Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer at work

Monday, May 16, 2016

So, how do I store my magnets?

I recently returned from the 5th Mount Maker's Forum, held at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.  It was a great meeting, full of enthusiastic mount makers, all sharing great ideas and solutions with one another.

I was fortunate to be able to both give a talk, "Stick to it, magnetic mount-ineers!" and present a poster, "Magnets as an Alternative to Velcro". The mount makers had many questions regarding the use of magnets.  "What is the best way to store them?", was one of the most frequent questions I was asked.  I  realized this topic made for a perfect blog post, therefore, here it is!

As mentioned in earlier blog posts about magnets, there are four permanent magnets. Each type of magnet has its own needs for long-term use and continual performance. Which is no different from museum collections, or any other equipment that you might use. Some magnets are effected by shock or mechanical action, others are brittle and break easily, and others are effected by temperature or moisture. All of these are issues of handling and environment, which conservators and other museum professional are especially suited to understand. Depending on the class of magnet, the care will vary slightly, but, with proper care, little decay should be noticed.


Various magnets held in film style containers and separated by foam disks.

Coercivity (Hc) is the process where a magnetic field is reduced or eliminated. Each permanent magnet has its own coercivity rating. The higher the Hc, the greater the resistance to demagnetization. Understanding the Hc of permanent magnets, and other materials and equipment that surrounds us, is necessary when working with strong magnets. Rare-earth magnets currently have the highest coercivity values.

What causes coercivity?

MECHANICAL SHOCK

Several magnet types are brittle* and can easily fracture. This is especially the case with rare-earth magnets, when impact and tensile forces affect them. In fact, many suppliers do not guarantee against poor handling due to this fact.  Since a sharp hammering, or any physical shock, can cause demagnetization, it is necessary to prevent magnets from quickly jumping to one another or dropping to the floor from a raised height. Once a magnet is broken or cracked, it is highly susceptible to moisture and corrosion. Do not attempt to use them by positioning them together or gluing them together. Chipped or cracked magnets with peeling or spalling surfaces should not be used since the protective coating has been disrupted (Campbell, 1994).
*NOTE:  Brittleness increases as the grade number of the magnet increases.


cracked rare earth neodymium magnets should not be used in art conservation applications
Cracked magnets should not be used.


HEAT and Curie Temperature (Tc)

Each permanent magnet has a Curie temperature (Tc) that identifies the point where the material’s magnetism is eliminated. Neodymium magnets are very sensitive to high temperature* and therefore have the lowest Tc of the permanent magnets; Alnico and samarium have the highest Tc values. This is one of the reasons why Alnico magnets are still used. Be sure to stay well below the Tc of each permanent magnet used.
*NOTE: This is why hot glue can be dangerous when used to adhere rare earth magnets to a surface.

MOISTURE
As stated earlier, Neodymium is easily oxidized. In a magnet, an oxidized surface lowers the pull force of the affected layer, therefore allowing that region to demagnetize more readily (Campbell 1994, Drak & Dobrzanski 2007). A coating of nickel-plating, or epoxy, is applied to prevent this from occurring. Blistering and spalling of the surface can be seen, more readily with two-layer copper nickel plating (Drak & Dobrzanski 2007). Even during the manufacturing process, oxidation prevention measures are required, often using a vacuum or argon gas environment. A sintered magnet is less stable than a bonded magnet against oxidation induced demagnetization corrosion (Campbell 1994; Trout n.d.). If a neodymium magnet is used in a raised relative humidity location, a bonded magnet is recommended (Drak & Dobrzanski 2007).


A N52 magnet that was used in a salt water environment;  the magnet is corroded and is no longer usable.

DEMAGNETIZING FIELD

Some types of permanent magnets influence or weaken other magnets. One such case is when a ceramic (including flexible type) or samarium magnet is demagnetized by a neodymium magnet. As a result, neodymium rare-earth magnets should always be stored away from other magnet types. Similarly, electronics systems that rely on magnets to hold information, such as hard drives and disks, can be altered or demagnetized by a neodymium magnet that is placed nearby. Magnetic strips on credit cards and other cards can also be affected, as can electronic devices.


The statement above appears on stickers that we adhere to the magnet cases at SAC.

