Conference review: ‘CF10 Conservation in Focus: Icon Book and Paper and Photographic Groups joint session’

This session aimed to offer a review of conservation materials and techniques.  Members of both groups met on the second day of the conference in a packed auditorium.  The morning and afternoon talks were chaired by Caroline Checkley-Scott and Janet Berry respectively.

The first talk of the day was given by Caroline De Stefani.  She focused on the conservation of textile bindings, and preservation solutions found through collaboration between book and textile conservators.  Caroline and Alex Green, who are both book conservators, and Cordelia Rogerson, who is Head of Conservation at the British Library and a textile conservator, compared textile and book conservation treatments, focusing on repair and support materials and adhesive combinations. They found using a mix of Lascaux 360HV and 498HV (1:2) at 15% applied to silk crepeline, was particularly effective in creating a pre-coated support that could be reactivated easily with controlled heat and IMS.  The support can be applied to weakened areas on spines or edges of textile binding. When more strength is required, the silk crepeline can be combined with silk habutai.  ‘Stitching’ was also considered and used in areas where the original textile material was strong enough to withstand the use of very fine needles and silk thread.  The use of silk crepeline was preferred over other tested materials, such as Stabiltex, as the former moulds well and accepts dyes very easily even though it is less stable in the long term.

Karen Vidler, formerly from the Leather Conservation Centre in Northampton, followed on to give an overview of her research into the deterioration of bookbinding leathers, or ‘light leathers’, which forms the basis of her PhD.  Commonly known as ‘red rot’, this phenomenon has been studied since 1842, with the last publically known research being the Craft Leather Project in 2002.  Karen pointed out that acid decay can be found on bookbinding leathers even before the 19th century and also that the typical powdery surface is not always of a red colour, but can be brown, as is the case of leathers tanned with sumac.  To avoid confusion she suggested using the term acid decay instead of ‘red rot’.  The aim of Karen’s research has been to assess acid decay and develop a tool kit to identify it correctly.  To follow her work more closely and help her understanding of how conservators assess and identify acid decay, please visit her blog at Carrying on from her research, The Leather Conservation Centre will be reviewing current and historical treatments for acidic leather to determine which are relevant, how they could be developed further and whether new treatment options are available.

Karin Scheper, from the Leiden University Conservation Workshop, The Netherlands, presented her work on the experimentation in the use of Tyvek, a non-woven polymeric material, in book conservation.  She clearly showed the versatility offered by this synthetic material, which is very stable and strong, and has neutral pH.  It is also available in different weights and dyes easily, which she recommended rather than using acrylic colours.  Tyvek® can be used alone or in combination with Japanese papers, and can offer a valuable alternative for quick and minimal repairs to cloth and parchment book structures, such as board reattachment, and to strengthen ‘hollows’ and head caps, or to support endbands.  The adhesive of choice is mixture of ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) and methyl cellulose, as it has a good working time and is fairly reversible.

Vanessa Charles covered the well-known topic of iron gall ink corrosion in relation to the Linnean Correspondence Project that began at the Book and Paper Conservation Studio, University of Dundee in 2003.  She illustrated how the preservation of almost 4,000 letters provided the impetus to reassess the treatment of iron gall ink-damaged documents.  Focusing on the adhesive used, Vanessa told us how Type B food gelatine became the chosen adhesive, and a method was developed to use it cold and sieved.  The preferred concentration was 3% gelatine in water, and we were advised that going higher than 6% would make the gelatine gel very difficult to sieve.  The project was completed in 2007 and the letters are now re-housed in fascicules.  Vanessa also pointed out that further research on the use of gelatine pre-coated Japanese paper supports was carried out by Eliza Jacobi during her internship at the Instituut Collectie Nederland (the results of which will be published in the September issue of the IADA’s Journal of Paper Conservation).

