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Chicken Soup for the Conservator’s Soul: the 2021 SERCA ANNUAL MEETING

It is rare to get the opportunity to gather with other conservators in a large group, especially these days. This week I am attending the annual Southeastern Regional Conservation Association’s annual meeting online via Zoom. There have been a variety of interesting sessions and talks, covering topics that include disaster relief, self-care during the COVID crisis, treatment considerations, tips sessions and studio tours. The presenters have done an excellent job of providing both engaging and relevant materials. I very much look forward to attending the SERCA annual meeting in person next year!

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Washing Stained & Yellowed Artwork

Often, when artwork arrives for treatment at my studio, washing and stain reduction are required to reduce overall discoloration, as well as foxing and staining due to tape adhesives and moisture incursion.

Above: a deeply yellowed architectural drawing on paper. At the bottom the image, it is in the process of blotter washing. At the top, you can see the staining that has been removed from the artwork during the washing process. This is one of several rounds of blotter washing, so more staining will be removed in each successive treatment.

Staining can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Inherent Vice – Perhaps the paper itself or media contain impurities that trigger staining as the artwork ages.

Adhesives – Adhesive residue from tape, hide and starch-based glues used to stabilize tears and attach the artwork to its frame housing can cause staining over time.

Water Damage – If the work of art somehow got wet, related staining from water and mold damage may be present.

Acidic Framing Materials – I see this issue frequently. Backing boards made of cardboard or wood, and acidic mat board can all cause staining to artwork as they lay adjacent to it in its framed housing.

What can you do? Hire a professional to evaluate your artwork. If washing and stain reduction are warranted, a treatment plan can be determined to restore your work of art to its former glory, so it can be appreciated for many more years to come.

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The Tate Museum: Caring For Art During COVId

Following is an excellent video that the Tate Museum created about the ways in which museum staff have creatively adapted to ensure safety of art collections and patrons during the COVID pandemic.

Curators of time-based media projects have had to rethink exhibit display methods and remove headphones & other high-traffic common surfaces. They have also recreated the exhibition spaces and the way the artwork is viewed to allow for social distancing. The Tate Museum has an extensive collection of works of art on paper that can be viewed by any visitor. Additional safety precautions have had to be implemented to ensure the safety of the visitors and museum staff, so now artworks are placed on display prior to visitors entering the viewing room, rather than while the visitors are in the viewing room. During the shutdown, there was also a lot of care that went into ensuring the artwork was all stored properly. It’s a fascinating and germaine topic in this new era, and the video is well worth the watch.

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fine Art Restoration of a Lithograph by Marc chagall

Periodically there are projects that cross my path which pose a special challenge. Recently, a beautiful lithograph by the Russian-French early Modernist Marc Chagall arrived at my studio. The client’s daughter had been given this lovely piece as a gift by the owner of the art gallery she worked in. Unfortunately, the lithograph, which had been printed on high quality Japanese paper, had been folded into quarters by a prior owner at some point. The image was bisected by two creased folds.

This lithograph by Modernist artist Marc Chagall was folded into quarters, marring the image.

In the image, you can see elements of Symbolism and Fauvism. Its dreamlike beauty brings the artwork to life, but the creases through the center of the image distract from its beauty. It was my job to conserve the artwork so that it can be fully appreciated once again.

After careful deliberation, research and consulting with a colleague, I settled on using a Dacron fabric restraint drying technique. After the artwork was washed to reduce acidic degradation products, and treated with chelators to reduce staining, it was laid on top of a piece of Dacron fabric that had been adhered to a flat surface. It was then dried under tension, and the creases were progressively reduced during the drying process. The following is a video demonstrating the process of lifting the treated artwork away from the Dacron lining:

This restraint drying process worked beautifully, and now the artwork is ready to be placed in an archival frame at Penland Custom Framing.

The treated Chagall lithograph after washing, stain reduction and treatment to reduce the fold lines.

Chagall was truly a pioneer of Modernism, and an incredible contributor to the world of Fine Art. It was an honor to preserve this small piece of his legacy for future generations.

If you require assistance with preserving your artwork, feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website:

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Preserving The Writings of a Presbyterian Religious Martyr

It is an honor to perform the work of a conservator: preserving history and cultural heritage. The objects that cross my path all bear their own characteristics and personality. The marks of the people who made them as well as those who have handled them over the centuries are often apparent. I just recently completed the treatment of a very special document, a letter written by a Presbyterian religious martyr from Scotland named James Renwick.

A historical letter written by Presbyterian James Renwick. Note the acidic mat board housing, and deteriorating previous repairs.

For lack of a better way of describing it, there was a special feeling about this letter. James’ penmanship was beautiful and quite legible. The paper was clearly cotton, and well made. It was an object that felt good to hold and interact with. I really enjoyed spending time with it.

Detail shot of the mat board housing.

I did some research and educated myself about who James was: a man before his time who stood up for his beliefs and spiritual convictions, to the death. His views in many ways served as a harbinger for coming changes in Scotland.

The letter had been placed in a double-sided mat board housing, which had become acidic over the years. Previous repairs were present, but they were failing, and there were fractures present within the paper. The document needed to be removed from its previous housing, for starters.

Removal of an acidic double-sided mat board housing.

Once the majority of the acidic mat board was detached, the remaining adhesive residue and mat board were removed by washing the document. This also helped reduce staining, acidic degradation products, and old repairs.

Washing of the document facilitated the removal of previous repairs and the mat board housing.

The letter was then mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The treated document was humidified and flattened.

The document responded well to treatment. It is now ready for archival framing and headed to its new home, where it will be well cared for and preserved for many more generations to come.

It is a great gift to be able to help preserve and restore historical artifacts of such significance. I think both this letter and myself are better for having crossed paths.

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Flattening an illuminated vellum scroll

It is quite common for vellum and parchment documents to be folded, which is often the case with land indentures, for instance. Storing vellum documents in a rolled format was also a common convention, especially for diplomas, certificates and illuminated manuscripts.

The problem arises eventually when, many years later, the vellum has aged and become less flexible, and it falls into the hands of someone who wants to view the document in its entirety.

In this case, the client’s artifact is an oversize illuminated vellum manuscript with many soluble inks. The vellum itself is quite thick. It required several rounds of careful and intensive humidification and flattening.

Care was taken to preserve the sensitive media. After fine-tuning the treatment approach and successfully flattening the manuscript, the client now has a beautiful, artistically rendered document he can have framed and placed on display.

If you have a vellum or parchment document that requires repair, feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website: