Let me start this out by say it never ceases to amaze me some of the things my coworker, Kevin Cloud Brechner, has done already his his lifetime. I think this file will be very helpful for all of to teach us to protect these invalueable treasures of the past.
As an introduction let me say that I worked as an art handler for seven years for a fine art services company that moved and transported works of art for museums like the Museum of Modern Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, British Museum, Guggenheim, Louvre, Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of New York, L.A. County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Walker Art Center and many others. I have personally handled original works of art by Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, daVinci, Dali, Toulous-Latrec, Manet, Matisse, Monet, Warhol, Bosch, Titian, Rodin, Moore, and many others. Some of the techniques I picked up might be helpful for you.
It is difficult to give any but the broadest of advice on archival storage, because each work or antiquity is unique and often requires unique archival procedures. Each piece being stored must be evaluated base upon what the material is made of, what condition it is in, what supporting structure it needs, what size it is, whether it needs protection from ultra violet light (sunlight), what environment it must be kept in, and so forth. For example, if you have an oil painting of one of your relatives, it probably should be stored vertically, but if you have a pastel picture of a relative, it should be stored flat. Gravity has a tendency to cause the pastel particles to fall off, and that is minimized with horizontal storage. If the painting is on canvas and is stored flat, gravity will tend to dish the center of the painting downward and can increase the chances of the paint separating from the canvas.
An oil or watercolor could have glass or Plexiglas over it, but the pastel must only have glass to minimize static electricity which attracts pastel particles. If you have glass over paintings or photographs that are stored, it is common to use a type of paper adhesive tape in a grid on the glass surface. If the glass ever breaks, due to something falling on it, earthquakes, or rough handling, the tape helps keep the glass from penetrating the surface of the painting or photograph. If the picture has Plexiglas over it, however, do not apply tape. Not only will the Plexiglas withstand much greater forces before breaking, the tape usually will leave difficult or impossible to remove residue that can bind right to the Plexiglas surface.
Sometimes it is difficult, even for professionals, to determine whether the picture has glass or Plexiglas. Three tests can help you determine of what material it is made. First, is weight. Glass is heavier than Plexiglas. On small pictures the weight difference is not enough to tell, but larger pictures, say 3 x 4 feet, will be significantly heavier if it is fronted with glass. This test takes a little experience because you have to take into account how heavy the frame itself is. The second test is to put the back of your fingers on the surface. Glass is cold to the touch, Plexiglas is more likely to be room temperature. If you lightly tap the surface with the flat part of your fingernails Plexiglas has a deader sound. Glass rings at a higher frequency. After these tests have been done, if you still have trouble determining whether it is glass or Plexiglas, the definitive test is called the "scratch" test. With a small knife blade try to make a little scratch in the surface near one of the picture frame corners. Plexiglas will scratch because it is softer. Glass will not scratch. This test is used as a last resort because it leaves a permanent scratch. Other clues are the sounds glass makes in some frames that are moved or stressed. There is an unmistakable gritty sound. Also if you can see the edge of the sheet, glass can have a greenish look and Plexiglas edges have a more plastic look.
The point here is that archiving is quite an involved science, and requires a careful analysis of each object. Here, though, are a few general ideas about conservation and storage of genealogical works, which tend to be works on paper, books, photographs, but may include busts and sculptures, paintings, transparencies, motion pictures, video and audio tapes. 1. If I could only have one material to aid in preserving the integrity of an object, it would be a roll of clear plastic sheeting like the kind you can get in any hardware store, usually in the paint section. It should be polyethylene, not polyvinyl. Vinyl emits a gas that can damage photos and transparencies in under ten years. Polyethylene is the clear plastic of the type found in grocery vegetable bags. In fact grocery vegetable bags are just fine to use if they are clean and have no printing on them. I have one store near me that has heavy weight clear bags with no printing that I recycle into my library to protect the books.
