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Cellulose Acetate

How to conserve cellulose acetate (CA) art works, based on the case study of two plastic (CA) books.

Two degraded art works of cellulose acetate (CA) made in the 1960s by the Portuguese artist Lourdes Castro (1930).

Degradation of CA, the artistbooks of the Portugese artist Lourdes Castro

Degradation of CA, the artistbooks of the Portugese artist Lourdes Castro, a casestudy.

The aim of this project was to find a suitable treatment method and a strategy for the general preservation of objects of cellulose acetate.

Artists' Books

The two artists' books by Castro contain sheets of coloured CA. The artist created the designs using a screen-printing technique; the stencils were made manually using pyrography.


Book A was in fairly good condition, although some sheets were beginning to warp. Book B shows more degradation and has been deemed a total loss, both by the artist and the museum. The severe degradation is caused by the storage of the book in its original PMMA box. The CA material emits acetic acid vapour and this, combined with the closed environment, has accelerated the degradation of book B.


It was decided to conserve both books and so a multidisciplinary team was formed, consisting of scientists, conservators and the artist himself. He donated to science original CA sheets that were left over from the production of this book series.

From warped to flat

All the materials of the book were identified using FTIR and Py-GC-MS. The degradation phenomena were studied using artificial ageing. Various methods for flattening the warped CA sheets were evaluated, as were storage conditions for the flattened sheets.
Three pages from book A were cleaned according to the strategy from the CA cleaning flowchart.