War and Art

Moscow’s Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art is named after Andrei Rublev, a great medieval painter of Orthodox icons and frescoes. Located in the buildings of Andronikov Monastery, where the master died sometime in late 1420s, museum is home to a vast collection of Russia’s most important religious art treasures. Peaceful and beautiful, the icons and paintings grace the walls of the monastery since the museum was opened after the WWII. in 1947. There’s also a large collection of hand-written and printed books.

When they packed a large exposition of XV-XVII century icons to travel to Kiev, Ukraine last year, the museum workers had no idea, how sudden and uneasy would be their return. But despite the tremulous events of the last few weeks, the entire collection was carefully packed and safely delivered back to Moscow, with great assistance from the workers of Ukraine’s National Sanctuary Complex “Sophia of Kiev” where the exhibit was supposed to be open through March. Once again, as art overcame war, there’s hope…

Recommended Reading

We’d like to share some wonderful online resources for reading about conservation, museums, archives and much more. Enjoy!

E-Conservation Magazine  – English-language e-Publication out of Portugal. Covers all sorts of conservation topics, from brush selection for painting restoration to chemical analysis of paper. Very professional, thorough articles.

Archive Journal – Relatively new online publication, featuring contributing staff from numerous colleges and universities around the US which focuses on the use and theory of archives and special collections in higher education.

Inside The Conservator’s Art – This blog, a behind-the-scenes look at conserving Egyptian artifacts at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, is actually in a dormant state right now, because the exhibit is over and the conservator blogger moved on to another task in the museum. But it remains available, and the topics, photographs and descriptions are absolutely stunning. Great read!

The British Museum Blog offers a lot of interesting info about the current events at the museum, but also at peek at the normally hidden archeology finds, conservation processes and preservation efforts.

The Bonefolder 2004-2012 archive of the online book arts publication, which, sadly is “no more”. But the back issues are full of interesting and educational articles, gorgeous photos of all kinds of items related to book-making, book-repair and book arts in general.

A Restoration Gone Awry

Sometimes actions taken with best of intentions, can result in complete disaster. Such was the case in the tiny Spanish village of Borja, after an elderly woman claimed responsibility for attempting to restore a century-old fresco painted by Elias Garcia Martinez. The painting is a depiction of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and is named Ecce Homo or “Behold the Man” translated from Latin. The new version unintentionally gives Jesus’s beard a drastic shave and removes the crown of thorns. Some have even said that the painting gives its subject a monkey-like appearance.

The Ecce Homo before and after "restoration."

Cecilia Gimenez told Spanish television that she wanted to help fix the painting after seeing it deteriorate from moisture and flaking caused by humidity over the years. She also told reporters that her “restoration” was done with the permission of the church’s priest. “The priest knew it,” Gimenez explained to local television. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.” Initially, officials believed that the painting fell victim to vandalism instead of the good intentions of one of the church’s parishioners. “I’ve seen many well intentioned do-it-yourself restorations; objects have great meaning to people, and they want to keep them looking good,” said Beth Edelstein, an associate conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. “It’s at least heartening that she did it out of love and care for the painting, rather than with an intent to do harm,” she added.

Fixes for the Fresco

Gimenez’s alterations to the painting render it largely unrecognizable compared to the original that had been hanging in her beloved church for years. Gone are the painting’s original proportions, perspective, shading, and depth. Edelstein believes that it is quite possible that Gimenez’s changes to the painting are in fact reversible. The elderly woman’s recollection of the materials she used and her methods will be a great help for conservators as plans for conservation move forward. “It is actually quite helpful that she can tell the conservators exactly what she did and what she used — we rarely have that information and often spend a lot of time trying to determine the answers to those questions,” she said to the Houston Chronicle.

The American Institute of Conservators strongly advises against do-it-yourself conservation projects undertaken by amateurs. On the organization’s website, there is a function to find a conservator in your area to perform the work needed on your piece. Additionally, AIC offers a comprehensive guide on how to choose the right conservator for your project, in addition to an exhaustive article regarding the care of paintings.

