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.

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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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.