The kindness of the Friends in providing such quick access to funds meant that conservation work could begin within 10 weeks of the problem being noted.
The initial phase of the work saw Rhiannon Clarricoates of Lincoln Conservation set up a base in the chapel for a day of initial analysis and consolidation. Rhiannon was able to to determine that the drips of residue are likely to be size, a liquid sometimes applied to plaster to fill the pores of the fibers and seal the surface to make it less absorbent before it was painted. As this size was not solvent based it is soluble in water – to our relief, initial cleaning tests indicate that they will be removable.
Rhiannon has also been working to consolidate the scraps of paint, with ‘bridges’ of Japanese tissue placed across the flakes and painted with a methylcellulose adhesive solution to not only support the flakes and also to make them more supple. This not only provides a temporary facing to prevent any further paint losses, but also allows the newly supple flakes to be bent once more to fit the shape of the alcove and to be re-fixed to the wall surface.
The result of the initial consolidation work is not pretty, with the white tissue unavoidably very visible. However, it is extremely necessary, and well worth its temporary impact on the space! This temporary measure will hold the paint securely and safeguard this delicate interior, meaning that no more historical paintwork is lost.
The next phase in mid-September will see Rhiannon's colleague Ali join us on site to carry out further work using longer-term acrylic adhesives to further consolidate the surface across a wider area.
After this, the area will need to dry for 6 months before future action can be taken, and the potential for retouching the lost areas of paint can be assessed.