Despite AIC’s strong recommendations, amateur art restorers around the world now have a strictly internet-based chance to make their own changes to the Ecce Homo as part of the Cecilia Prize contest. Entry is simple: restore the painting using a virtual palette and then tweet  your submission using the #CeciliaPrize hashtag on Twitter. Your prize? A poster of the new Cecilia Gimenez version of the Ecce Homo.

Asian Museum of Art Performs Conservation Treatment on Samurai Armor

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is home to a world-renowned collection of over 18,000 pieces spanning more than 6,000 years of Asia’s history. Included in this collection is a Japanese Gusoku-type armor that dates back to the 19th century. In the spring of 2011, this armor underwent an extensive conservation treatment. Their finished product was recently revealed, and the armor now sits prominently in the museum’s display cases.

This armor probably never actually saw action on the battlefield and was likely used for ceremony or even display. Prior to conservation, the armor, made of a wide variety of materials including iron, silk, bronze, animal hair and leather, was in serious disrepair. The museum’s team of conservators used high-powered microscopes and x-ray technology to reveal the damaged areas.  For instance, the shin guards on the armor are made out of a fine steel chain-link material and tied off with cotton silk straps. Repairs to these straps were done using invisible hair silk and cotton patches. Other metal components of the armor, including the helmet crest were cleaned for corrosion using a proper cleaning solution and fiber-tipped applicators.

A conservator from the Asian Art Museum repairs a part of the samurai armor's shin guards. (photo courtesy of American Art Museum)

Other losses needed to be mended, including those to the leather thigh guards. Tears and holes were mended using a long-fibered Japanese paper called tengujo. Tengujo, like many other Japanese papers is flexible and strong, enabling it to move with the piece without adding bulk to it. This paper helped fill a large hole in the intricately printed bands in the armor. Conservators also utilized adhesives to secure flaking areas on the face mask. Using a syringe, an adhesive was applied to fill in the tiny cracks on the mask’s surface. Traditionally, samurai armor rests on a specific type of mount made of various-sized, tiered wooden hangers holding true to a minimalist aesthetic. The museum’s textile conservator built a custom form made from starched cotton buckram, that was later cut down to fit on the traditional wooden mount.

Conservators use tengujo, a Japanese paper to mend a loss in the samurai armor. (photo from the Asian Art Museum's flickr page)

How University Products can help you

University Products carries a diverse product line that includes many items similar to what the Asian Art Museum’s conservators used during this conservation treatment. Our fiber-tipped applicators and cleaning swabs are ideal for conservation and restoration use, especially for cleaning. For getting a closer look at individual fibers in your textile pieces, try our PortaScope Digital Microscope.  Both our plastic syringes and adhesive applicators can help you apply adhesives to small crevices. We also offer various sized chest mounts in addition to suit and dress forms, if creating your own custom mount is not preferable.

Emergency Treatment for Leonardo da Vinci’s Self-Portrait

Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait is threatened by the numerous foxing stains that have developed over time on the 500-year-old drawing.

After weeks of recently concluded tests and analysis, a grim diagnosis has been given to Leonardo’s self-portrait, a work completed when the artist was in his 60’s, and dates back to the 1510’s. The piece was drawn in red chalk on paper and is housed in Turin’s Biblioteca Reale (or, Royal Library). The drawing resides in one of the museum’s vaults so it is not in an area where visitors can see it regularly. However, the drawing was on display during a brief two-month exhibition that coincided with the celebration of the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Italy’s unification last November.

Condition of Portrait

The drawing is ailing from a condition called “foxing“, which causes reddish spots to form on the surface of a work of art on paper. These spots are not supposed to be on the piece and could have been formed by oxidation stemming from pigmentation that Leonardo used, in addition to fungi forming on the type of paper he used, which consisted of hemp, flax and wool. Rust from the iron in the pigmentation has also been pinpointed as a suspect in the formation of the spots. As you can see in the included picture of the painting, foxing spots almost look like the measles or the chicken pox on Leonardo’s face.

