Color Me Purple

Written by Hope Mitchell, Student Technician in the Conservation Lab


As a student technician, one of the things I enjoy the most about my job is the variety; every day has the potential to be completely different from the last and teach me something new and unexpected about conservation. Recently, I was given a book of paint chips titled Color and Color Names, by Gladys and Gustave Plochere, from our General Collection. Published in 1946, Color and Color Names contains 1,536 different color samples. My mission seemed simple: flip through the book and glue down any loose paint chips. What began as a simple task soon turned into nearly a week of poking and prodding over 1,500 paint chips with a microspatula.

Everything was going according to plan until I reached the purple section, where I noticed that the color had begun flaking off the chips. Initially, I tried swiping some PVA over the chip; while that held the flaking paint in place and didn’t compromise the color, it gave the chip a glossy look that didn’t match with the other matte chips.  Realizing that I was in over my head, I asked our conservator, Melissa, what I should do. She suggested that I test a small corner of the paint chip with the consolidant Klucel-G. Ideally, this would help to seal the paint, but there was also a chance that the Klucel-G would shift the color. Sure enough, it did, so we moved on to plan B…

After testing with Klucel-G (lower right corner) and methylcellulose (upper left corner).

Plan B consisted of using water-based methylcellulose instead of solvent-based Klucel-G. Once again, I brushed a small amount of methylcellulose on the corner of the paint chip to determine whether or not it would shift the color. We decided that it would be best to test the methylcellulose on a different corner of the same chip that we had used to test the Klucel-G, our logic being that it was probably best not to risk distorting another chip.  Also, testing on the same color gave us a truer comparison between the effects of the Klucel-G and methylcellulose.   In the end, the methylcellulose was a success! It stabilized the flaking paint without compromising the color, and without making the matte paint chip glossy.

During and After: wet methylcellulose just applied to the paint chip (left); the paint chip after the methylcellulose had dried (right).

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