As part of one of the projects under the Designing for the C21st AHRC/EPSRC initiative, we have evaluated modern fabrics for the structural conservation of easel paintings and as artists’ canvas. We are revisiting the specification requirements of canvas fabrics including: long term stability, mechanical properties, moisture permeability, texture, handling properties, aesthetic and commercial considerations. This work has been done in consultation with conservators and artists, then by testing, modeling (Warwick University) and working with fabric manufacturers.

Workshop at The Courtauld

Twill weave polyester canvas

Assembled canopy structure

Tensioned fabric is also being studied as a medium for sculpturing architectural enclosures. The research includes the development of a mathematical model (Warwick) for predicting physical properties of fabrics. The Courtauld has conducted biaxial mechanical testing, for a variety of loading regimes and environmental conditions. The accuracy of the model has been tested, on a realistic scale, using full field 3D Electronic Speckle Pattern Interferometer (ESPI) measurements of the stress/strain fields of canvas tensioned on a stretcher. From this research we have been able to recommend suitable fabrics for use in different scenarios, for both conservators and artists.

Canvas for the 21st Century
4 – 18 March 2009

Watch the movie [6:40 min]

Venue: Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, Strand, London.

The exhibition presented and explained the research into tensioned fabric structures, covering the themes of:
Fabric construction
Fabric degradation and conservation
Fabric design: Aesthetic and physical properties
Mapping Strain
Fabrics in architectural enclosures
Conceptual design of enclosures
Manufacture of designs
Simulating “stress at work”

Coming soon: Summary and feedback from the Conservators Canvas Workshop held at The Courtauld on the 12th September 2008.

We welcome interest from conservators, artists, researchers and companies who would like to get involved with this project. At present we are specifically looking for the conservator’s opinion on the desired properties of lining fabrics, particularly the less tangible properties of feel and appearance.

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