If you buy a roll of plastic at the hardware store, you can cut pieces to wrap your precious objects. Wrap it like a Christmas present, and use two inch wide clear or brown plastic package tape to seal it. Make sure the adhesive on the tape does not come in contact with the object. If you will be periodically unwrapping the object for inspection, you can fold the tape over about a quarter of an inch on one end to make a tab. It is easy to pull the tape up by the tab, and then reseal it again when you are done. You can use a Sharpie pen to write on the plastic for identification or as a warning that the contents are fragile.
You can use this plastic to wrap up books, photos, letters, paintings (there are exceptions here, depending upon the work of art), sculptures, and many other objects. One word of caution though, is that once the object is wrapped, do not leave it in the sunlight. Depending upon the humidity of the air, sunlight can cause water to condense on the inside of the plastic and can seriously damage works on paper.
2. Moisture is one of the biggest dangers for works on paper. It causes paper to buckle, mildew, mold, or dissolve. Water quickly destroys a bound book, buckling the pages and causing them to fuse together. This is one big advantage of wrapping objects in clear plastic sheeting. It keeps water (and dust) off the work, should your roof leak, a child be careless with soda, or a water pipe break. 3. Acidity is a major problem with paper. Interestingly, many papers made before the late 1800's are more stable than contemporary papers. Around the turn of the century, the process by which paper was made changed from using cotton or similar fibers to using wood pulp. The wood pulp process, known as "sulfite" paper, leaves acid embedded in the paper. Over time the acid slowly oxidizes or burns the paper. I am sure you are familiar with seeing an old book where someone slipped in a newspaper clipping. Newsprint has a high level of acid and breaks down very quickly. You can see a brown stain on the book next to where the clipping was. Actually it is a burn. Books made with sulfite paper burn themselves up. Over time the paper becomes very brittle and crumbles into dust. It has be estimated that a third of the collection of the US Library of Congress has or is burning up. Archivists call it the "slow burn." Chemicals are available that de-acidify the paper, but it has been very expensive and dangerous because the chemicals are very flammable. Some archival supply companies have advertised aerosol bottles of de-acidify in solutions and sprays, but I have no experience with them.
If you need to wrap articles in paper, then it is best to find acid-free paper. It used to be that the only acid-free papers were those made of 100% cotton. Now paper manufacturers are making wood pulp based papers acid free by adding an alkaline buffering agent that counteracts the acid. It is cheaper than all cotton paper and probably should be okay to use. If you are protecting fabrics, quilts, or very delicate objects, acid-free tissue paper is available. Another paper like material used in archiving objects is called "glassine". Glassine looks a little like waxed paper with a frosted appearance. It is the material the post office uses for stamp envelopes. If you are tying to protect old postage stamps, stamp stores sell a material called "crystal clear" for holding stamps. 4. Photographs. Framing photographs is a good way to help protect them, but it usually is a good idea to put a cardboard matte around the photo first. That prevents the surface of the photo from making contact with the glass or Plexiglas of the frame. If they contact, they can attract moisture and stain or mildew the photo. If you are matting photos or any other art works, use acid-free matte board. The best is called "museum board" and is available at larger art supply stores. It is all cotton and expensive, but buffered matte board is now available. If you take your photos to a professional framer, insist on acid-free mattes. If you do not, you may get the cheaper sulfite mattes, and in 10-20 years you will see a yellow burn mark on your photo where the acid of the matte is burning your photo borders. Archival suppliers and some larger art stores and photo stores can also sell you acid-free envelopes and storage boxes. The envelopes are good for storing negatives and transparencies. The boxes can be used to store letters, documents, clothing, and other fabrics. You generally should not laminate your pictures. This is a non-reversible process, which means, if you try to take the lamination back off, it will ruin your photograph. Sure, they look nice and crystal clear, but it will ruin your work. An exception might be newspapers and newspaper clippings which may be helped by the lamination keeping oxygen off of the paper and thus slowing the burning.
It might be a good idea to digress a moment to discuss the difference between "restoration" and "conservation," in case you have any damage documents, photos, or paintings. Most professionals in the museum world engage in conservation, not restoration. "Restoration" is the erroneous idea that you can repair damaged work so that it looks like it originally did. "Conservation" is the concept that you try to conserve the integrity of the piece. Any repair work that is done is reversible, which means you can easily undo the repair work at any time, to return back to where you were before the repair job. Every museum has an abundance of horror stories of repair work done by "restorers." Their attempts to repair things using non-reversible techniques can end up over time being worse than if they had just left the piece alone.