The last talk before lunch was given by Masazumi Seki, the deputy director at Kochi Prefectural Paper Industry Technology Center, Japan.  The talk discussed the development of a prototype paper splitting machine developed in Japan.  The new machine is smaller in size than European machines and carries out both the coating and splitting stages of the paper splitting process.  The prototype machine can successfully split three metres of recycled paper per minute.  Paper splitting using the traditional dry method Ai-hegi has been carried out in Japan for over 100 years, while a wet method had been carried out in Europe for centuries.  The talk concentrated less on the controversy surrounding this treatment method and more on the technicalities of splitting using the newly developed machine.  Testing of adhesives, adhesive concentrations, support and insert materials were outlined and the results reported.  Artificial ageing was carried out on treated samples using a variety of standard tests before and after ageing, to determine changes to the samples’ optical and physical properties.  No changes to the physical properties of the samples were reported after ageing.

The afternoon sessions focused on photographs and flat works on paper.  Kicking off the proceedings after lunch, Nicholas Burnett gave a well-illustrated and interesting presentation on new techniques currently in use at Museum Conservation Services Ltd for washing artworks and multi-layer supports.  Nicholas described how common problems encountered during wet treatment of multi-layer supports, such as de-lamination, blistering and bubbling, are all due to the release of displaced air within the paper.  Three techniques were chosen for testing that may reduce the amount of air bubbles released from the paper during wet treatment: pre-wetting with IMS, washing in degassed water and washing supports face down.  As a result of the tests Nicholas advised that the best option for aqueous treatment is to pre-wet the object in IMS and wash in degassed water facing-up.  Interestingly, Nicholas also discovered that degassed water is good for removing oil stains from paper and finger grease from photographs.  He is continuing his research by looking into the effects of treatments carried out with degassed water.

The second talk of the afternoon gave insight into the challenges encountered by conservators on the mounting, installation and storage of very large contemporary works of art on paper.  Joan Weir began her presentation by showing us images of the new galleries at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and illustrated how the newly designed space had opened up opportunities to display very large or oversize works of art.  Oversize works present a range of problems for the conservator, many of which were discussed. Joan described in detail the difficulties encountered in the acquisition and display of two works of art, the largest being a 25 feet by 11 feet unframed collage on Mylar®.  It was interesting to see the thought process and creative thinking that resulted in innovative mounting and documentation methods.  One thing we found especially inventive was the simple construction of an “Art Bridge” created using two four wheel skates and a plank of wood that allows a conservator to carry out documentation while lying suspended above a large artwork.

The first talk of two photographic conservation lectures focused on the conservation of glass plate negatives at the National Monuments Record (NMR), the public archive of English Heritage.  The NMR holds a collection of around 13 million items, a large portion of which are photographic. Jenny Hodgson, a conservator at NMR, gave a practical and concise overview of the project, which involved the preparation of 26,000 negatives and 5,000 prints for digitisation, about 50% of which needed some form of conservation treatment.  Included in the collection to be digitised were gelatine and collodion glass plate negatives and albumen, gelatine and platinum prints dating from the 1870s to 1920s from the Bedford Lemere archive.  Treatment included surface cleaning to remove dirt, accretions and mould, sink matt repairs to hold broken negatives, consolidation of peeling emulsion and repair of cracked plates.

The last talk of the day came from The National Archives of Ireland and was presented by Louisa Coles, in collaboration with Niamh McGuinne and Zoë Reid.  It was another large-scale project involving the stabilisation and re-housing of more than 10,000 19th-20th century convict photographs from the General Prison Board penal files.  It sought to find a compromise between minimum intervention principles and the extent of conservation treatment necessary to make these extremely popular collections accessible to the public in a limited time frame.  A variety of conservation treatments were employed, depending on how the photograph was attached to the file, the photographic technique and the type of supports.  Generally the photographs were detached from their files mechanically, washed and lined on pHotonTM paper and finally re-housed in polyester pockets.  Particular attention was paid to the length and method of washing, using various modifications to minimise potential risks as much as possible.  The project will be used to inform similar projects in the future.  An article on this project was published in the September 2009 issue of ICON News, Number 24 pp 31-4.

Throughout the day there was always time given for questions and the audience took full advantage of the opportunity, giving the impression that the talks were generally found to be interesting and bringing forward innovative ideas.

Nicola Fleming and Lara Speroni (July 2010)

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