Ferrite magnets can be demagnetized when their poles are alternated, a reason to carefully stack the magnets. This is especially the case with the bonded flexible type; sliding a magnet side-ways perpendicular to the polar rows demagnetizes the array. Alnico type magnets are unique in that they can be remagnetized by realigning the internal domains via another strong magnetic field. This is not the case with other magnets, especially neodymium ones, where once demagnetized, the magnetism cannot be recovered.

Each type of permanent magnet should be segregated and spaced well outside other magnetic fields. As more magnets are concentrated together, the field increases. A safe approach is to separate each type in the work area.

To summarize this information, here is a table of the different categories with the various permanent magnets:



Alnico
Ferrite
SmCo
Neodymium
Use keeper for Horseshoe shape
X



Wrap to prevent abrasion

X


Group by size

X
X
X
Stack, orienting N to S

X
X
X
Place separator between


X
X
Moisture and RH sensitive



X
Demagnetizing Field (Hci)
Can be easily demagnetized. When repetitively placed north-pole-to-north-pole ends together, it quickly weakens itself.
Keep them away from Rare earth magnets.
Can be demagnetized by NdFeB magnets. But they do not weaken others.
Tough to demagnetize. This also means that they can easily demagnetize other classes of magnets like SmCo or Alnico or Ferrite. Shock can demagnetize.

Finally, with all of this information, let me show a few images of how I store my magnets.




Magnets are stored with a separator (black foam) between and in compartments lined with foam.  These small magnets are placed in "day of the week" pill containers.
-Individual small containers clearly labeled with type, grade and size.

-storing in divided boxes of a wide range of types.

-contact lens containers are wonderful to keep strong individual magnets separated from others.

-interleave magnets stored together with cardboard, foam or matte board for ease of separation

-Neodymium magnets are separated from other types of permanent magnets as that they effect their coercivity when in near proximity.

NEVER store you magnets next to a heated surface, like an oven or radiator; the location is too hot. Why? because some rare earth magnets have a low Curie temperature and thus, will demagnetize (and become completely useless) with heat.









Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mounting Quilts with Magnets for Display or Exhibit

by Gwen Spicer, Principal Conservator, Spicer Art Conservation, LLC

SAC has been answering many inquires from several museums and private organizations regarding the mounting of quilts, other textiles and skin artifacts with magnets (More information on magnets can be found at SAC's website).  The increased inquiries show first-hand how the field of conservation is interested in using magnets, while also continuing to find an alternative to the use of Velcro for mounting and hanging.

As with any new material or technique, concern of how magnets work and any known adverse outcomes are the most prominent subject of questions asked.  Also the challenge with using magnets with textiles, and especially quilts is that some textiles can be quite heavy.  This creates a concern with downward pull of the artifact and of sheer stress of the system that could result in failure, or compression of the artifact at the magnet site.

Antique quilt textile conservation mounting with magnets at Spicer Art Conservation

Quilts in particular present interesting problems when using magnets.  Quilts are complex; made in a range of sizes, materials, and thicknesses.  Due to this broad range of quilt characteristics, the sheer stress factor, and the need to prevent slippage or compression of materials, the potential for failure seems high.  However, with the proper planning and understanding of how a magnetic system works, its strengths, and any limitations of the type of magnet you select, the potential for failure is then quite low.

We have talked in the past about what is a "magnetic system".  The system as a whole is a significant factor in how the magnet behaves or is able to perform the task (Feymann 1964; Livingston 1996).  The magnet works in conjunction with two other parts, these three factors together create the system:

1) The actual strength of the magnet itself; care is taken to ensure the magnet is not too strong, and not too weak.

2) The ability of the metal behind the textile to be magnetized.  The receiving metal must have enough receptivity to allow the magnet to "stick" to it with its fullest ability. 

3) The space between, or the gap created by the layers between the magnet and the metal behind (or receiving metal).  These gap layers consist of the artifact and any buffering layers - mount fabric or mylar for example.

When magnets are placed on the surface of the quilt, the gap or field distance becomes an issue. Often the strength of the magnet is increased to ensure a strong magnetic field, but then puckering or "tufting" of the quilt's surface becomes visible.  Below is an image of magnets used as a point-fastener system; the magnets, while painted to match the quilt squares have created a puckered look. 

What could a textile conservator or curator do to eliminate this?

point fastener mount of textile with magnets is not the best method. Spicer Art Conservation
Magnets used to mount this Civil War era quilt are
obvious, even though they have been carefully
painted to match the surface of the quilt. The quilt is
safely mounted, but the puckering or tufting of the
quilt becomes problematic.

