Project Restoration: Declaration of Independence

declaration

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.

opening

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.

block

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.
glass

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.

 

superglue

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.

 

cleaner

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.