aarsen ensuring pressure is applied over a fragile area of the painting, where a ridge started to form while under suction and heat (photo by Rachel Davis).
Photo of a painting, flat on a table, under a sheet of mylar
Figure 6: Railway Hotel starting to cool after heat application while still under suction (photo by Rachel Davis).


It was decided to reuse the original strainer, with some adjustments. Namely, beveling the inner edges, to reduce the damage which can be caused by the harsh vertices against the support canvas. A cross bar was also added to reduce damage from possible deformation of the wooden support and to increase its tensile strength.

Photo of student sawing a piece of wood
Figure 7: Paintings conservation student Paddy Mitchell sawing the crossbar down to size, before fixing it to the strainer (photo by Rachel Davis).

After these adjustments, the canvas temporarily re-stretched back onto the strainer. To do this, the edges – now nicely straightened and stiff from our lining treatment – had to be gently bent so they could be pinned around the strainer. This was done with our hands mostly, and also light use of a hair dryer, the small amount of heat helping to slowly create the folds. After the folds had been created, the canvas was pulled in opposing directions and temporarily tacked down, then left to rest into its new position for about a week.

Photo of a painting with the edges bent and pinned down
Figure 8: Railway Hotel painting after lining, with the edges pinned down to strainer, before being stapled (photo by Rachel Davis).
Students stapling the side of a painting
Figure 9: Students Sasha Kozyrevich and Paddy Mitchell stapling the edge of the canvas back on to the adjusted strainer (photo by Jordan Aarsen).

Finally, the canvas was then stapled down and the temporary tacks removed. The lining process and our turn at treating Railway Hotel completed.

Future Treatments

Many hands went into this treatment, and there will likely be many hands in the future to finish what needs to be done. Future students can possibly undertake infilling and inpainting around the tear repair areas, for example. I am sure you may see more blog posts in the future about the continuation of treatment on The Railway Hotel Pimpama.


Thank you to supervisor Dr. Nicole Tse, and to John Hook, Executive in Residence, for their help feedback and assistance.

Thank you also to the Grimwade Commercial Services team and in particular Caroline Fry, Jessica Walsh, and Jordi Casasayas, for their assistance during the lining day and use of the vacuum hot-table, and for feedback in regards to the strainer.

Thank you also to the State Library of Queensland, for giving students the opportunity to learn a lot from this painting.

Finally, thanks of course to my paintings group team members: Jordan Aarsen, Sasha Kozyrevich, and Paddy Mitchell.


Bianco, L, Avalle, M, Scattina, A, Croveri, P, Pagliero, C & Chiantore, O 2015, ‘A Study on Reversibility of BEVA®371 in the Lining of Paintings’, Journal of Cultural Heritage, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 479-485.

Hartman L 2011, ‘A Useful Tool for the Repair of Gaping Tears: The RH Trecker’, WAAC Newsletter, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 14-15.

Hedley G & Villers C 1982, ‘Polyester sailcoth fabric: a high stiffness lining support’, Studies in Conservation, vol. 27, Issue Supplement 1: Preprints of the Contributions to the Washington Congress, 3-9 September 1982 Science and Technology in the Service of Conservation, pp. 154-158.

Houston, M R 2014, ‘The Materials and Techniques of The Railway Hotel (c. 1875): A Reflection of Nineteenth Century Colonial Australian Painting Practice’, CCMC minor thesis, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Ploeger, R, René de la Rie, E, McGlinchey, C W, Palmer, M, Maines, C A & Chiantore, O 2014, ‘The Long-Term Stability of a Popular Heat-Seal Adhesive for the Conservation of Painted Cultural Objects’, Polymer Degradation and Stability, vol. 107, pp. 307-313.

Tay, D 2014, ‘Major Treatment Condition Report’, treatment and condition report, Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Scenic Route of Decision-Making Process

“Every decision is a moment of madness”*

In his abridged version of ‘Die RiBverklebung’, the author-conservator Winfried Heiber (2003) quoted that very passage at the beginning of his introduction. The simple sentence embodies the ethical deliberation, technical reasoning, and institutional negotiation a conservator makes. A decision-making marathon one has to grow quite the muscle for. Such was the case for this painting, Untitled (Lady with Flowers) by Unknown and part of the Bendigo Art Gallery Collection.

There are countless conservation cautionary tales where a decision may lead to a disastrous outcome. More often than not, these decisions were not borne out of ill-intent, but perhaps from systematic limited access to appropriate resources and knowledge. This is where professional guidelines and ethical discourse of the profession came into play.

And what better example of an ethical pickle to be meditated on other than that of aesthetic treatment? The following sections will explore the layers of deliberations and mitigation strategies made in the treatment of one seemingly unassuming painting.

