Art Conservation at the Freer Gallery of Art

This is a very well crafted video overview of conservation at the Freer Gallery of Art. You can see the process of consolidating a work of art on paper where the media has cracked and fragmented, as well as see an example of Asian painting conservation. Techniques employed for preserving Asian works of art on paper differ from Western techniques, and are sympathetic to both the materials and the manner in which they were created. Watch long enough, and you will discover the story of the scientific analysis of a sword that contains meteoric iron!


How Do You Preserve Aboriginal and Pacific Artifacts for the Future?

If you have purchased Aboriginal or Pacific souvenirs, they may require special handling and storage to preserve them for the long-term. Concerns such as exposure to light, humidity and safe handling are paramount. Listen to the informative talk given by conservator Victoria Pearce about how to care for your artifacts.


How to Preserve Your Genealogical Documents

Are you the history buff of your family? Do you have a strong interest in genealogy and your family tree? If so, you may have gathered a collection of documents and bound volumes like scrapbooks, journals or family bibles.

How best do you care for those pieces of your family history? The following are a list of recommendations to help guide the care and handling of your family heirlooms:


  1. Store away from light, where possible. If on display, avoid exposure to direct sunlight, as UV rays are especially damaging to paper over time. LED lighting is preferred.
  2. Store your documents in a climate-controlled environment: a relative humidity between 35-50% is ideal. Mold growth can proliferate if the RH exceeds 60%. Avoid storing papers in basements or attics, due to potential moisture exposure and extreme fluctuations in temperature.
  3. Storing documents in folders is often preferred. I recommend purchasing acid-free archival folders from companies such as Gaylord or University Products. Below is a link to folders available from Gaylord:

4. If your folders contain multiple documents, consider layering buffered interleaving papers between them to prevent exposure to acidity.

5. If your historical documents are damaged, do not apply tape to them, and please do not laminate them. The adhesives in tape and lamination are incredibly damaging to paper, and often quite difficult to remove. The accelerate the aging of the documents they are applied to. Consider consulting with a professional conservator if repair of the documents is required. See the end of this article for more details on that topic.

FOR BOUND VOLUMES: Bibles, Scrapbooks, Journals, Cookbooks, Etc.

  1. Store away from light, where possible. If on display, avoid exposure to direct sunlight, as UV rays are especially damaging to books over time. LED lighting is preferred.
  2. Store your volumes in a climate-controlled environment: a relative humidity between 35-50% is ideal. Mold growth can proliferate if the RH exceeds 60%. Avoid storing books in basements or attics, due to potential moisture exposure and extreme fluctuations in temperature.
  3. Is the volume coming to pieces? Are the boards or spine detached? Consider purchasing an economical archival enclosure such as a clamshell or phase box from University Products. These custom sized archival board enclosures can be created to allow you to store your bound volumes on a book shelf. You can even have the title and author printed on the “spine” of the box if you like. Below is a link to some of the clamshell boxes that are offered by University Products:

4. Loose pages or ephemera can be stored in an archival folder or Mylar envelope inside the clamshell as well.

5. Scrapbooks and family bibles often have condition issues that need to be addressed before they can be safely handled. These issues can include broken binding structures, fragile pages, tears to the paper, non-archival tape repairs, etc.

If your family documents or volumes are in need of evaluation and potential repair or restoration, it is best to consult with a trained conservator. Feel free to contact my studio for a complimentary evaluation and estimate via the contact form on my website:


Artwork: Can Acidic Backing Boards Damage Your Work of Art on Paper?

Do you have a painting or printed artwork on paper that has become discolored or stained over time? Yellowing and discoloration in works of art on paper can have a variety of causes including poor framing materials, inherent vice, excessive exposure to sunlight, or environmental pollutants to name a few.

Above is an example of discoloration caused by inherent vice and exposure to sunlight: an etching of Judy Garland by Al Hirschfield that has darkened all along the area where the plate was impressed during the printing process. Initially, the darkening surrounding the image would not have been readily apparent. However, over time exposure to sunlight has catalyzed the degradation of oils from the printing plate and the paper has begun to yellow and darken.

Adhering artwork to backing boards is a common and necessary practice in the framing industry. Over the years, many different techniques have been employed and utilized by framing galleries. Everything from masking tape to rabbit skin glue or dry mount tissue have been used. The ideal method to attach paper-based art to a backing board is to hinge the artwork on along the edges with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. It is also important to use a rag-based archival backing board. Much of the damage to artwork I see in my practice stems from the artwork’s attachment via acidic adhesives, such as animal hide glues, or simply attachment to acidic backing materials including poor quality mat boards, cardboard or even wood. All of these materials are acidic in nature, and over time the constant contact within the microenvironment of the frame will cause migration of degradation products from the acidic backing materials into the paper substrate of the artwork itself. This leads to yellowing and discoloration of the paper, as well as rapid deterioration and embrittlement of the artwork. For the sake of its longevity, it is paramount to remove the harmful backing materials as soon as possible.

