Conservator Spotlight – Works on Paper

Works on Paper Conservation Studio

Works on paper globe conservation projectWorks on Paper was established when it’s founder, Carolyn Frisa, relocated to Vermont from Boston in 2008.  She works with cultural institutions, art galleries, framers, dealers in fine art and antiques, private individuals, corporate clients, and insurance companies assessing, restoring and preserving various paper-based artifacts.

A wide range of artistic and historic works on paper fill the studio’s portfolio of conserved artifacts. Some of the artifacts Carolyn worked on are not your conventional flat paper documents or artwork. We were most impressed with the transformation of a badly damaged Smith’s Terrestrial Globe circa 1877, which was restored to it’s original glory.
Carolyn was kind enough to answer some questions for us:

How long have you been in preservation business?
I am entering my thirteenth year as a practicing paper conservator since receiving a master’s degree in paper conservation in 2000. I started my private practice, Works on Paper, in 2008, and have been a Professional Associate of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) since 2007.

What is your professional background. Have you always been a conservator?
I had the rare and very fortunate experience of being introduced to conservation while still in middle school. I was immediately drawn to the work of conservators, and concentrated in fine art while in high school. I received an undergraduate degree in the history of art from Bryn Mawr College and entered a graduate program in paper conservation at Camberwell College in London the same year. After receiving my master’s degree, I worked as a paper conservator at Tate Britain before returning to the States. After moving to Boston, I began working at the Northeast Document Conservation Center as a Kress Fellow Paper Conservator and stayed with them for the next six years. I relocated to southern Vermont in 2008 and started my own private practice paper conservation studio, Works on Paper, attaining one of my primary goals set while in graduate school.

What is your conservation specialty?
As a paper conservator, I specialize in the treatment of many types of paper-based objects. These include works of art on paper such as watercolors, prints, pastels and posters, as well as archival materials such as maps, letters, documents, architectural drawings and diplomas. One of my favorite specialties is the conservation of historic wallpaper and I typically work on several large-scale wallpaper projects each year. I also work on three-dimensional objects such as globes, fans, and hat and band boxes. This variety of types of objects is one of the primary aspects that initially drew me to paper conservation as a specialty while applying to graduate programs. It definitely keeps thing interesting in my studio and I always look forward to working on the different projects I typically have scheduled for each week.

Can you name one or two of the most memorable artifacts you’ve worked on?
One of the favorite projects I worked on while at NEDCC was the conservation of the Meriwether Lewis Collection, a large collection of letters and documents written to or from Meriwether Lewis as well as other members of the Corps of Discovery while on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Playing a crucial roll in the preservation of such an important part of our country’s history was one of the most professionally satisfying achievements of my career thus far.
I am currently working on a much smaller scale project for the Danby-Mount Tabor Historical Society (VT) that involves the conservation treatment of a ledger kept by a local blacksmith from 1850 – 1890. This ledger is especially important to the town’s history because it was one of the very few items that were salvaged after the museum’s building was washed into the river and destroyed as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. This ledger, along with several smaller ones and an artifact known as the “witch’s hat”, were retrieved downstream in the weeks following the storm.

Conservation treatment of blacksmith's ledger
Conservation treatment of blacksmith's ledger. Images courtesy of Carolyn Frisa. Click to see in full size in our Gallery.

What would be the hardest project?
The most challenging project I have worked on in my career so far was the conservation of the “Wall of Prayer”, the temporary construction fence outside of Bellevue Hospital covered with missing persons posters and letters of support following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Not only was this the most emotionally charged project I have ever worked on, it also presented a whole host of new conservation treatment challenges.

Bamboo Handle Hake BrushWhat are your favorite archival tools?
My favorite archival tools include various sized metal and Teflon spatulas, tweezers, and Japanese brushes such as the Hake Brush and Kuroge-Tsukemawashi Joining Brush. Other indispensable materials, of course, include Wheat Starch paste and a variety of Japanese Kozo Papers.
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Location
: Bellows Falls, VT
Online
: worksonpaperconservation.com Blog: Pulp Fixin’
Specialty
: Conserving a wide range of artistic and historic works on paper

Fragile Balance

Three standard box sizes and some examples of glass negatives with their four-flap enclosures open.

We came across an article in AuthentiCity, The City of Vancouver Archives Blog, describing a recent project completed by archive’s volunteers. The project consisted of cataloging and creating archivally safe housing for a large (over 8000!) collection of glass negative in various sizes. Not an easy task!