Our favorite solution is the Magnetic Slat sold by SmallCorp Inc.  A solution that solves the issue of a heavy weight textile by using an aluminum strip with a small lower lip (L-Shaped in cross-section) to support the textile, while rare earth magnets hold the textile back against the aluminum strip.

magnetic slat, conservation and mounting of textiles, image by Spicer Art Conservation, Gwen Spicer and may not be reproduced without permission
Grade N42 magnets, measuring ¾” dia. X 1/8”, with counter sunk holes are fastened along at 6” intervals on the vertical side.  A 22-gauge steel piece is held into a stitched sleeve along the upper edge of the artifact (Wood 2013; Spicer 2013a, c).  In this solution the lower lip actually holds the weight of the artifact, but it is the strength of the magnets that ensure that the steel piece is held back and onto the aluminum horizontal element.  The solution appears to be unlimited.  A textile weighing 60 lbs. was successfully hung with this magnetic system.


magnetic mount of textiles, conservator Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation has pioneered the field of using magnets in art conservation
Above: The aluminum slat with "L" lip and countersunk magnet (silver).
The ferromagnetic steel piece (white) sits perfectly on the lip and is
held in place by the magnets. NOTE: The steel piece is shown without
the webbing sleeve. See below for the steel slat in webbing sleeve photo.


Magnetic slat, webbing sleeve, conservation and mounting of textiles by Spicer Art Conservation
Above:  Here the slat as it slides into a webbing sleeve (one piece 2" webbing,
the other 3" webbing). Below, see it as it is affixed to a 30 foot long
weaving. The system was used to hang several weavings, the heaviest
of which was over 60 lbs.


conservation of textiles, mounting of artifacts using magnets, Spicer Art Conservation
Above: The slat is inside its webbing sleeve and has been attached
to the textile.  Special consideration is always made to test the
hanging of the textile to be sure the slat is affixed to allow the
textile to hang properly.

Problem solved. The magnets can be as strong as you want them to be, and you never have to worry about puckering or compression.  It is simply because the quilt is no longer between the magnet and the receiving metal, instead all the magnetic pull is happening behind the artifact.  We have moved from a system where the magnets are being used as a point-fastener on the face of the artifact, to a system that distributes large area pressure behind the artifact.  It is like moving from hanging a painting on a wall by hammering the nail through the painting, to hanging it with wire mounted to the frame.
_____________________________


Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.




Thursday, November 5, 2015

Objectivity is essential when evaluating artifacts

A conservator is often trusted to determine what something is, where it comes from, and the time period in which it was made. And while we are not antiques dealers, nor can we give an estimated sales price (a la "Antiques Road Show"), it is often a conservator who is sought to weigh in on the authenticity of an item, simply from the perspective of an expert who is in close working contact with artifacts on a daily basis.

Recently, I watched a fellow textile expert look at a textile composed of silk and wool. The owner had hoped the artifact was from a particular time period, and it was quite likely to be, but the provenance of the piece was largely unknown. It was not until after the examination of this textile that the expert asked for the "story". So as not to be biased by the hopes of the owner, this expert based their examination on the hard evidence: thread count, weave structure, dyes used, degradation of the silk areas, stitching methods, style of the piece, hems, selvedge ends, (and other things that textile folks find fascinating!).

In a blog post written not long ago, we spoke of dating objects and our research into the "sprang" weave structure of a sash from the War of 1812. That blog post has received 1000's of views, and lots of comments and emails asking us about the dates of similar objects. In the studio at the same time was a beaver felt-style chapeau with "1812" prominently sewn to the front flap with a lovely decorative cord. And while it would be easy to say it was from 1812, that was not the case. From observation alone, the hat was quite worn and featured the date to commemorate the War of 1812, that was certain. But was it worn in battle? That seemed unlikely from several factors: the materials used to construct the hat, the condition of the hat, the rank of the owner, and the style of the hat was from a slightly later period (so while it was similar, it had distinctly later features). Our findings were discussed in our blog "what's in a date?".

Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the preservation of historic artifacts and family heirlooms
Was this hat worn in the War of 1812, or does it commemorate the War of 1812?

There are many items that commemorate dates, like the 1812 hat above, that can easily be thought to originate at the time or event they commemorate. Such is the case with flags, pennants, buttons, banners and other items that are reproduced for a celebration, especially a centennial or significant anniversary.