I once was hired to conserve five huge tapestries outside the Grand Ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel. Upon examination I discovered that over time the weight of the wool fibers had caused the cotton warp threads to break in many places. I also discovered they had previously hired a person to repair the tapestries who tried to sew the weaving back together. It worked for a while, it but did not solve the underlying problem that structural warp threads had broken. It took hours of work to try to undo the sewing and then reweave in new warp threads. Two years later I was called back to fix other areas where the amateurish sewing "restoration" had failed.
If an oil painting has a place where the paint has fallen off (called a "lacuna" in the conservation biz), a fine art conservator will "in paint" that area in the same color, but with a paint that can be completely removed back to the original work, Another example, if a paper document is torn, a restorer might use a piece of magic tape or scotch tape to repair the tear. Over time the tape will yellow, and may buckle the paper. The adhesive may be acidic and burn the paper. A museum conservator would use a special adhesive and a strip of mulberry paper, that not only would be acid free, but it can be easily removed allowing future conservators to undo their work when new, better techniques come along. BEWARE of anyone advertising themselves as a specialist in restoration. The same applies to repairing antiques and old furniture. Find yourself a good conservator. A good way to locate one is to call any major museum and ask to speak to the Registrar's Office. That office usually will keep lists of good local conservators to refer the public to. Conservators often specialize in areas like works on paper, textiles, oil paintings, acrylic paintings, ceramics, etc. Other problems with paintings include buckling of the canvas which require adjusting the wood frame behind the canvas, paint separating from the canvas which requires a very delicate operation called "re-lining," and the accumulation of dirt and grim on the surface which requires a professional cleaning. Seek professional help for any of these problems.
5. Old paper also can develop a problem called "foxing." Foxing is the appearance of little brown specks, dots, spots, or blotches on the paper. You see that naturally on old documents, and not much can be done presently to stop the process. do not try to cover them up with white-out. That could damage the work even more. I do not believe a solution has been found to reverse or stop foxing.
6. A note about storing photos and slides. Do not use those photo albums that have the clear plastic sheets that "magnetically" stick to the backing board. The acid in those can seriously damage photos in a matter of months. Likewise, make sure you store your slides, negatives, and other transparencies in polyethylene archive sleeves, not vinyl sleeves. The vinyl type will actually begin to stick to the transparency and transfer an oily liquid that permanently damages the slide. I have had some unfortunate personal experience with this in my own photo collection. The vinyl sleeves were very common throughout the 1960's to 80's and can still be purchased. Most larger photo stores can sell you packages of archival slide and transparency sleeves.
7. Books: Other than the problems of water damage and acidic burn previously mentioned, the most frequent problem with books involves the bindings. The covers receive the most damage from abrasion. The binding at the spine often breaks away. Better books are bound by sewing together sections of pages folded together into what are called "signatures" and then gluing on spine and cover. Cheaper books, like paperback bindings, are glued together, and tend to fall apart more quickly. Family Bibles often are a rich source of genealogical material, and it is a good gift to your descendants to preserve them. Hand bookbinding is an art in itself and can be done very beautifully. Sometimes complete new covers must be attached. You should shop around to several bookbinders until you find one that suits your needs. Usually the best are the ones who try to preserve as much of the original covers as possible, rather than binding on a new cover. This also will help maintain the value of the book as a "collectible." Books should be stored vertically on a shelf, but not allowed to lean. Leaning can accelerate the coming apart of the binding. Books can also be stored horizontally in stacks. For my better books, I store them in polyethylene bags to protect them from accidental water damage and insects. Store the books in a dry place with low to moderate humidity (like 50 %). Too much humidity will lead to mold and mildew. Too little humidity will dry out the paper and can make it brittle. Paper normally contains a certain amount of water. Try to keep the dust covers originally sold with books. Not only are they attractive, they greatly increase the sale value of the book to a collector.
