The Environment Matters, Even for Conservators

With technology and science in conservation evolving so quickly, sometimes it’s difficult to imagine that frequently the best solution for a project comes from nature itself.

The sun, our planet’s life-giver, emits UV rays that are invaluable in restoration. Here are three examples where the natural material yields the best result.

1) MOLD MITIGATION

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Darkness and moisture are mold’s best friends. In fact, when a client’s artworks have been exposed to water, the first thing we recommend is getting the item outside if it’s a sunny day. One mold spores form they are impossible to remove, but dryness and UV light can help stop mold from developing further.

2) LIFTING YELLOW IN PLASTICS

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A well-known technique in vintage toy restoration is using a combination of hydrogen peroxide and UV light to lift yellowing in white plastics. Although effective, this treatment is best left to professionals as improper use of these materials can also alter and lift tangential colors.

3) GLASS ADHESIVE

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There is a type of adhesive which is formulated to cure with UV light. The maker Swarovski frequently applies this thin glue to attach many of its fine crystal components. The advantage of such an adhesive is that it does not yellow like many glues, but the strength of the bond is sometimes weak, especially with a surface as smooth and non-porous as glass.

Dealing With the High Cost of Restoration

Our conservators, as artists first and foremost, understand that sometimes it is unrealistic to be able to budget for full-scale restoration work on an item, no matter how precious the piece. When the case, we try to find non-invasive solutions to temporarily repair and ultimately protect your piece until it can have more extensive work done.

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Here, a client had already spent a good deal of money at a jeweler attempting to reconnect the clasp with solder. The work was incomplete, with the link weakened by lack of material and over-shaping the remaining. As a result, the fastener was unstable and breaking open with wear.

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We knew the client did not want to spend a fortune repairing the previous job, so we recommended a temporary, yet stable, fix. First, we tested out some shades of gold powder, to find a close match to the original material.

 

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We mixed that into a two-part epoxy and carefully dotted along the clasp to complete the fastener. Allowing for cure time, our work reveals a wearable and relatively durable solution for his piece at a far smaller cost than the previous unsatisfactory restoration.

 

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Enhancing the Damage: Part 2

Across the history of Art Restoration, there have been methods that have fallen out of favor. Whether it be for practical changes, changes in technology or changes in taste, there are many things that leave current collections and conservators scratching their heads. One of the most interesting lies in the method of plate stapling, also known as riveting.

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Plate stapling became popular in the 18th century, but examples of it have been seen as early as the first century AD.  The process included assembling the broken pieces, fitting together as precisely as possible, and holding them tightly with twine. Before the advent of the dremel and diamond drill bit so popular for glasswork, “professional menders” would loop a diamond tipped piece around a string and pull back and forth to create pinhole sized holes along the joins. A thin, rigid wire would then be cut and hammered to form a small staple.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe staple was then heated, to make malleable, and inserted into the pinholes from the outside. When the staples cooled, they shrunk slightly in size, causing them to pull the pieces together, creating the perfect amount of tension.

This practice was not in any way thought to be invisible, but instead, showcased and highlighted the repair work. However, since the pieces were held together with only tension, they were often unstable as usable pieces. However, this did not decrease the practice, as it is fairly commonplace for the time period. Pieces repaired could range in value, as women, blacksmiths, and members of the royal court alike would take to the practice of repair.

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However, with the advent of modern adhesives and conservational practices, which can make most porcelain repair almost undetectable, plate stapling became less common in the 20th century. It has only been in recent years, like anything else, that it has come back into style. Over the past few years, there has been a recent appreciation for this fascinating method, as it exposes our past limitations and highlights the strides of the modern era. The pieces are now highly collectible and can be found in some of the most prestigious private and museum collections.

Playtime for Conservators

One of our favorite types of projects is working on our clients’ beloved childhood toys. Recently this worse for wear My Little Pony came in, and we couldn’t wait to work on getting it back to its original condition.

When the toy came in, it was well-loved, grimy with handling and hair bedraggled and slightly frayed.

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A basic cleaning  kit for toys and collectibles include detergent and lukewarm water, a soft toothbrush, cotton tipped applicators, soft towel, and paper for absorption.

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We gently brushed the pony with the detergent to remove as much of the surface grime as possible. We followed with more targeted application with the cotton tipped applicators.

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Polyester toy hair is very difficult to restore. Here, we added a light amount of detangler and restyled with the traditional techniques used to pin curl real hair.

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Finally, our My Little Pony is looking as good as new and ready to be played with all over again!

