Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Conservation of a 400 Year-old Map; and the Difference Between Parchment and Vellum

by Barbara Owens

400 year-old maps are fragile, rare and priceless.  As a conservator, balancing the delicate nature of a skin artifact with the stabilization of the piece requires skill, concentration, and a gentle touch.

paper and object art conservation of parchment, vellum, skin and leather artifacts, historic maps, artifacts, Spicer Art Conservation

"Paper" in the 17th century existed as parchment or vellum.  Parchment and vellum at this time were both animal based, derived from cow, sheep or goat.  Vellum, parchment's finer cousin, required more steps to be produced (and therefore made it more expensive) it was also typically made of calf skin.  The Renselaerwyck Map is referred to as being printed on both parchment or vellum.  Truthfully, to distinguish one from the other in a piece from this era would be nearly impossible and would probably require chemical testing of the object.  Clearly, testing a historically valuable piece of this kind would not reveal any information pertinent to its history.  Conclusions can be drawn however, simply from the fact, that vellum was a more expensive medium and, Kiliaen van Rensselear is, at the time of its commissioning, one of the most important men in the new world and could certainly afford it.

The Map of Rensselaerwyck (printed on the map as "Renselaerwyck") is a piece of New York history reflecting the unique early Dutch settlements of the Hudson River.  This particular map was stabilized to be included in the exhibit: "1609" at the New York State Museum in Albany, New York.  

Surprisingly, for its age, this map was in very good condition.  Perhaps because of its inclusion in the restricted access section of the NYS Archives and its vaulted storage.  The map had suffered some small tears and losses which were repaired at some point in the past.  Comparison of photographs from the early 1900's shows the fragility of the ink and its susceptibility to the environment.  The map required a variety of treatments, from flattening the skin while in a controlled humidity chamber, to tears mended with Japanese tissue.  

check out the virtual tour of the "1609" exhibit here:  http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/1609/

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.

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