Insect and animal damage is another problem with books. Big offenders are silverfish who eat the paper leaving little trails and tunnels behind them. Spiders weave egg cocoons between the cover and end papers of books which often adhere to the paper and cause permanent damage. Cockroaches leave fecal excretions that can permanently stain the paper. Termites and carpenter ants can eat into books. Insects will eat right through the plastic sheeting. Rats and mice will eat through books and bindings to make nesting material and just because they like to gnaw on things. Make sure you protect your book storage areas from these vermin. 8. Motion pictures, video tapes and audio tapes. Earliest movies were shot on a type of film called "nitrate film." In addition to being highly flammable, it develops a problem known as "vinegar syndrome," which turns the film into white powder. Only archival storage in a cool dry place will prolong that problem. The color in motion pictures fades or changes hues over time. The recommended practice is to have a motion picture lab make "color separation negatives" from the original. This involves shining a light through the original film and then with color filters separating the light into its red, green, blue, and black components and recording those images on black and white film. Then through the use of filters those separation negatives can be used to reconstruct and print a new film in the original colors. Motion pictures, video tapes, and audio tapes should be wound through their entire length and then rewound once a year. That keeps the film or tape from sticking together and puts an even tension on material. With the magnetic tapes it also helps eliminate a problem known as "print through" where the magnetic arrangement of the metal particles on the tape will cause an adjacent section of tape to pick up that arrangement. On audio tape that causes a faint echo of the sound to appear before or after the place where the sound originally was, and cannot be fixed. Magnetic tape only has a life expectancy of about ten years. As it gets older it develops a problem called "sticky shed syndrome", where the magnetic particles separate from the base film and adhesive. The first symptom you see with older tapes is that the heads of the playback deck become clogged quickly from the magnetic particles. There is a process for reversing the syndrome which involves baking the tape in a hot air oven. You probably should not try it without some professional guidance. Generally speaking, for films and magnetic tape, store them in a cool dry place and away from sources of magnetism like hi-fi speaker cabinets.
I hope these ideas will help you to preserve your precious documents and objects. Once an object is gone, it is gone. Nothing can stop the eventual destruction of everything around us, but with a little care, we can prolong the process. Copyright © 1996 Time River Productions All rights reserved.
The article on the web page did not mention repairing holes in canvases because that is something you normally do not want to try yourself, no matter how handy you are. If it is a work of art you care about, then it is time for an expert in conservation (get your checkbook out, because it is not a cheap process.) Be very careful in whom you select to do it because there are lots of real hacks our there. And once they screw it up, it is screwed up for good. It isn't like a bad haircut; the paint won't grow back. Avoid like the plague anyone who uses the word "restore." Call the biggest museum near you and ask for the Registrar's Office. Ask the Registrar or his/her assistant for a referral to a reputable conservator. If they don't have a Registrar, ask for the Curatorial Office and speak with one of the curators. Take it to a professional conservator for an estimate. Take it to several different professionals and get bids. Wrap it in clear polyethylene sheeting from the hardware store before you take it. That not only helps protect it, but will also catch any more lacunae that may fall off. If it is in really bad shape, perhaps the conservator will come to your house to make an evaluation. If at all possible, do not lay it flat in your car when you travel to the conservator. One good bouncy ride over a bumpy road can pop all sorts of loose paint off. Paintings travel better in a vertical position. Professionally, paintings to be transported are plastic wrapped, then crated or cardboard encased and/or blanket wrapped and tied vertically to the walls of an art moving van. Regardless of what it says in those yellow pages ads in the phone book under "Movers" about having experience in fine art shipping, only a handful of highly specialized companies actually transport most of the really valuable paintings cross-country on interstate runs. Van specifically equipped for art shipping are used that are fitted with climate control and air ride suspension. They are usually very non-descript looking vehicles that do not call attention to themselves. Usually in large cities only one or two packing companies exist that move art locally and serve as terminal repositories for the big museums and the interstate art movers. For your purposes you could plastic wrap it, then sandwich it between two sheets of stiff cardboard that are bigger than the painting frame, then wedge it into a vertical position in your car using blankets. Immobilize the painting and be careful