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Tools of the Conservator

     When thinking about art restoration, the process can be a little intimidating. The tools, materials and the processes are typically reserved for the conservator and the people behind the scenes. You may be surprised that many of the tools a conservator uses on an everyday basis are common household items.  However, there are also many specialized items that you may have never heard of! Here will will let you in on a few inside secrets, typically only reserved for the conservator the their piece.


Common Items:  

Toothbrush

You know that toothbrush you should be using twice a day?

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A conservator will often use this several times a day, depending on the project. A soft bristle toothbrush can be used in almost all mediums in art restoration. The soft bristles are malleable enough to lightly brush surface debris off of various painting surfaces and canvas textures, without disturbing the delicate paint film. A medium bristle toothbrush can be used for various things, but it is especially handy when buffing or polishing metal. Often, with deep grooves or more ornate pieces, a smaller, more delicate tool is needed to ensure all crevices are addressed. Toothbrushes are the perfect accessory for getting in those hard to reach places. Similarly, a hard bristle brush can be used on concrete or marble sculptures to remove debris and grime from deeper, more porous details.

 

Medical Tape

Porcelain riggingOh, the wonders of tape we use throughout the day! Everyday the conservators use many different types of tape, each used with careful consideration of the project and its materials. In the world of conservation, temporary support and “rigging” is key to keeping fragile joins together, while adhesive has the appropriate time to cure.  The conservator will first assess the exterior finish of the piece, ensuring the strength of the tape is appropriate to keep the pieces together, without stripping any delicate paint or applique from the exterior. With the tape, along with carefully constructed blocks, buckets, supports, the conservator will create a rigged support, allow the adhesive to cure (sometimes up to 7 days!), and then carefully remove all of the support, to arrive at the finished piece.

Hot Glue

HOT GLUE WILL NOT WORK TO RECONSTRUCT YOUR PIECE. I repeat. HOT GLUE WILL NOT WORK TO RECONSTRUCT YOUR PIECE!Please do not use hot glue to try and put your piece back together. It will not work, you can potentially burn yourself, and the glue will glob all over the place. However, much like tape, hot glue can be a wonderful support system for a conservational adhesive that will work at the joins of the piece! Hot glue can be used to stretch across the join, creating tension while reinforcing the pieces. Once cured, the hot glue can be easily removed with a solvent (our little secret 😉 ) , and the piece is unaffected. I wouldn’t suggest trying this at home, as every object is tested for solvent sensitivity, to ensure all surface coatings are stable enough for hot glue.

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Cotton swabs

Art conservators and restoration shops are the unspoken hero of the q-tip industry. Hundreds of q-tips can be used on a single painting. Scratch that, several q-tips can be used to clean just one square inch of paint film! Loosely packed cotton q-tips are the perfect tool for dispersing customized solvent, while gently absorbing a discolored varnish layer. Similarly, cotton balls can be used across any medium to gently disperse a cleaning solution, while simultaneously picking up the grimy discoloration.


Specialized Tools: 

Japanese paper

Unless you are really crafty at home, I doubt you have this in your craft closet! Japanese paper is a highly specialized paper that can be used in many areas of conservation. Made from the Kozo plant, its fibers are thin, semi-transparent and  remarkably strong. Traditionally, it has been used in paper restoration, due to its delicacy combined with strength. However, modern conservators use it across the board of restoration. It can be used to face a painting during the relining process, create transition for a tear or even as a structural layer under a delicate mache piece.

Mica Powder and Powdered Pigments

Powdered pigment

For convenience’s sake, most amateur artists are exposed to paint in tubes. This is typically acrylic paint, and while acrylic paints are amazing and are often used, they can occasionally limit the conservator’s palette. This is where the use of mica powder and powdered pigments come in. Mica powder is a finely ground silicate mineral, which, once ground, can be used to mix with a consolidate, adhesive or different medium and used as a makeshift paint. Due to its iridescence,  it is often used for touch ins to metal or to imitate a glazed, iridescent finish. In a more general sense, powdered pigments play a large role in allowing the conservator to expand his color palette. Using raw pigment, which is typically created from ground common and semiprecious stone, the conservator is not limited by the tube, and can work from the ground up in creating the perfect mixture to color match their final touch in.

Acryloid B-72

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I dare you to find a conservator that does not have this in their tool bag. I hate to say all purpose, but acryloid is one of those special restoration secrets that can not be denied. While it is very useful, it does have very specific uses, which should be carefully done by a professional with respect to the materials they are working with. It can be used on lifting paint film, whether it be on a canvas, plaster sculpture or piece of furniture. It will gently wick under the lifting paint and reinforce it to the original substrate. This can ensure the existing material does not continue to fall off the piece, leaving blank areas and unsightly   Also, acryloid can be used as a medium to mix pigment, creating a durable, stable and completely customized painting material.


