Sunday 1 July 2012

To the Rescue

I wrote in an earlier posting about the need for conservation work on many of Bertha's works. We have been particularly concerned about works on paper. Many drawings and paintings were executed on low quality paper; I have learned that, in Bertha's time, even the sketchbooks sold specifically for artists were made from acidic paper.

We may take the existence of acid-free paper for granted these days, but the Wikipedia article on Acid-free paper tells us that it was as recently as the 1930s that the deterioration of acid-bearing paper was first understood and written about (by William Barrow, a librarian, writing mainly for librarians). In the 1950s, commercially-made alkaline sizing to allow the manufacture of acid-free paper was on the market, but it wasn't until the 1980s that a voluntary ANSI Standard for truly acid-free paper was published. Virtually every piece of paper Bertha used has acidic content that will hasten its deterioration, if nothing is done to slow it down. Many works already show the signs of such deterioration, and others are dirty, torn, or moisture-damaged.

We sought professional advice from an experienced Conservator, Lloy Osburn of Artful Restorations, in Guelph, Ontario. She does wonders restoring art, antiques, and interesting objects of all kind. As a preliminary exercise, we took five paper artworks, each presenting a slightly different challenge. We judged all of them to be worth the expense of expert care. One showed classic foxing, and has drawings of interest on both sides of the paper; one had a stain in a rectangular outline, where another piece of paper had been in contact; one had become so brittle that a piece had broken off; all were somewhat dirty; all of them have torn edges and would benefit from being mounted on acid-free mats.

The results of the work are very gratifying. Of course, they don't look 'just like new', by any means, but they are all greatly improved, much more presentable. All have been treated with a de-acidifying spray that will greatly inhibit further acid deterioration.

[Note:  The before-and-after comparisons below are a little misleading because they were scanned or photographed in different lighting conditions; the required adjustments in colour balance are inexact.]

We intend to follow up with treatment of more drawings and paintings, and are actively working at prioritizing the next stages.

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