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Paper Conservation:

Variety is the Spice of Life: The Conservation Treatments of An Ambrotype, Charcoal Drawing, Town Map, and Poster

One thing you can say for sure about art conservation: there is a tremendous amount of variety. From the materials used, the age of the artworks, the size, the complexity, the degree of damage, to the environments they come from, conservators are kept on their toes by the plethora of factors when it comes to the preservation of artistic and historic works.

McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc., just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, is known for its broad range of art conservation services provided. The paper conservation lab has recently encountered some interesting (and different) paper-based historic works ranging from mid 19th century photographic materials to an 1823 town map of Canton, Ohio to a mid 20th century Beatles poster; their conservation treatments are briefly described below along with after treatment images.

19th Century Ambrotype

The paper conservation lab at McKay Lodge Conservation recently received an ambrotype that was in need of minor conservation treatment. An ambrotype is created by exposing a light-sensitized glass plate inside a camera. The resulting image is a negative image and a dark material, often black paper or velvet, is then positioned behind the glass plate to make it appear as a positive image. Another piece of glass is placed directly against the first glass layer protecting the image, and the entire package is secured with a copper alloy metal frame that folds around the edges to the back.

Measuring just three by four inches in size, this ambrotype came to the lab with a significant layer of dirt and with a broken frame. The image depicts a family portrait which was now obscured due the ravages of time and use, and the black paper behind the image had faded so much that the image was difficult to see.

For the conservation treatment, a new piece of black paper, cleaning, and a mat outside the frame to allow for safer handling completed the treatment. As a result of the minor conservation treatment of the photographic material, the people in the picture returned to life.

19th Century Charcoal Portrait

Sometimes works of art fall between different areas of conservation. For example, charcoal or crayon portraits can be considered both a photographic material as well as a work on paper. In the 19th century , it was a common practice to expose a photographic image onto paper which had been treated with a light-sensitive material. The resulting portrait would then be colored by an artist with charcoal or colored pencils. The product was a very realistic likeness that had the look and feel of a real drawing.

The charcoal portrait of a young woman was brought to our conservation lab facilities in Oberlin, Ohio, and it was in poor condition. Discoloration from age, water stains, tears, scratches, and smudges marred this otherwise pristine drawing. Fortunately, most of the damage was near the edges and could be hidden by a mat. The torn edges were stabilized and mended as needed. Only minimal inpainting was needed to draw the eye away from scratches and smudges and create a more uniform appearance.

A charcoal-colored mat was used as a narrow inner liner, and a wider buff-colored mat was placed on top of that layer. The two-toned mat combination intensified the blacks of the drawing and minimized the overall discoloration. In this sense, condition issues are mitigated with removable housing instead of more invasive and expensive treatment methods.

If you want to learn more about historical photographic processes and their preservation, you can purchase the Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints book online from the Image Permanence Institute located in Rochester, New York at the time of this post.

1823 Plat of the Town of Canton, Ohio

Since the McKay Lodge Conservation lab facilities are based just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, we have performed conservation treatments of many Ohio works of art and historic objects. One recent work was a plat of the town of Canton, Ohio.

A plat is a map of a proposed construction area and this plat, signed by a Justice of the Peace in 1823, shows streets, alleys, and residential lots for Canton, in Stark County. There are also lots designated for a House of Worship, an Academy or Public School and a Grave Yard.

Surface dirt and insect droppings, numerous folds and refolds to the point of breakage, tape repairs, tears, losses, and paint on the reverse were the problems faced when this object came to the lab. Most worrisome though was the fact that this document had been hand-written in iron gall ink which can fade, bleed, or run when exposed to water. But the dark, brittle document would only deteriorate further without aqueous bathing to remove the acids and mending the tears.

Fortunately, under the watchful eye of Senior Paper Conservator, Gina McKay Lodge, the document was washed and mended successfully. The paper lightened considerably and the old tapes fell off in the bath. The tears and breaks were re-aligned and mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. After flattening, the plat was encapsulated between two sheets of archival polyester so it could be viewed and handled without damaging it.

20th Century Signed Beatles Poster

Jumping forward over one hundred years, this poster of the Beatles came to the lab in dire need of some Help! It had been stored tightly rolled for over 40 years and had a long tear that ran vertically from the bottom edge through the lettering and into Paul McCartney’s leg. All four corners had numerous tack holes, there were small tears along all the edges, and creases throughout. Some of the tears had been repaired with pressure-sensitive tape and some areas were thinned where tape had been pulled from the surface of the poster.

While the condition issues are enough to make any conservator Twist and Shout, the conservation treatment of the poster was straightforward.

Treatment consisted of flattening, mending the tears, inpainting, and matting into a 100% cotton rag mat before reframing with UV-filtering plexiglass. You can read more about this poster and its treatment here.

Check back with us often to find out more about our recent projects.

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