What to Do?

The decision of what to do to aid the drawing will be made collaboratively between the Royal Library, Italy’s restoration institute, and scientists. “We will continue to study it, to diagnose it. Everyone agrees on that,” said Maria Cristina Misiti, head of Italy’s Central Institute for Restoration and Conservation of Archival and Book Patrimony. The process to remove foxing is a conservation catch-22 of sorts, as success in removal is not completely guaranteed. Due to it’s small size (13.2″ x 8.5″), delicate structure and age, the decision on whether and how to restore is not an easy one.

Is the Portrait Authentic?

Leonardo’s self-portrait, though a beloved work of art, has been at the center of controversy throughout history regarding it’s authenticity as a self-portrait. Although most scholars see a distinct connection between this drawing’s subject and Plato in Raphael’s The School of Athens (which was posed for by Leonardo, around the same time as the drawing), some scholars have doubts about whether the drawing is indeed a self-portrait of the famed Renaissance master. Much of the scholarly criticism stems from the observation that the man depicted in the drawing looks much older than Leonardo ever was, as he died at the age of 67. If that is true, the skeptical scholarly belief is that the subject of the drawing is either da Vinci’s father, Ser Piero, or his uncle Francesco.

University Products carries a long line of conservation products for paper care and repair. Included in this selection of our inventory are conservation work trays, fiber-tipped applicators, mending tapes and adhesives; brushes, and many other products to help you store, protect or repair your document or art collection.

Visiting the Smithsonian’s Lunder Conservation Center

The Lunder
The Lunder by sarahstierch, on Flickr

Many pieces within the the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art have undergone conservation treatments throughout the years, but the ones that were treated by the Lunder Conservation Center, were done in front of the museum’s patrons. This state-of-the-art conservation lab and studio, housed in the museum’s fourth floor, gives visitors to the museum a unique perspective on the conservation treatment process. Patrons have the opportunity to see conservators at work in five different labs and studios behind floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Interactive kiosks and displays provide visitors with pertinent information about the process going on in front of them and the importance of museum conservation.

Conservation process on John Scott sculpture, Thornbush Blues Totem, photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art

The Lunder conservators have been working on John Scott’s Thornbush Blues Totem, a sculpture constructed in 1990. In an effort to to prepare the piece for a new exhibition showcasing African-American art, the sculpture needed to have a layer of tape removed from its base. This layer of tape acts as padding for the bottom of the piece. The removal of the tape could result in paint being pulled along with it and sticky residues being left behind. However, the paint adorning the sculpture is highly sensitive to most solvents, including water. The conservation treatment of this sculpture is being documented as part of an on-going series for the museum’s blog, leading up to the April 27 opening of the African-American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond exhibit.

"Flowers" by William H. Johnson

The Lunder Conservation Center routinely informs visitors about what they’ll be doing inside their labs and studios via their Twitter feed. Through this medium, the conservators at Lunder also share photos of ongoing projects. Earlier this month, it was the cleaning treatment of William H. Johnson‘s iconic “Flowers” painting from 1939-40.

If you have art that requires a special conservation treatment,  University Products has a wide variety of conservation materials to help you complete your project.


A University Products How-To Tip: Conservation Framing

You have just completed the framing of your photograph, print or document, and have it proudly displayed in your home or office. Already, certain chemical reactions have begun to occur which can result in yellowing, brittleness, and overall deterioration. Colors can fade, clarity will decrease, and eventually, the value of the image will diminish.
A framed item is usually exposed to direct or indirect sunlight, as well as interior lighting (both fluorescent and incandescent). All of these emit varying degrees of the damaging ultraviolet portion of the spectrum that causes paper to discolor and inks to fade. In addition, the paper, board, adhesives, glazing (glass) and even the frame itself, can accelerate the process of disintegration.
While it may seem that your only option is to lock up your collection somewhere, away from the perils of man and nature, it is no longer necessarily to resort to such extremes. Conservation framing techniques and materials available today allow you to exhibit your cherished photos and prints in relative safety. To insure they are properly framed you should consult either a qualified conservator or picture framer trained in conservation framing techniques. You may even wish to attempt the job yourself, although the time, patience and expertise required to do the job properly is considerable. Whether you decide to work with an expert or take on the task yourself, there are a few basic principles you should be aware of to make sure the job is done properly.