On the other hand are objects that have a strong story or a label that was affixed to the object a long time ago. These are items that have history from legend retold or sometimes from documentation that is quite old, but does not go back to the date of the object.

For example, a lovely textile, which came into the studio along with some other artifacts, was believed by the owner to be something quite extraordinary. For this owner, family tradition had cemented the importance of the garment they believed to be from the late 13th century. Yet, the story (which was beautiful and had accompanying documentation that dated to the mid 1800's) was not plausible for a variety of reasons. The most persuasive factor was that this artifact was made using a technique that was not known until hundreds of years later. Also this textile was in very good condition, yet was hoped to be a 740 year old garment.

Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the care and preservation of historic textiles and family heirlooms
A lovely knitted garment with open work and ribbed scalloped edges. Family
history claimed it was knit by a queen in the late thirteenth century.

It was a surprise to the owner that another item in their collection was actually older, and was the one that was remarkable. This textile (photo detail below) was used as a protective covering to hold a circa 1800 book. The covering is a pouch made of linen with silk, and the embroidery is wonderful. When we commented on it, the owner stated that the textile was always "just the bag used to protect the book". The bag was clearly not made for the book, the book just happened to fit inside and so the two are now, and for many past decades, "together".

Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the conservation of historic textiles
Detail of the small embroidered pouch. The owner was surprised that it
was possibly a 17th century piece depicting King David playing his harp.

Sometimes an item will be misidentified as something it is similar to, but is not: "Japanese Kimono", "Tapestry", "battle flag", etc. will turn out to be a Chinese robe or a weaving that was hung on the wall, or a flag made to commemorate a military unit. These long standing labels can be difficult to shed. And often it is difficult to tell the client that what they have is not exactly what they think they have. However, the history of the object is still there, it's just different than what was assumed, but certainly just as (and sometimes more) interesting.

Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the conservation of historic antique flags and textiles
Is this a Revolutionary War era flag because it features 13 stars? One must be cautious that the number of stars, does not automatically mean the flag is from that specific time period. Flags, like the 1812 chapeau above, are often made to commemorate the anniversary of an event. 
Depending on the artifact, whether it be a textile, object, paper etc. Particular attributes are important. Objects made of wood, metal, glass or any medium all have specific characteristics that are indicative of the way they were made, and often when they were made. As discussed above, textiles can be quite telling when you look at the way they are woven, the fabric they are composed of, or the way they are dyed.

Why is dye analysis so important and what can be learned from it? Dye analysis is not meant to tell the date something was dyed, instead it is used to determine if a dye is natural or synthetic. We know that synthetic dyes were discovered in 1856. This is a clear date line because regardless of the appearance of an item, if the dye present in it is synthetic then the item absolutely cannot be dated before 1856.

More so than analysis, or even hard facts, is the simple fact that you must remain unbiased from trying to make an artifact fit into a particular era. For example, recently an item came to us that had been framed. The item was believed to be of a particular time because of the frame. However, the item was separate from the frame, yet because they had been together for so long they were assumed to be one in the same.

Determining an artifact's authenticity or period of manufacture or era can be quite difficult (if not impossible) without supporting documentation or a lot of unbiased research. Bias is a dangerous thing, hence is why scientists guard against it in their research to remove their predispositions from the outcome. It is no less dangerous in attempting to prove validity in dating artifacts, proving authenticity or establishing provenance.

_____________________________
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.






Friday, October 9, 2015

Magnets & Health in Conservation

We use rare earth magnets quite often here at Spicer Art Conservation. One of the many questions that we hear from fellow conservators, curators, and others who are using magnets in treatments or exhibit mounting is: 


"Are magnets dangerous to my health and are there negative effects from my close proximity to strong magnets"?  

Rare earth magnets surround our everyday lives, but we may not realize that they are hidden in our cell phones, other devices, ear buds, etc. Medical professionals have investigated the dangers of a patients proximity to rare earth magnets mainly because of their concern with the effect of magnets on pace makers, defibrillators, and brain shunts. Why the concern? Because the settings on each of these medical devices is controlled by magnets.

