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22nd July 2010, 11:16am
Uncovering historic secrets hidden in paint
A paint sample cross section Some of the world's leading conservation experts will meet at the University of Lincoln, UK, to discuss how the secrets buried in layers of paint can be uncovered and used as a guide in the restoration of historic buildings.

The Fourth International Architectural Paint Research Conference will take place at the University of Lincoln from 4-6 August 2010.

Keynote speakers include Dr Ian Bristow, an independent architect regarded as the pioneer of architectural paint research in the UK, and Dr Jonathan Foyle, CEO of World Monuments Fund Britain and architectural historian who regularly offers his insights into historic interiors on television and in national media. Other speakers will bring expertise from the Middle East, South East Asia, USA and Scandinavia.

The conference is being organised by the University of Lincoln and its conservation and restoration consultancy division, Crick Smith UL. It will be only the second time the event has been hosted in the UK. The last conference of its kind was held in New York in 2008.

Ian Crick-Smith, principal researcher at the University of Lincoln's Centre for Conservation Research and co-founder of Crick Smith UL, is one of the organisers.

Over the past 17 years, he and his team have worked for a host of clients representing some of Britain's most treasured historical sites, including the Palace of Westminster, St Pancras Station, Hampton Court Palace and the National Gallery.

Mr Crick-Smith said: "People often assume that paint research is simply about recording colours. In fact the information is far more useful than that. When we work on a site, we take paint cross sections from all the historic elements and mount them in a resin block. We ensure we have everything from the original sub-strata to the current finish. Using a microscope, we can then compare the evidence provided by the paint layers with known historical records of the building. That not only shows us the whole decorative history, we can also see physical evidence of how the building has changed: periods when it was neglected, or years when there has been a lavish refurbishment, perhaps for a royal visit. The building's whole interior and exterior history is reflected in the paint and can be cross-referenced with the known history to determine what the building would have looked like at a particular point in time."

The focus of the Fourth International Architectural Paint Research Conference will be on better sharing of information across this rapidly-developing international discipline. Clusters of expertise have emerged around the world over the past few decades but there is no established method for leading exponents to share their knowledge and avoid 're-inventing the wheel'. The proceedings of the conference will be published in a book edited by the University of Lincoln's Sue Thomas and Dr Rachel Faulding.

Mr Crick-Smith explained: "A key thing we want to emerge from this conference is increased dialogue. We want to make our work more accessible, not just to other researchers, but also to the public and the other professionals with whom we work, such as curators, conservation architects, historic property owners and local authorities. We want to dispel the air of mystery surrounding the discipline and to show that architectural paint research is an extremely valuable tool in informing refurbishment programmes."

With that goal in mind, the University of Lincoln is planning to develop the first ever national online database of architectural paint research. Lincoln's existing archive already holds decorative interiors data on around 450 historic buildings and structures. The University is in talks with Britain's major heritage organisations about adding their research records to the planned digital repository. The proposed database would be accessible to anyone with an interest in conservation and restoration and could be added to or amended as new discoveries are made.

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