Step 1: Preliminary Investigation and an Attempt to Know What to Do

Figure 1: Condition overlay of Untitled (Lady with Flowers) by Unknown.
Figure 1: Condition overlay of Unknown, Untitled (Lady with Flowers), Bendigo Art Gallery.

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Capturing ‘Content in the Field’: Philippines

image: La Inmaculada Concepcion Parish Church in Guiuan (Eastern Samar), Philippines
Prepared by: Grace Barrand & Lia Sumichan, Masters Students of the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation
Facilitators: Dr. Nicole Tse, the Grimwade Centre, Robert Balarbar, National Museum Philippines and Guy Custodio, Consultant Artist Restorer

In November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan (also internationally known as Typhoon Yolanda) devastated the provinces of Leyte and Samar in the Philippines. The typhoon destroyed numerous structures across the affected areas, including La Inmaculada Concepcion Parish Church in Guiuan (Eastern Samar), which housed culturally significant ceiling paintings, retablos and extensive shell ornamentation from the Guiuan ocean. Due to these significant features, prior to the disaster the Church was declared a National Cultural Treasure under the Philippine Registry of Cultural Properties in 2001, meaning that the heritage management of the Church was under the jurisdiction of the National Museum of the Philippines. The interdisciplinary team of heritage professionals from the National Museum together with local artists and parish community, were tasked with the restoration and conservation of the moveable and immoveable heritage of the Church. Funds for the restoration came from the Philippine government and a grant from the United States Ambassador’s Fund for Culture. This project began in 2014 and continued until July 2019.

As part of the Content in the Field subject led by Dr Nicole Tse, students from the University of Melbourne Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation traveled to Guiuan in July 2019 to support the conservation management of the Church. Across the week, students collaborated with the National Museum and parish community to host a range of preservation related workshops for the Church community in themes such as risk management, dry cleaning techniques and paintings conservation.  Take a look at the Behind the Scenes video to learn more about the workshops and its participants.

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Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on a Wooden Door and Sea Shells Decoration at the Immaculate Conception Parish, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Students from the University of Melbourne Saiful Bakhri, Sophie Russell and Mark Barnes, and conservator Dr Nicole Tse with Anna Carlos and Jim Vasquez from the National Museum of the Philippines, conducted Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on cultural heritage at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

RTI and its versatility

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) developed by Cultural Heritage Imaging is a computational photographic method that records an cultural objects’ surface shape and colour, allowing the interactive re-lighting the objects from any direction. Today’s RTI software can be downloaded from the Cultural Heritage Imaging website.

RTI is a very useful technology for recording objects in high detail. The light from the camera flashing at different angles reveals lines, holes, brush strokes and other details that may not be visible with normal photography. RTI images can make objects look ‘3D’ without the need for 3D modelling software.

Recording cultural objects, paintings and buildings is an important part of maintaining our cultural heritage. This might include writing condition reports, taking photographs or keeping lists. RTI scanning is another way we can record important cultural heritage with high detail. This means we have a digital record of the object that we can safely archive for future use. If the cultural heritage becomes damaged or destroyed, we can use the RTI scan to recreate, rebuild or reconstruct as close as possible to the original. It may even be possible to 3D print smaller objects. RTI scans can also reveal details in craftsmanship, patterns or damage that we cannot see with our eyes alone. Lastly, RTI images are a great way to engage people with cultural heritage, especially if they cannot visit the heritage in person.

Capturing the Wooden Door

The Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar has several large, carved wooden doors. Unfortunately, flood water caused damage to some of these doors during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Wooden objects like these are also vulnerable to pests such as termites and mould. In 2018 the National Museum and the Parish decided to create a fibreglass cast of one half of a set of doors from the south western entrance of the church, which local wood carvers Alfredo Menosa and Eric can later use to carve a new door. The door has intricate carvings showing plants, flowers, angels and fish. It was decided to RTI scan the door because as it is made of wood, it sits facing the outside of the church and it is immovable during a natural disaster it is particularly vulnerable to damage.

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Louise Lateau en Extase

By Alexandra Taylor

From the get-go this painting demanded rigorous, round-the-clock TLC. Equally as fascinating as the treatment was the narrative behind the work.

Part One: Treating Louise Lateau en Extase

Consolidation Sandwich

The condition of the work, according to Managing Conservation in Museums, was deemed to be in unacceptable. Upon seeing the painting for the first time, we determined that the following issues required some careful consideration.

  • Active/inactive mould outbreaks across verso and recto
  • Stretcher bars showed signs of bora infestation
  • Severe abrasion to canvas recto had left paint friable and in need of consolidation
  • Two major tears required repair and infilling/inpainting to retain areas of great significance: subject’s face and stigmatic hands
  • Canvas loss at bottom edge needed a canvas fill
  • There was significant paint loss across the entire recto
  • Discolouration across 1/3 painting surface
  • What looked to be a previous tear repair with wax resin needed to be removed
  • Overall surface spotting/staining/dirt

The most immediate threats (mould and bora outbreaks) were eliminated quickly and sufficiently. During this, we were taken aback by the paint loss. Fortunately, we’d prepared for this and had lens tissue pockets in place around the most friable areas. However, the entire recto surface was very fragmentary and further damage seemed inevitable unless consolidation could take place.

