Dr Emma Richardson

Characterization and conservation of synthetic polymers, mechanical properties of textiles and films, and the in situ analysis of artefacts

Email: e.richardson@ucl.ac.uk
Dr Emma Richardson

Emma Richardson teaches the material science of art and heritage artefacts, with a particular focus on the conservation and preservation of organic materials. She received her doctorate in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Southampton in 2009, and subsequently took the position of post-doctoral fellow at the Getty Conservation Institute (2009-2012). Her education and research has combined both science and conservation, which has led to multidisciplinary collaborations with various institutions such as The National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Getty Research Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

The overarching focus of her research has been the study of organic polymers, both natural and synthetic. In recent years she has specialised in the manufacture, identification and degradation of the synthetic type, commonly referred to as plastics. Often employed in modern and contemporary artworks, they can be present in many forms such as textiles, films, foams, castings and paint layers. Her PhD research focused on the characterisation and stability of Nylon fibres in heritage artifacts. She developed non-invasive analytical techniques for the in situ identification of contemporary textile materials, providing museum curators and conservators with collection management tools and extending the life of textile artefacts. Emma later went on to investigate the stability of such material when subjected to pest eradication treatments, the results of which proving invaluable for informed preventive conservation strategies.

Whilst working within the Modern and Contemporary Art Research group at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) she advanced her research in the area of synthetics by overseeing the collaborative project between the GCI and Disney Animation Research Library. The projects aim was to investigate both the chemical and physical degradation mechanisms of cellulose ester animation cels, concentrating on the identification of the different polymer formulations, monitoring plasticizer migration as a means of assessing physical stability, and understanding the influence of environment on the stability of the cellulose acetate/paint interface.

Additionally, Emma worked extensively on the Getty’s region-wide Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 initiative, which encompassed over sixty cultural institutions to document, interpret and present postwar art in Southern California. She was co-curator of the exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column, which opened at the J.Paul Getty Museum in 2011, and focused on the issues surrounding the making, conservation and display of a monumental polyester resin sculpture. The project involved oral history interviews, documenting studio practices and extensive collaboration with artists and art historians.

For the past three years she has also been actively involved in an European Union funded Seventh Framework Programme, POPART: Preservation Of Plastic ARTifacts in museum collections. As a member of the committee, Emma played an active role in bi-annual meetings, performed laboratory analysis, authored sections for the accompanying book publication, and delivered a workshop during the international conference in March 2012. This project brought together the expertise and facilities of eleven academic and museum institutions, enabling interdisciplinary collaboration and research. Its results have been wide reaching and have highlighted the benefit of such research grants. As such Emma is enthusiastic to hear from potential collaborators who are interested in cross-disciplinary research.