All magnets, when purchased, come with warnings about their effect on pace makers in particular. A pace maker, or defibrillator, deliver signals to the heart, causing it to beat without regard to the patients’ underlying heart rhythm. When exposed to a magnet the device works improperly or is deactivatedPace makers or defibrillators are negatively affected starting at 10 gauss (however, conservative estimates place this number at 5 gauss). This can result in a pacemaker missing a beat or cause an ICD defibrillator to temporarily stop looking for abnormal heart rhythms. As a comparison: headphones have small magnets with field strengths as high as 200 gauss or more (that's 20 times more than the dangerous limit of 10 gauss or 40 times the limit of the more conservative 5 gauss limit).


Spicer Art Conservation uses magnets in the conservation of historic textiles and artifacts
Internal parts to Earbuds.

But how close does the magnet need to be to be dangerous? Researchers agree that the magnet (or in this case device, headphones, etc) should not be placed directly on a patient's chest. However,  researchers have found that if the headphones were placed at least 3cm or 1.2” away from the chest, they were shown to have no effect (Morphy 2008). 

Therefore, in the museum world, the real danger of magnets might be to the conservator or preparer, and not as much to the visitor to an exhibition. A visitor most likely will not be close enough to any artifact or object within a case to be effected. As a courtesy, a small sign could be placed on stand-alone cases. Only an artifact in a small-bonneted case where something might need close inspection might be an issue if a particularly strong magnet was used. 

The chart below comes from K & J Magnetics where they have provided magnet sizing guidelines to reach a 5 gauss or lower reading. This chart and their article on "Pacemaker Safety" can be found on their website.  


determining the correct magnet to use when mounting a textile can be difficult, Gwen Spicer is an expert in the field of conservation and mounting artifacts with rare earth magnets


Luckily, pace maker technology is changing, with new devices unaffected by the magnets in electronics. We live in a world that is being saturated with waves from wireless services, devices and their carriers. It is unclear what all of this does to us. But for now, art conservators, curators and museum exhibit preparers do not need to be worried that our attempt to best support our heritage will badly effect our visitors.

And what about us? As practitioners (especially those who use an implanted device like a pace maker), we do need to remain at "arms length" from magnets, and no problems should arise. However, our exposure to magnets when mounting or treating an artifact is limited to a brief time period. The real issue for all of us seems to be our own personal electronics and how much exposure we have to these items that have "invaded" our lives. 

The bottom line, don't be afraid to use rare earth magnets to mount or treat an artifact. And if you have an implanted medical device, don't put the magnets near your device.

For additional information read these:

  • K & J Magnetics webpage on "Pacemaker Safety". As always, K & J has exceptional information about magnets (for example the chart above comes from K & J's page on pacemaker safety). But there is so much more! Look around their website for all the other magnet information they offer.  
_____________________________
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The conservation of 17th century needlework textiles, a conglomeration of stitches, symbolism and media

Mid-17th century English Stump Work embroideries feature a variety of symbolic images, with a variety of stitches, using a variety of materials. These pieces truly are are early "multi-media" pieces, and with their complex embroidery is a multitude of conservation needs. These 17th century pieces are rendered in a raised-work style, often referred to as "Stump Work". The images depicted in the needlework, the techniques and materials used, make these stump work embroideries all similar in appearance.

Recently in the studio was an embroidery called "Mordecai and Esther". It is named after the biblical story, yet the image is of Esther and King Ahaznerus of Persia. According to the story, Esther marries the King, and as his queen bravely implores his mercy to save her people from execution.

17th century English needlework conservation, professional textile preservation, restoration, Upstate Albany New York, Spicer Art Conservation, collection of Newport Restoration Foundation
The overall image shows the density of embroidered symbols. Notice the windows in the town, they shine due to pieces of mica embroidered into the work. Below is a detailed image of the mica windows. From the collection of Newport Restoration.

17th century English stump work embroideries were filled with religious references and symbolism. The restoration and preservation of these multi-media artifacts needs to be approached carefully. This embroidery was expert preserved and repaired by a professional conservator at  Spicer Art Conservation in New York State


Biblical stories are found frequently in embroideries of this time, the story of Esther is quite common because it was accepted as "historical" because it was Old Testament, and therefore not seen as overly religious (so it would not offend). The following quote describes this type of work quite well:


"The variety of method was almost infinite, though the range of subjects was limited.  The curiously disassociated juxtaposition of "curiosities', mythological, religious, natural historical and even heraldic, in unrelated scales, combined in creating an atmosphere of magic or fantasy" - Lanto Synge in Antique Needlework 1982


