Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Archival considerations

Do you remember that great children's story by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit?  There's a wonderful stuffed toy animal mentioned as having been loved so well that all its hair had been worn off.  In the book you see how the Skin Horse had been worn to a frazzle by thousands of hugs - handled with love so often it was way beyond used - it had become "real"!

My wife's childhood Raggedy Ann wasn't quite that worn when I used it as the subject of this (partial image here) birth commemoration piece, made for a friend's newborn in 1971. I'm not sure where the rag doll is now but that child, a young woman today with a lovely little girl of her own, has kept that "certificate" all these years. She now wants to hang it in her own child's room but it slipped in the frame and she has asked if I would reposition it. Hey, I said, no problem!

Once back in my studio with the illustration unframed, it was obvious there were real problems, some age related but others...!

Just a note here, - a framed work of art on paper is a 'sandwich' consisting of a stiff backing, art work secured to that, a window mat with glass on top, all held in place by the frame. With a traditional wood frame you'd likely glue a layer of paper across the
back to ensure a tight dust free environment for the work.

The frame I'd used forty years ago was high quality aluminum based on the original Robert Kulicke frame made for the Museum of Modern Art in the 1950's. No problem there! And, yes, I had matted the piece to keep it flat, isolated from the glass so that any possible condensation under the glass would not come in contact with the art. All right there too! The big problem was the material of the mat board it self!  It was a common brand I'd used often, as they say, back-in-the-day, but being made from wood pulp it was definitely not acid-free. Gases from this board had acted on the drawing paper, yellowing the surface and could have over time destroyed the piece. In extreme cases professional restoration / de-acidifcation is an excellent and not excessively expensive option.

In this Raggedy Ann case, it's a good thing it had slipped now, allowing an archival reframing, saving it for this little girl and perhaps her own child in the future. I love it!

Replacing the old mat with acid free museum-quality board made from rag pulp will minimize the acid damage. Using acid free tape to secure the artwork in place under the mat is also important. (Check diagram) The adhesives on tapes like masking tape destroy paper. Avoid their use at all cost!  Foam-core backing boards, the most frequently used with metal frames, do have an acid potential but since that is activated by light and are in back of the framed item, this isn't a huge problem. Never use ordinary cardboard anywhere in framing! All in all, use the best materials you can afford in all stages of your production, isolate your work (done of course on acid free paper!) from all destructive materials to ensure longevity. When it comes to final protection good archival framing is the best defense! You may really love your work but you don't want to treat it like the old Skin Horse!

For more details,  http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/reports/paperframing.pdf

"Every authentic work of art is a gift offered to the future."   Albert Camus

"To remember where you come from is part of where you're going."   Anthony Burgess

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