A Better Future: Conservation and Housing

For the exhibition, Redwood asked paper conservator Elizabeth Coombs Leslie to prepare examples of some of the conservation measures that might be employed to put the King scrapbooks in order.As the collection is cataloged, conservation will be done of some of the damaged prints, and all the works of art will be placed in protective enclosures.Conservation of cultural property is taken to include the following aspects of long-term preservation: 


Preventive Conservation (housing in a stable environment)


All objects in a collection, whether or not they receive conservation treatment, need to be adequately housed. For works of art on paper this means storage in either acid-free folders (individually or in small groups) with acid-free interleaving tissue; or hinging onto mats made from 100% rag board. 


Because of the added bulk of the mats, this housing method requires much more storage space and so is generally reserved for objects most likely to be exhibited or examined by researchers. Objects are secured in their mats with two hinges of good quality Japanese paper placed in the upper corners verso, adhered with cooked wheat starch paste. This adhesive ages well without yellowing and is strong but easily reversible. 


Both folders and mats are stored in sturdy, acid-free solander boxes.  



Stabilization (retarding or arresting deterioration) and Restoration (bringing the object closer to its original appearance)


Both these terms refer to types of conservation treatment.Discoloration, dirt, and staining can be disfiguring and substantially alter the artist's original intent. However, they are not always damaging, especially if exposure to light is minimized. Therefore, the decision to correct these problems can be based on aesthetic considerations and falls in the realm of restoration. 


In addition to mending tears and filling losses in paper, examples of stabilization are 


1. Removal of damaging tapes and adhesives (e.g., masking tape or rubber cement); and 

2. Reducing the acidity in paper, which is deteriorating, especially when catalyzed by light. 


An example is Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross (see below).Before treatment, the paper color was so dark that much of Rembrandt's dramatic contrast between the darkness of the night and the figures illuminated by torchlight was lost. Restoring the paper to approximately its original color reestablishes this balance.Stabilization (retarding or arresting deterioration) can be illustrated with the same Rembrandt print. The lower corners needed mending, since they had been almost completely torn off from a combination of how the print was attached to the album page and through careless handling of the album.