The Frame Package
Conservation framing starts from the back of the frame and works forward through the framing package. The sealing of the back of the frame provides protection from dust, moisture, atmospheric pollution and varying climatic changes. It should be acid free, and buffered to prevent the development of acids in the future. The frame backing should be secured using pH neutral adhesives or tapes. There are many available for just that purpose.

1. Frame Back
Beneath the frame backing paper (sometimes called the dust cover), is the backing board or filler. Sufficient backing provides additional strength and rigidity. Several types are used including corrugated paper board, corrugated plastic, and solid foam core boards. There are dangerous as well as safe varieties of each available. Any paper backing board should be acid free and preferably buffered. Plastic board should be inert and free of harmful plasticizers. Solid core foam boards should also be both acid free and inert.

2 . Back Mat
As you proceed toward the front of the frame package, the next layer would be the back mat. Museum board will provide the safest support for your artwork. Made of 100% rag, this board should be acid free and lignin free. Since the entire back of the autographed document will lie completely against this layer, it may very well be the most crucial layer of the frame package.

3. Attaching Art to the Back Mat
Proper hinging and mounting materials are a necessity when attaching the document or photo to the back mat. By museum standards, the only proper method involves attaching hinges made from acid free Japanese tissueWheat starch or rice starch paste are the only acceptable adhesives for this application since they are acid free and reversible. The first piece of hinging tissue is adhered to the back of the photo or document, leaving a portion of the hinge protruding above the item. The adhesive should face out when the document is laid face up on the back mat. The second piece of tissue lies over the first, without touching the document, securing the document to the backmat. The window mat can then be positioned over the document to completely hide the hinges. New products such as mounting strips and mounting corners are also available. These products allow you to mount without using any adhesive on the artwork, and are extremely efficient. However, Japanese hinging remains the time tested choice of most conservators.

4. Window Mat
The window mat is the next layer, offering strength and support in addition to providing sufficient air space between the glazing and the artwork. Ideally, the window mat should be 100% rag, acid free, buffered, and contain no alum or lignin. In addition, colored window mats should be bleed and fade resistant (conservators usually prefer white or cream white to be on the safe side).

5. Glazing
Finally, comes the glazing. Both glass and Plexiglas are now available with UV filtering layers to protect your print or photograph from dangerous light. You may find that the UV filter glazing materials have a minor tint that changes the appearance of your document. This is preferable to an actual change that will undoubtedly occur in its absence. Make sure whatever glazing material you choose, that it does not come in contact with the artwork.

Remember that framing is the creation of a storage container that allows you to view its contents, and that improper storage is a leading cause of deterioration of paper and photographs. When properly framed, your prints and photographs will be enjoyed not only today, but for generations to come.

Conservation Video from Harvard & New Exhibition at Springfield Museums

Conservation Focus: Anatomical Flap Prints from Harvard Art Museums on Vimeo.

Conservator Theresa Smith talks about repairing Heinrich Vogtherr’s multilayered anatomical “flap” prints. The anatomical flap prints are on view as part of the exhibition “Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe” at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum from September 6 through December 10, 2011.

More information on the exhibition and related programming at harvardartmuseums.org

old masters to monet springfield muesum exhibitIn the meantime, right here in Springfield, MA, a new exciting exhibition is about to begin at the Springfield Museums. On loan from Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, the Old Masters to Monet collection will open its doors to the public on December 13 and will run until April 29, 2012.

And for all of your conservation framing needs, refer to the Archival Quality Materials Gallery Edition Catalog or visit the Framing section at universityproducts.com