When the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College was preparing to mount “Women Bound and Unbound,” the exhibition curators identified a striking object to include within the museum’s collections. But the piece needed conservation treatment before it could be placed on display.
Haskell Coffin’s vibrant and evocative Joan of Arc Saved France (1918) is immediately recognizable as a World War I bonds poster, encouraging women to support the war effort from home. As is the case with many posters of this era, the large sheet had been folded for storage sometime prior to entering the Allen’s collection. It was weak along the folds, and creases were visible through the subject’s face and body. There were tears and losses along the edges of the thin and fragile paper that extended into the image area.
To prepare the piece for exhibition, it was washed in a carefully regulated series of baths—deionized water conditioned with calcium hydroxide—to draw out the acids that cause paper to discolor and weaken with time. Once the washing process was completed, the sheet was lined overall with a thin but strong Japanese paper to support the fragile edges and consolidate the weak folds, tears and areas of loss.
Finally, the poster was placed in a blotter stack to dry under heavy weights for a period of several weeks. When it was completely dry, the losses were filled and any areas of media loss were retouched with (reversible) colored pencil.
“Women Bound and Unbound,” an interdisciplinary look at artistic representations of women, will run until May 26, 2019. The Allen Memorial Art Museum is free and open to the public.