Modular Cleaning Program

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
March 12-16, 2012

Instructor:  Chris Stavroudis, conservator in private practice, West Hollywood, CA

Registration fee:  $500 AIC Members; $750 non-members

Participation for this workshop is by order of registration and is limited to 14 participants.  Participants must have professional experience in conservation or have completed substantial study, and have a working knowledge of basic laboratory procedures and safety.  FAIC reserves the right to cancel the registration and make a refund to those not meeting these requirements.

Scholarships are available for AIC Professional Associates and Fellows.  Additional scholarships are available for members who are U.S. citizens or residents supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  All scholarship applications must be received by February 15.

The Modular Cleaning Program is a systematic approach to cleaning works of art utilizing water-borne systems, solvents, solvent gels and emulsions. This five-day workshop will provide conservators with a series of concentrated aqueous stock solutions, modular solvent gels, and the materials to mix a range of emulsions and microemulsions. The provided database, “The Modular Cleaning Program,” assists the conservator in formulating and combining stock solutions which allows the conservator to create optimized cleaning solutions for more precise and tailored treatments.

The workshop consists of approximately 2 days of lecture interspersed into the hands-on workshop. The lectures present the scientific underpinnings of aqueous and solvent solubility theory in as non-technical terms as possible. The goal is to make the participants comfortable with the theoretical underpinnings of cleaning and give them tools to manipulate that knowledge to customize cleaning systems. The more precisely a cleaning system can be matched to a particular cleaning challenge, the better the success of the overall conservation treatment.

Participants will have the chance to apply what they have learned during lectures at lab time. Initially, the participants will mix the stock solutions, both contributing to the set of solutions they will take back to their studios, but also getting comfortable with mixing solutions, using pH meters, and seeing how pH affects the chemistry of the materials we use.

While the instructor is a paintings conservator, the theories and solutions can be. and are being. applied to many different conservation cleaning problems. Treatments on and discussion about other art materials are welcomed and benefit everyone as these allow the theory to be better understood.

The Modular Cleaning System is offered as both a practical tool and an opportunity to integrate theoretical and material properties into daily conservation practice. The database uses calculations based on physical constants to formulate the stock solutions and allows the conservator to specify new cleaning mixtures.

This workshop will help participants to:
  • Integrate the theoretical and material properties of cleaning into daily conservation practice.
  • Understand complicated chemistry of use to the experienced conservator. 
  • Understand and make practical use of aqueous cleaning, solvent, solvent gel, and emulsion theories.
  • Prepare stock solutions and utilize the computer database to formulate cleaning strategies.
  • Alter cleaning solutions for individual works of art.
  • Customize their cleaning approach by learning how to shift the pH or add a chelator or surfactant.

Rationale and Impact
Dirt, varnishes, and surface alterations can interfere with or even obscure the images of paintings, creating an image nothing like that intended by the artist. Degraded coatings can cause aesthetic and even physical damage to the painting if not safely removed. Much damage has been done to artwork by well-meant but poorly executed cleanings. More sophisticated cleaning techniques, not just in paintings conservation, but in all specializations, allows the conservator to be more selective in their intervention. Unlike much of the practice of modern conservation, cleaning is not reversible. It is incumbent on all conservators to wield the tools used in cleaning with the most precise and delicate touch. When a cleaning of any object is undertaken, the most nuanced and subtle cleaning system affords the best outcome, allowing current and future scholars to discern important new insights into the artist, the cultural milieu of the time, and the ability to better critically evaluate the specific artwork in its context. The Modular Cleaning Program offers a tested, easy-to-understand methodology for selecting appropriate cleaning methods for a wide variety of surfaces.

Travel and Housing
Information about recommended hotels and driving directions will be provided to registrants prior to the workshop.  For information about Seattle, including airport shuttles and public transportation, please go to  Information about the Seattle Art Museum can be found at

This program is funded in part by a grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities.

This program is also funded by the FAIC Endowment for Professional Development,
which is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
and by contributions from members and friends of the
American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works

Without this support, the registration fee would be $1,050

Special thanks to Nicholas Dorman and Seattle Art Museum

For more information, contact:

Abigail Choudhury, Development and Education Associate
Foundation of the American Institute for
   Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works
1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 320
Washington, DC20005
Fax: 202-452-9328

SACI Florence