Now that you know a little more about the materials we use, you have a little insight into the world of the conservator! However, we do see enough home jobs that we insist you not try difficult restoration process at home. Our conservators study for years to be able to use those household tools 😉

 

 

Project Restoration: Declaration of Independence

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On July 4th, 1776, a group of men put forth a document that would forever change the course of human history. The original Declaration of Independence still survives and is one of the most treasured papers in American history.

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In 1995, the National Archives began planning for an update of the technology preserving the document. In 2001, conservators finally opened the case for the first time in 50 years. They discovered that the glass protecting the paper was degrading and the ink was fading at an alarming rate.

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The project was led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a branch of the US Department of Commerce. The base of the case was created from a 600-pound block of aluminum, carefully carved by a milling machine. The inert gas now being circulated through the encasement would be argon, as opposed to helium.
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The new glass is presently an inch above the surface of the paper and the case is airtight, allowing no oxygen to leak in and cause chemical degradation. Now safely at home in its new encasement, the Declaration of Independence can also serve as a wonderful example of how evolutions in technology can change the techniques employed by conservators.

Source: http://www.history.com/shows/modern-marvels/videos/restoring-the-declaration-of-independence

DIY Conservator: DO’s and DON’Ts

bread1. Cleaning a Painting

DO NOT use bread to clean your painting. Many diy gurus and online forums will suggest using the “traditional” method of removing dirt and grime from your painting by using bread. However, the organic enzymes in bread can not only leave a tenacious film that is difficult to fully remove, but it may attract insects that will permanently damage the paint film of your piece.

DO consult a professional conservator. A trained restorer can assess your painting in detail, and appropriately choose a cleaning method. Even some seemingly stable paintings can instantly begin to flake away with a drop of water, so it is particularly important to have a professional take a look at your piece.

 

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2. Gluing Broken Porcelain/Pottery

DO NOT use Super Glue to reconstruct your object. Super Glue, Krazy Glue or cyanoacrylate was originally developed during the search for materials suitable for clear plastic gun sights during WWII. Dermabond, a derivative, has been used for superficial wound closure since the 1970’s. For porcelains, however, Super Glue is an extremely poor choice for an adhesive because it is so thin and quick-drying. It will likely absorb into the object’s porous material and set too fast to properly align. Additionally, removal of Super Glue by a restorer is extremely time consuming and expensive.

DO keep your broken pieces in an airtight bag to prevent dirt and debris from staining the break lines. If you cannot find or a professional conservator to repair your piece, you may use a water-based school or craft glue, preferably thinned out with water. Use the smallest amount of glue possible, and try to place all the pieces together before the glue dries, as the contraction of the setting glue will make it impossible to fit pieces inline later.

 

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3. Cleaning Wooden Furniture

DO NOT use household cleaners. These proprietary ingredients can be extremely harsh, and can not only strip a varnish or blanch a surface, but can permanently damage a valuable piece. Water is a common solvent in household cleaners, and can cause everything from warping to mold growth and decomposition. It can also destroy gilding and veneer, rendering a precious work of art nearly worthless.

DO wipe with a dry, soft cloth if you wish to remove dust and grime. A deeper clean needs the expertise of a professional, because the restorer can evaluate your individual piece and understand its particular needs. A conservator uses a variety of oils and waxes to polish wooden artifacts, but the blend is dependent on the type of source material, technique, and finish of an individual piece.

Art Restoration budgeting: Can we fix it?

When the client came in with this piece, we immediately knew a few concerns we could immediately address. Our questions lied in the extent of the work that could be done vs the time and money the client would like to put in. This is often a concern we face, when working with items that are decorative and unique to a space. Some say “is it worth it?”, and unfortunately, that is not a question we can answer for you. However, we will take the time to go through your options, and let you know if there is anything you can do to preserve your favorite items.

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This gilded mirror had fallen off a wall, cracking the top crest and breaking off one of the pivotal, symmetrical bird ornaments from the corner. Also, now that the piece was in our studio, the client started to notice a few chips, worn gilding and lesser missing areas throughout the entire framing. Once the piece is off of the wall, it was almost alarming to the client the extent of damage that had just happened over time, with general cleaning, aging and small incidents.

With a budget in mind, we addressed some main concerns, while keeping the look cohesive and conservative. Rather than regilding the entire frame to address the areas of worn gilding, we touched in to various areas with custom mixed MICA powder, blending it in to the original surface. We fabricated a bird head from wood, and then later painted to in keep with the original  color and finish.

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Other areas of missing material were consolidated, meaning that we stabilized them to the frame, preventing additional material from flaking from the surface. Afterwards, although we could have additionally fabricated any missing material, however, to work with the clients budget, we additionally touched in to those areas keeping the overall look consistent.