First, each negative was placed in a convenient 4-flap acid-free paper envelope, which was marked on the spine for easy browsing. Next step was re-housing the negatives in archival boxes which came in standard sizes, but some needed to be modified (by adding foam to the bottom and/or by adding corrugated board dividers) to accommodate size variations. The light-weight sturdy corrugated dividers within the box assure snug fit and immobility of the negatives which now uniformly stand on their side and also add air circulation around small groupings of negatives. Each box was also labeled on the front, so it can be easily spotted and identified while standing on the shelf among others.

Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.
Glass negatives stored neatly in their special modified box. Photo by Cindy McLellan.

This seemingly complex but necessary storage process provides maximum protection from the elements:
• paper envelopes protect from dust and fingerprints during handling
• board and foam provide cushioning and air circulation
• archival grade specialty boxes shield from dirt, dust, light and moisture while holding negatives upright and supported on all sides

Cudos to Vancouver Archives and their dedicated volunteers for tackling such large but important project and preserving fragile treasures, such as these Glass Negatives so they would continue providing priceless historical information to future generations!

Hidden Treasures

Brooklyn College Time CapsuleIn 1955, “Before a sun-soaked crowd of 1,500 viewers,” the Brooklyn College president Dr. Harry Gideonse, who served from 1939 to 1966, and Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore placed a watertight copper box into the cornerstone of what was to become the Walt Whitman Hall.

More than 50 years later, a construction crew, demolishing the Hall to make way for the new Center for Performing Arts, discovered the hidden treasure and brought it to light. Among other things, the box contained some Brooklyn College memorabilia, President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration commemorative medal and some personal items of then college president Dr. Gideonse. All items were sent to the college library’s archive to be preserved and placed in protective enclosures before becoming available for public viewing. All the items appear to be in great shape and represent a great piece of the college’s history.

Time CapsuleThis Top 10 Incredible Time Capsules list on Listverse.com recounts some of the most grandiose and ambitious projects of this sort. But you don’t have to be part of a large Japanese corporation or Space Program to create a very special Time Capsule for your descendants. Although it is not strictly an “archival” preservation method, no truly valuable family heirlooms should be put in the capsule. Make sure both the capsule and your items are absolutely dry. Avoid staples, paper clips and rubber bands and separate the items as much as possible, reducing the risk of interaction of various materials. That said, some appropriate ephemera, photos, mementos and personal items will most certainly create a great educational and emotional “present” for future generations!

Creating a Custom Product for Paintings Restoration

Mini Suction TableDon’t you just love going “behind the scenes”, sneaking a peek at the artists’ sketches and finding out about the designer’s source of inspiration?
We sure do, and here’s your chance to learn about the story behind the product, namely – our New Painting Suction Table:

Mini Suction Table SketchIn March 2013, the Washington Conservation Guild held their annual “Three Ring Circus”, which included three concurrent sessions that preceded a reception and exhibitors’ showcase. University Products Vice President and General Manager, John Dunphy attended the WCG and spoke with conservator Nancy Pollak about a specific product of interest to her.  As a conservator of paintings and painted textiles, Pollak was seeking a suction table that would allow treatment of paintings that are still mounted on stretcher bars. The device would be easy to slide between the canvas and the stretcher even in small corner areas.

Mini Suction Table in use behind the stretcherAlthough University Products did not offer the product at the time, John recognized that the creation of this new table was attainable.  Using the rough sketches provided by Ms. Pollak, he began to conceive a design that would be both practical and affordable. After engaging in a discussion with the company’s current suction table manufacturer, a painting suction table prototype was manufactured exclusively for Ms. Pollak.  After receiving and testing the prototype, Ms. Pollak stated: “I am so impressed with this, and with the way you are working with me to bring this idea to fruition. The current design has good suction and and the way the suction port comes from the bottom makes it easy to hold and maneuver into place without disturbing the canvas. The wedge can slip between the stretcher and canvas, and I was even able to use in on a flat-faced stretcher where there was very little space. It works really well in corners.”

The painting suction table is just one example of the many quality museum and preservation tools and products that Mini Suction Table in use on a stretched paintingUniversity Products continues to offer and develop for its customers. The scope and breadth of the products goes far beyond those materials and goods found in the industry. The people at University Products, like John, have the knowledge, vision, and experience to bring customer’s ideas and needs from an intangible concept to a useful product that can be used to complete work more efficiently and effectively.