Before we could begin, it was necessary for the surface to be made planar. A custom-designed support system had to be inserted beneath the primary support. Our “sandwich” was created from a single layer of blue board with Mylar insert set up against the canvas verso and three layers of recycled foam core cut to shape around jutting keys, held together with cellotape. All material tailored to the exact height of the bars (200mm) fit within the stretcher frame. Japanese tissue bridges adhered from the stretcher bars to the makeshift support held everything in place. Once the wheat starch had set and the support seemed firm, we were able to flip Louise over so that the recto faced upwards, as indicated in the diagram below (note: not to scale).

Once the canvas was planar consolidation could begin. 5g Aquazol 200 resin in 22.5g deionised water and 22.5g isopropanol was prepared. In order for the application to be precise (leaving as little shiny residue on the paint surface as possible) we each chose to work with dental tools under the Grimwade Centre’s Möller-Wedel Stereo Microscope. 10% Aquazol 200 was wicked cleanly beneath the flaking paint, proving to have strong penetrative and adhesive qualities suitable for consolidation.

In the most friable areas the surface tension was reduced by applying 1:1 water to isopropanol. In this instance, a brush soaked the solution up whilst the dental tool took aim. The brush, hairs heavy with the mixture, was placed against the stem of the dental tool enabling the consolidant to dribble down the stem and into the shattered paint. Heat was sometimes applied with a hot spatula (40ºC) through silicone release film in order to plasticise both the Aquazol 200 and the paint layer. Different techniques had to be implemented in the most challenging area around the proper left arm, as demonstrated in the video below.

Video 1: consolidation DT, video no. 1 by Alexandra Taylor 09/03

Part Two: Filling Louise Lateau en Extase

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The Sky is the Limit…ation

by Madeleine Ewing

Part I: First Impressions Last

Welcome to the online conservation treatment diary for the portrait Untitled (Woman and Child). The aim of this blog is to provide an accessible platform through which each stage of the conservation process may be documented and reflected upon. Content will include pre-treatment, during-treatment and post-treatment updates in order to capture real-time problem solving and progress.

So, let’s get started!

Very little is known about the history of Untitled (Woman and Child). It’s currently part of the private teaching collection at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and was acquired as an academic donation. The painting has been treated by student conservators at least twice before myself and its condition is fair overall. Other than the losses along three separate tear repairs, the paint layer is stable and the strainer is structurally sound.

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The glass spouted vessel: What is it?

by Karen Thompson

Over the next four blog posts I will take you through the treatment of this unusually shaped little glass vessel.

It arrived in early 2018 for conservation as part of the hands-on ‘Treatment 2 subject. It is was a gift to the Ian Potter Museum of Art (IPMoA) in 2011, and the collection titled it Glass Spouted Vessel.

Image 1: Front of glass vessel

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Memoirs of a Great Jar

By Sholeh Magzub, Student objects conservator completing a Masters in Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The First Steps: Making Treatment Decisions for an Ancient Egyptian Jar

An integral part of any conservation treatment is the undertaking of a decision-making process which takes into consideration ethical and practical factors. Conservators are often required to balance the needs of the stakeholders, the artist’s intent, and ethical conservation standards throughout the planning and implementation of their treatments.

Within an Australian context, these ethical standards are provided by the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) Code of Ethics and Code of Practice (2002), which delineates a detailed approach for holistic and ethical professional practices of conservation.

As a student conservator at the University of Melbourne, Australia, this code of ethics took a front seat in guiding the treatment plan designed for the conservation of an Egyptian beer jar in the university’s collection.

Figure 1- Four side profiles of the Egyptian jar with pointed base before commencing treatment. Photographs by Sholeh Magzub.

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Can You Be-Leaf It?

by Hannah Stewart

Figure 1: Before Treatment photo of Eustace Leaf in Frame (Alfred William Eustace, Australian Landscape, c.1880. Grainger Museum Collection, 0000.5039)

Embarking on a major treatment is full of excitement and trepidation, especially when working on a painting with such a very unusual support!

My major treatment project is a leaf painted by Alfred William Eustace (c 1870s) belonging to the Grainger Museum. Eustace emigrated to Chiltern in North Eastern Victoria in 1851 and began painting to capture the spirit of the Australian bush. Canvas and paper were not often readily available on the goldfields, so Eustace turned to large juvenile white box gum leaves. It is not unheard of for artists to paint on leaves, but while that was often a departure from the norm.

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Number of posts found: 19