Blog

Protecting the Past

 

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A few months ago, a wonderful object came into the studio. It is an early 19th-century register used to record the ear markings of livestock from Vienna Township, Ohio. Over the century-and-a-half since its creation, the volume had been rebound into a modern case binding. The original paper covers had become significantly damaged and additions of new material had been inserted. The Vienna Township Historical Society wanted to explore their options for long-term preservation of this unique part of their history.

Jamye suggested a two-fold approach. The original object would be disbound, repaired, and resewn into a more sympathetic binding structure, namely a simple paper cover. All more modern materials would be retained but housed separately from the original manuscript. In order to keep all the items together, Jamye would construct a custom-built protective enclosure.

As a final preservation measure, Jamye recommended that the entire object be digitized. The Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Hub offers free access to very high quality scanning equipment. Members of the public may use the hub privately, or by appointment they may have the free assistance of a digital technician. While the object was disbound for conservation, we were able to produce high resolution images of every page within this fascinating volume.

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The Vienna Township Historical Society has ensured not only the long-term survival of the original register, but also easier access to its contents by future researchers and residents.

Slant Washing

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This week, Jamye has been cleaning a series of hand-colored etchings using a technique known as slant washing. An alternative to standard immersive washing practices, slant washing is a good option for handling pieces that are somewhat more sensitive.

In this process, the object is placed on a longer sheet of a product called Tek Wipe. One end of the Tek Wipe is placed in a reservoir of clean alkaline water. The object is laid on the Tek Wipe at a slight angle, draining at its bottom into an empty tub. Capillary action pulls the clean water through the Tek Wipe–and the paper object–as it drains. The conservator can help the process along by spraying the object with additional water from the front. As the alkaline water passes through the object, it pulls out acidic impurities, as demonstrated by the pool of darkened yellow liquid that gathers below.

Slant washing has several advantages as a technique. Because the paper piece is not fully immersed in water, it can be washed for a longer period of time without damage. The process is also more environmentally friendly than the standard blotter washing procedure, since Tek Wipe can be washed and reused, while blotter material cannot.

For these particular pieces, the most critical issue was the sensitivity of the media involved. These etchings had a glazing selectively applied to their surface. Glazing is a binder, usually transparent, that saturates the color of an image and gives it gloss. It can be made of materials such as gelatin or gum arabic. In the case of these etchings, the glazing was placed onto the figures of the horses to heighten their visual impact within the scene. Washing these prints in a standard water immersion would likely have dissolved the glazing and possibly damaged the media underneath.

The etchings had darkened over time as the paper became more acidic. Slant washing removed those accumulated acidic byproducts in a carefully controlled manner, and the cleaned pieces can now be flattened and framed for display.

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What Lies Beneath

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A fine art print was recently brought into the studio, mounted to an acidic backing board. In order to stabilize and treat the print, Jamye had to remove the board. She began by carefully thinning the board mechanically, i.e. by hand with a metal tool. During the removal process, Jamye discovered that the board had not been completely glued to the print, as larger pieces of it came away comparatively easily. Once those areas were uncovered, printed words became visible.

When the mechanical thinning process was finished, Jamye washed the print. The remaining adhesive dissolved in the water, and the remnants of the old backing board could then be peeled away. The print was apparently made on a discarded leaf from a book publisher. Three pages of text and an illustration about the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) were printed on the oversized paper, but were never folded and bound into a completed volume.

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Love That Dirty Water

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Believe it or not, paper can be washed. It is a controlled process that must be monitored closely. As the chemical components within paper naturally decompose over time, it can become more acidic. Washing acidic paper in an alkaline solution draws those destructive acids out. This has two important benefits: first, it makes the paper less acidic, and therefore less brittle/more stable. Second, the acidic byproducts that are being drawn out in the wash water tend to be yellow, so removing them lightens the color of the paper once it dries.

A large, torn, and very discolored drawing recently came into the studio for treatment. Jamye laid the piece out in an oversized washing tray, submerged the paper in a shallow layer of alkaline water, allowed it to steep for several minutes, then carefully drained the (now yellow) water. She repeated the process several times before she was satisfied that a sufficient amount of acidic material had been removed. Now that the paper has been successfully washed, the processes of flattening, drying and mending (see below) can begin.

Mending

Tape Removal

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One of the services commonly requested of paper conservators is adhesive tape removal. The piece shown above came into the Jamison Art Conservation studio covered with aging and discolored pressure-sensitive tape, originally used to secure it to a matboard.

The process of tape removal is delicate, and therefore time-intensive. Every tape is different so there is no “one way” to remove it. Removal can be mechanical–i.e. done by hand–or a conservator may have to use solvents to dissolve the adhesive. For this piece, the tape was removed by hand. The image below shows the removal process in progress, as Jamye moves slowly up the edge of the object, using a scalpel to gently peel away the old and discolored adhesive layer.

For more information, check out conservator Beth Heller’s blog, #TapeIsEvil.

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