In this particular case, and rightly so, our client loved this mirror, but she also understood that she might be able to get a similar piece for the same cost of the full restoration! However, by working with her and finding solutions, we were able to restore this frame, ensuring that she gets to enjoy it for many more years to come.

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*As a side note, I’ve included a completed picture of the frame. It especially important, because you can see the stark difference in color between the progress pictures and the final picture. It is important to keep lighting in mind when completing a restoration, as the final result may look completely different once it gets out of the studio!*

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Conservation in Art – Enhancing the Damage: Part 1

In most cases of restoration, clients want their items to as “good as new”, and in some cases the client would like the piece “aged, but spruced up a bit”. However, it is not often, that a client would like the damaged to be enhanced. This is however, exactly the notion for Artist Tatiane Freitas, whose series My New Old Chair enhances the damage to antique furniture, allowing the viewer to acknowledge the history of the piece, while making the structure whole again.

Her series explores the notion of repair, and how the life of the furniture changes with the times. In these cases, the chairs are damaged beyond traditional repair, as the majority of the original material is lost. While fabricating the missing areas of the chairs are very possible, Freitas would like to acknowledge and contrast antiquated furniture with tools of modernity. The chair, now repaired with a clear acrylic, is structurally sound, but suggests an ode to importance of its history.

Acrylic is a synthetic material, which was developed in the early 1900s, and became popular in production in the early 1950s. It is known for its durability, sleek design and translucency. To contrast, wood is an organic material, which has been used since the beginning of time, and while it is also known for its durability, its organic nature lends itself to damage, warping and decay. By contrasting these materials, Freitas comments on the innovation of household materials, while stressing the importance of preserving our past.

 

In Freitas’ artist’s statement, she notes that she always wanted to create pieces “which will endure the harshness of time, and therefore, bring to their new owners the memories evoked in her, many lost in history.” With its new design, the piece is not only an interesting conversation starter, it intermingles its existing history with modern times, creating new memories and new life.

 

The 42 Murals Project: Dallas Artists

With a deep history that ebbs and flows with business, art and music, Deep Ellum has become acknowledged as one of the most rich artistic districts in our hometown of Dallas. This has been recently boosted by the efforts of 42 Real Estate owner and developer, Scott Rohrman, who, in 2012 began the 42 mural project.

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Deep Ellumphants by Artist Adrian Torres

The thoughts for this project began after Rohrman was introduced to Spanish artist, Adrian Torres. Torres had lived in Deep Ellum for several months, and was immediately taken by the urban space, saying the grittiness and vibe reminded him of Europe and New York. He eagerly asked Rohrman if he could paint a mural on the walls of Deep Ellum’s biggest intersection, Main and Exhibition. Once completed, the project was born. The mural attracted hundreds of tourists and calls, and very soon requests from artists began pouring in.

The idea is simple behind the project is simple. Rohrman and his team called upon artists in North Texas to create murals all over the walls of the expansive streets of Deep Ellum. In return to his request, he received over 200 proposals, but of those 200, only 42 would have their art work chosen. The artists ranged in qualifications, age and perspective, with the youngest being 14 years old. From this experience, the chosen artists get to put their souls on the walls, expand their social media presence, and are provided a small stipend.

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Linus in Blue by Artist Monica Diaz – http://www.instagram.com/snapsnsnarls

The art work has made Deep Ellum one of the most heavily saturated mural hot spots in the country, quickly changing the long held, but more recent history of Deep Ellum as a rundown, dirty or even dangerous space within Dallas. With thousands of tourists flocking to the area, the popularity on social media and the growing collective of artists involved, the project continues to thrive. Check out the Interactive walking tour for a virtual tour of the murals.

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Viva Deep Ellum by Artist Jorge R. Gutierrez, director of the Book of Life – http://www.instagram.com/mexopolis

However, with this increased popularity, comes the inevitable impermanence of street art. Each year, the majority of the murals are painted over to make room for the next year’s project or real estate development.  This is one way that street art differs from conservation. While conservation strives to preserve the original material and purpose, street art murals thrive on ephemerality, the new and now and the experience of the viewer over all. I mean, if it isn’t posted all over Instagram, was it even there at all?

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Social Worship by Artist Jeremy Biggers – http://www.instagram.com/stemandthorn

In 2017, the contest is currently underway, with only the top 3 offered the possible option of keeping their mural up for another year. However, depending on the location, the mural is not guaranteed safe from development. Nevertheless, the winner is guaranteed a spot in next year’s project, ensuring they can make art for another day. We have already cast our votes for this year! Check out 42 Murals Instagram to cast your vote, and see above for a few contenders this year.