A painting is one-of-a-kind, or is it?

Recently we had the incredible opportunity to work on a Leger — a fake Leger, that is. Our wonderful client’s dad had painted the reproduction nearly a half century ago. He was an art history professor and painted as a hobby, and we were so impressed with his ability!

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Fernand Leger was born in France in 1881, and developed his famous populist cubist style in the 1920s. His painting, Le Petit Dejeuner, the painting our reproduction is based on, was painted in 1921.

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The painting had some scuffs and scratches and a major tear to the left side. We patched it, filled, and touched into the loss to blend the repair into the original.

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Our painting even had a signature, and while they’re different enough to distinguish the original from its copy, we are still so amazed by this truly special piece.

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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.

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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Transparency in Art Restoration

The restoration of art is often seen as a luxury service, afforded to some but not others, while cloaked in an air of mystery. However, by continuing this mentality, we are not only doing a disservice to the industry, but also to the very artwork we are trusted to preserve. Whether of cultural significance or sentimentality, or both, all artworks deserve the time and care it takes to maintain their purpose.

For this reason, we are especially concerned about providing quality care, full disclosure of the methods of treatment, and a vastly more accessible price point. By being completely transparent in our processes and the materials, we make the process of restoring your art accessible, meaning that more art can receive the treatment it needs to continue to showcase its personality, your taste and its cultural significance.

Here is a decorative wall hanging we recently completed. For the owner, it is priceless, conjuring up feelings of home, her childhood while also offering a small daily reminder of her mother. It is in these pieces, that we feel most humbled. Family heirlooms connect generations in a deep personal way, and by continuing to push for the equality of sentiment, as opposed to just market value, we preserve areas of history often forgotten. However, due to the overarching thought that these pieces are “not worth” keeping, they are often easily damaged or discarded. Common problems with more sentimental items include light bleaching, nicotine staining common in mid-century households, humidity and plain old careless handling.

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A progress photograph from halfway through the cleaning process

While the before and after is not a massive difference in this case, the piece is now clean of a discolored varnish layer and odorous surface. This allows it to continue its purpose, without obstructing the memory of its owner.

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A simple solution with cotton swabs

The process begins by testing the surface of the piece, with a variety of different solvents, to determine what solution will be most effective in cleaning the varnish, without damaging the delicate paint film underneath. This is a gentle balance, which varies on each piece we work on. This is often why the examination process is as it says, A PROCESS.  We are equipped with a few standard solutions, but in some cases, a custom solution designed by the conservator will be most effective. Once determined, the piece is cleaned by a cotton swab one square inch at a time, paying careful attention to the stability of the paint film underneath.  Afterwards, the clean surface is coated with a natural varnish layer to protect the fresh surface for another generation.

It is our honor and duty to preserve each piece with the same amount of care and detail, but with careful consideration of the time it takes to do so. This is why, with each piece, we evaluate equally, regardless of the provenance or market value.