These needlework textiles are heavily worked with symbolic images. (Much is written on the symbolism found in art, and especially symbolism in textiles such as tapestries). This work alone includes:

  • Stag (in corner)
  • Lion (in corner)
  • Unicorn (in corner)
  • Leopard (in corner)
  • Birds of various species
  • A water fountain
  • Clouds with rain and a rainbow
  • Sun placed at the top, center
  • Fish in a bird's mouth
  • Trees - various: pears, grapefruit, orange? pomello?
  • Insects - many species and sizes, disproportional to things around them, i.e. bug same size as bird
  • Flowers - various
  • Camel
  • Squirrel
  • City or town in the background

Detail of symbolism in 17th century English stump work embroidery, conserved at the textile conservation studio of Spicer Art Conservation, New York
Detail of symbols and "distortion" of proportion (hare and peacock are the same size as a caterpillar, which is on the same scale as a flower).

The multitude of stitching techniques and symbolic imagery is typical of needlework from the mid 1600's. In fact, as we looked at some other examples, the style and manner in which the pictures are stitched makes one biblical story was almost indistinguishable from another. Below is a needlework picture from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the similar features are obvious.

another example (this one from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) of a 17th century English stump work embroidery very similar to the one conserved by textile preservation expert, Spicer Art Conservation, located in upstate New York

These multi-media needlework pictures require the conservation of a multitude of elements including:

-Silk ground, backed in linen, with backing of silk.

-Silk thread, metallic thread, metal sequins, glass beads, pearls, mica

Closer inspection shows unique stitching techniques to create flat satin shiny areas, richly complex stitches creating 3-D images, and elements like pearls and sequins and chips of mica to create areas of interest and detail. Stitching techniques include (but are not limited to): tent stitch, gobelin, satin, french knot,  couching, rococo, detached buttonhole, etc. The satin stitch is easy to examine and clean in that the stitch is flat and easily seen. The knotted stitches and the dimensional work is much thicker and gives "nooks and crannies" for dirt to hide and mask unseen damage hidden below.

Close-up showing the detail of the embellishments to the 17th century English stump work embroidery, recently conserved by textile preservation experts, Spicer Art Conservation
The added beads, pearls and sequins create interest, and more 3-dimensional areas. Below is a closer look, where you can see the metallic threads used to create the robe of this individual.

close-up detail of 17th century stump work embroidery conserved at Spicer Art Conservation, experts in the preservation and restoration of textiles

Regardless of condition, a 350+ year-old embroidery is a fragile textile and must be approached with regard to the age of the materials. This particular embroidery, while dirty and with some areas of loss,  is in good condition. As we always do, the treatment starts with a vacuuming using very low suction and a small brush attachment. When the silk and linen backings were removed, the embroidery showed evidence that it had been trimmed. This could indicate it was the lid or a panel of a larger object like a "casket" (not coffin, much like the one below).

from the V&A Museum, this casket embroidery very much resembles the 17th century stump work embroidery conserved at Spicer Art Conservation
A 17th century stump work casket from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The needlework we treated had been attached for a very long time to a wooden strainer and had been framed. It was removed from the strainer and placed on a mount constructed of DiBond that was cut to fit inside of the frame. A sealed package was created around the artifact that contained the the new DiBond backboard as well as new Plexiglas and spacers. The original wooden backing was returned, but only after it was separated from the sealed package with an interleaving layer of Marvelseal to protect the needlework from any other possible acid migration.

Some interesting work has been done by conservators using microscopy to look more closely at the complex threads used in these, and other 17th century embroideries, and how these threads were produced. Another interesting find is discussed at length on The National Gallery of Victoria's (Australia) website. While doing their microscopic evaluation they found evidence of peacock feathers used to embellish the bodies and feelers of insects depicted in the embroidery. Sadly, only these small pieces of evidence are left due to the quick degradation of feathers. Their website also includes x-radiography images of a needlepoint revealing hidden pieces of fabric and thread and how they were used.
_____________________________
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.






Thursday, July 23, 2015

Storage for Framed Items Need to Protect the Frames.

