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Paper Lab

The Materials Analysis Laboratory

Materials Analysis

The Materials Analysis Laboratory was established in July 2014 and is the newest addition to the Conservation Department. The lab houses a suite of advanced instruments dedicated to the scientific analysis of materials in the collection, to better understand their composition, methods of manufacture, condition, or history of repair.

The portable XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer) is a handheld instrument that uses x-ray fluorescence to analyze the elemental composition of an object. This technique is non-destructive, and is particularly helpful for the analysis of inorganic objects such as metals, glass, ceramics, and many pigments.

The FTIR microscope (Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer) uses infra-red (IR) energy to identify organic materials such as varnishes, adhesives, waxes, and oils, from samples as small as a speck of dust.

The lab also houses a fluorescence microscope that is especially useful for the examination of paint chips from painted surfaces including furniture, easel paintings, or historic area structures. Many of the new paint schemes in Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area are the result of this research.

When used in combination, these instruments can provide a wealth of information to help conservators and curators better care for the collection.

In addition to analysis, the lab is responsible for the conservation of painted objects that fall outside the categories of furniture or paintings. These can include painted furniture, architectural surfaces or folk art.

Slide red bar left or right.
A paint cross-section from a chair rail in the Thomas Everard House parlor.