Removal of an acidic backing board from a watercolor painting.

Backing removal can be quite tedious and labor-intensive. Factors that affect the speed and ease of backing removal include the fragility of the painting or print itself, and the type of adhesive or hinging materials that were used to frame it previously.

Another stage of the backing removal process from the watercolor painting pictured above.

Once the acidic backing board and attachment materials are removed, the artwork can be treated if necessary to reduce staining and discoloration. It will then be ready for reframing with the appropriate archival materials.

Sometimes careful application of a poultice is necessary to reactivate the adhesives used to attach the backing board,

Do you have a work of art on paper that requires evaluation and potential conservation treatment? For a complimentary estimate, feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website:


Vellum & Parchment Conservation & History

Due to their sensitive nature, vellum and parchment manuscripts must be handled with great care. Vellum has a tendency to warp and cockle when exposed to fluctuations in humidity. Pictured above you can see a previously rolled vellum manuscript ready for treatment in my studio. The client wishes to have it flattened in preparation for framing.

To understand the way we approach the conservation treatment of vellum and parchment, it is helpful to have more insight into the methods that were used to manufacture these delicate materials. Vellum is made by soaking the skins of young animals in a lime solution. The lime softens and removes the hair from the skin. The skins typically have two sides that appear fairly different from one another. The inner side of the skin is smooth and fair, making it ideal for writing on. The outer side can contain fragments of hair and hair follicles. Scars may be evident that the animal acquired during life. If you look closely, you can often see the patterns of veins as well on the outer side of the vellum.

Once the vellum or parchment has been soaked in lime, it is then carefully stretched over a frame to dry. As it dries, it contracts and becomes smooth & taut like a drumskin.

The process of re-stretching and flattening vellum in many ways mimics its manufacture. It is humidified carefully and then dried under restraint to reflatten it. It is often necessary to repeat this process several times in order to flatten the parchment successfully.

Do you have a vellum or parchment based document that requires repair? Feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website:


Introducing Fibernacci Press!

I would like to introduce my friend and colleague Susanne Baker, papermaker, marbler and bookbinding extraordinaire. Susanne exudes magic and whimsy in all of her creative endeavors, and derives great joy from both creating gorgeous, high-quality handmade papers, as well as facilitating the creative processes of others. She is a gifted and practiced teacher. Her marbled papers are exquisite, unorthodox and works of sheer beauty, just like her. If you have need of watercolor paper, handmade papers of any type, or are interested in attending book arts workshops, contact Susanne. She is one of the best in the business.


Rethinking Audubon’s Legacy

This sensitive and honest article takes a look at the life of John James Audubon, and the way he related to Native Americans and African Americans. He apparently had slaves, and was a supporter of the practice of slavery. In so many ways his work was benefitted and made possible by people of color as well. I enjoyed this close and fact-based analysis by one of his biographer’s, and highly recommend reading the article. Audubon made tremendous contributions to the art and environmental/bird watching communities. It’s also important to see how the roots of slavery and racism have touched so many institutions and aspects of American lives, including the Audubon Society, from hundreds of years ago.


How is Iron Gall Ink Made?

This is a question that I encounter frequently in my work with historic documents. Everything from land indentures to family bibles other documents contain iron gall ink. The recipe is said to have originated with Pliny the Elder, an Ancient Greek philosopher. The ingredients required to make iron gall ink are simple: oak galls, ferrous sulfate and gum arabic.

I was recently discussing this recipe with a friend, and she happened to have observed oak galls for the first time in her yard, where she took some photos. She was kind enough to share her photos, which you can see in this article. Oak galls are created when the gall wasp lays an egg on an oak leaf. The oak leaf then exudes tannic and gallic acids to create the oak gall. This is what an oak gall looks like:

The inside of a fresh oak gall.

If left to its own devices, the gall wasp larvae will mature, and then escape through a hole in the gall, leaving the gall formation behind.

To make iron gall ink, the oak galls are collected, dried and crushed. They are then soaked overnight, and cooked with ferrous sulfate. Gum arabic may be added to adjust the flow quality and behavior & look of the ink.

This recipe was commonly used throughout Western civilization, including Europe and the Colonial & Civil War era United States. The ingredients were easy to procure, and the recipe was common knowledge for those who were literate.

It is worth noting that high levels of copper and gum arabic are associated with iron gall ink corrosion as they age.

Many thanks to Cheri Rieman, who was kind enough to contribute her photos for this article!

An oak gall fresh from the tree.