One of the many advantages of working on-site at museums is seeing how collections are rehoused and stored. You can also see what clever solutions a museum comes up with that work with their particular situation and needs.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to consult at the Maine Historical Society in Portland, Maine. They created wonderful protective storage for their framed collections in a closest that was underutilized because it was "out of the way". The closet space seemed perfect to be reconfigured into small segmented storage for framed artifacts. It can be described as a variation on bin storage. Bin storage for framed collections has been around for a long time and is highly recommended. And while it is a good choice, care is needed to ensure that all parts of the framed collection remain protected; This also means the frames themselves.

It is true that at times, the document or portrait is considered the important part of the artifact, consequently the frames are not sufficiently protected. Also, with large bin storage many frames can be housed in a single bin and the items can lean against one another. But most importantly; in a highly-populated bin, when one item is selected, several artifacts are handled. (reducing handling of artifacts is always good practice, read our previous post about lowering the handling of other artifacts, especially those that are wrapped or boxed). In the photo below, large bins are utilized, archival materials are used to interleaf the frames, and corners are protected with padding. A sheet of Ethafoam covers the "floor" of the bins, and it protects the bottoms of the frames.

Spicer Art Conservation specializes in collection care and storage of artifacts and collections
Traditional bin storage makes great use of space. In the above
photo, notice especially the acid-free corrugated board used as
dividers and the frame corners padded in ethafoam, as well as
the ethafoam on each shelf "floor". The only drawback to large
bin storage is that several items lean against each other.

In the closet at the Maine Historical Society, the segmented spaces are evenly divided in small sections to allow only one to two framed items, perhaps three if the frames were very thin (image below). The sections are labeled for identification.

Spicer Art Conservation storage or artifacts and historical documents and papers

Padding with Volara sheeting is applied at both the lower and upper horizontal supports. Each framed item is sandwiched between foam-core board, which is very sturdy for interleaving. 

Each area is labeled, so the artifact you are looking for is easier
to find and therefore handling is minimized.
Here you can see the foam core board separators.
Here you can also see the padded lip of the storage opening. 

Another system using Metro International wire chrome movable units is used at the Roosevelt / Vanderbilt, National Park Service's new storage facility in Hyde Park, NY. The system is archival and it is space conscious. This system also allows for custom-sized sections for the bin. The size of the bin should be noted to determine if excessive handling or "paging" through framed items is done before the item being searched for is located. Also, is there any risk of the items being bumped from the side because the rack is accessible from both sides?

In this type of bin storage each item is separated so that
it will not be in contact with another piece.



Spicer Art Conservation provides consultation on collection care and storage of artifacts
A view of sliding framed storage. This system ensures that the frames will not be harmed because there is no risk that they will strike another frame or the hanging system itself. Vibration will occur with a system like this, so no framed item that is at risk for loss of media, like a hair wreath or a pastel, should be stored here. 
Spicer Art Conservation provides collection care and storage consultation for museums and institutions
Another view of the sliding unit. This hanging storage is completely archival. It is costly and takes up
a large amount of space but the framed works are stored perfectly.
Spicer Art Conservation provides consultation on proper storage and collection care
This hanging storage slides on set tracks and there is no risk for one unit hitting another.
close up of the sliding tracks from the above unit.

Another take on hanging storage. Care needs to be taken that the
frames cannot hit each other as the storage is moved. Here the units
move like the pages of a book.


A tremendous amount of hanging storage. 

This large hanging storage area is wall mounted and composed of archival components. It uses a great deal of wall space.

These framed items are placed in a hanging storage system that
is compact and thus makes great use of precious storage space.
The use of wood needs to be considered because of its acidity.
Large ornate frames like these are well suited to hanging storage.

Determining the best solution for framed storage is determined by many factors:

  • Space
  • Budget
  • Amount of framed items needing storage
  • Size of the items
  • Ornateness of the frames, 
  • Media used (pastels for instance should not be subjected to vibration from moving racks because the media could be dislodged from the surface of the work, causing it to fall to the bottom of the frame; see image below). 

damage to a pastel work, Spicer Art Conservation repaired this art and reframed the piece with archival materials


Each institution will be different because of their unique needs. You may or may not have a wonderful little closet to retrofit, but you do know your collection and you know your storage space. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box and create the best frame storage for your institution.

Need some extra advice? An online guide of types of framed art and how they should be stored can be found through the Minnesota Historical Society. They also have wonderful guidelines for all sorts of things, check them all out. Want an expert collection care consultant to come and help you figure this out? Call an art conservator.
_____________________________
Gwen Spicer is an art conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of artifacts is unrivaled. To contact her, please visit her website.