what potentially could come ramming into it from behind if you have to make an emergency stop. Don't bang the painting around when you are putting it in the car. And you might want to have a helper on the other end of the painting to move it into your car safely. Once the painting is at the conservator's laboratory, before a repair can be done, an overall evaluation of the painting needs to be done. You said your painting was frail, so just trying to patch the hole could actually lead to other problems, like more tearing. Often with older paintings, the canvas deteriorates underneath the paint. The conservator may recommend you have your painting "re-lined." It is a delicate process that involves completely covering the surface of the painting with a type of paper to hold it in place while your canvas is glued to another canvas. Usually it is put on linen canvas, because linen is a very tough fiber that will last for centuries. If your painting has paint that is buckling away from the canvas, they may recommend re-lining the canvas. If there is any writing or marks on the back of the canvas, these will be covered in the relining process, so if the marks are significant, it is a good idea to photo document them before the relining process. If the marks on the back are painted on, the conservator may, in some cases, be able to actually lift the paint off the deteriorating canvas and re-apply it to another canvas. You better be financially endowed like a museum, to afford that process. If the canvas is determined to be okay, the conservator may be able to apply a patch. The type of patch will be determined by factors such as the type of fiber of the canvas, size of the hole, and the amount of stress the stretched canvas is under. It is common for older paintings to get loose on the wooden bars upon which it is mounted. If they are "stretcher bars" the conservators can use them to stretch the canvas back tight. If they are "strainer bars", they may have to be replaced to bring the canvas tight. A canvas that is not stretched tight is much more likely to have the paint separate from the canvas, due to movement, particularly if the paint is thickly applied. When a canvas loses its stretched tautness, the paint will buckle, or movement of the canvas from a process much like someone bouncing on a trampoline will cause a little patch of paint to pop off the canvas. Sometimes the patch used is a small piece of linen canvas. Sometimes on small tears the conservator will use mulburry paper patches. In either case, an acid free adhesive is used, and one that is reversible. All conservators strive to make repairs that are "reversible." The reason for that is so that future conservators can undo their work when better technologies come along. Many conservators can sing the woes of trying to undo previous attempts to conserve works of art. You may have read of the problems they had in Milan, Italy working on Leonardo DiVinci's The Last Supper. Previous repair work had to be meticulously removed to try to get back to what DiVinci originally painted. The previous repair work had actually damaged parts of the painting. The process of patching may involve carefully pressing your canvas against the patch. It has to be done in a way that won't leave an embossing in the shape of the patch on the old canvas surface. Once the patch has been put on, the front of the canvas is then treated. Sometimes canvas fibers have to be trimmed or rewoven. Generally the original tear resulted in missing paint. Sometimes whole areas of paint have dropped off too. A piece of missing paint is known as a "lacuna" (plural: lacunae). The conservator will now try to color the areas of missing paint in as near as possible the color of the original. The process is called "in-painting," and is an area with a real potential for great abuse to your painting. It often requires removing the original varnish that most painters apply over the paint. That process takes great skill in identifying what the original varnish was and where the varnish ends and the paint begins. The actual in-painting takes a great practiced eye for color and a knowledge of what color the new paint looks after it has dried. Paint looks different wet than it does dried. With in-painting you are trying to match the old paint on the painting with the color your wet paint will look after it dries. That takes some skill. The conservator does not try to make the in-painting exactly match the texture and gloss of the original paint. The key is to make it look similar enough to the original so that the viewer is not disturbed by the loss. It is important that it be painted with a type of paint that can be easily removed or "reversed." A hack "restorer" tries to make it so you can't see any difference from the original paint. In doing so, they can compound the problems of future conservators trying to preserve as much as they can of the original. Some of the problems can result from differences in aging of the new and old paints, shrinking during drying of the new paint, or differences in yellowing characteristics. The professional conservator wants future conservators to be able to identify where repairs have been made and be able to undo them easily. So, I hope I have scared you enough not to try to repair the canvas yourself, not if you really value it or it has any value to humanity
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