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.