Flag conservation

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spicer Art Conservation has gone solar!!

It is true. Spicer Art Conservation is now running on solar power! We are just so excited about this new event. It has been something that we have been working on for several years. There was the perfect southern exposure slop that was calling out for panels; and now it has them.

Solar powered conservation studio, green company, art conservation studio, upstate new york, spicer art conservation
The solar panel installers working hard to place the framework.

At Spicer Art Conservation we have always been energy conscious. In the studio we use many energy saving techniques; using compact fluorescent, and now the newer LED light bulbs, extra thick insulation for the walls, and shades for windows, as well as maintaining the studio environment for the collections in our care to ensure good relative humidity and proper temperatures.

Solar panels provide power to Spicer Art Conservation, an art conservation studio located in upstate New York specializing in textile, objects, paper and upholstery conservation, green company, solar power
The panels are ready to start generating our power.

Spicer Art Conservation has gone green and is now running on solar power, turning on the panels was exciting, we began producing our own power almost immediately.
The moment of turning the panels on.

Now that the solar panels are working, we are able to monitor the amount of energy that is being produced. Spring turns out to be a great time for solar power. The chart below shows several days of sunny exposure. Where there is a dip, it is cloudy, or clouds have moved by.

Solar production chart gives a daily output of power produced.

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Gwen Spicer is a conservator in private practice. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  To contact Gwen, please visit her website or send an email.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Textile mounts of unusual sizes

Cultural heritage just does not come in regular sizes.

This fact can be both frustrating and interesting, especially when it comes to the mounting and display of artifacts, particularly textiles. In our modern mechanical world our lives are filled with things in pre-determined sizes and shapes; clothing comes in systematic sizes, small, medium and large, etc. Our houses are typically built in Colonial, Cape Cod, ranch (traditional, raised or split) or other blueprint with specified characteristics. But this not so for the artifacts that tell our stories. And so, mounts and storage spaces are all dictated by the unique and often non-conforming sizes of our collections.

A recent project at SAC is such an example. It is a most unusually embroidered artifact. I am not even sure if it should be singularly characterized as a sampler, or better described as a trade-persons portfolio providing examples of their handwork. Regardless of it's original purpose, it is clearly representative of a skilled needle person. We do not know if the creator is a man or woman as the artifact is signed at one end with an initial and last name and a date of 1857.

Textile conservation of Berlin work sampler featuring Bargello needlework. Conservator Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation custom mounted the unusually sized textile sampler
Here the sampler of Berlin wool work is seen after treatment. It has been mounted and framed using archival materials. The sampler's extra long size can be appreciated, stretching 12 feet, it beautifully showcases each of the 36 unique design panels and the 35 border designs between each panel.

Similar artifacts like the one above exist is several collections, it is likely that these artifacts were produced as a demonstration piece to show skill, and therefore secure work for the embroiderer. To this endeavor, this particular artifact is reinforced and protected for travel. The entire embroidery is backed with a glazed cotton that covers the reverse side, also hiding the reverse or "business side" of the stitches. The glazed cotton backing also protects it, especially while it is rolled during transport. The outer rough edges are covered with green silk ribbon and at each corner is a small bow. The green silk ribbon also provides a nice finishing touch to any presentation.

BEFORE TREATMENT: A close-up of the end of the sampler. Here, the fraying corner can be seen, along with the silk ribbon that covers the edge and creates the corner bows. This particular panel is lovely in that it captures both the needlework as well as the beadwork. 

This artifact is also unusually sized, measuring 146 inches (or just over 12 feet long), yet it is a mere 8 inches wide. It features 36 different and unique embroidery samples. No two pattern designs are alike. And while the outer black wool floral border is consistent around the entire perimeter, each pattern sample is separated by a unique dividing border of a repetitive design stitched in (see image below). While the sample designs include those worked with both glass and metal beads, the style of the vibrant wool colors is unmistakeable, referred to as "Berlin wool work", or just simply, "Berlin work". The panels feature much more than "standard" Berlin work, it also includes a mixture of cross stitches, Blackwork insets, and several Bargello needlework panels (see image below), some panels are embellished with glass and metal steel beads. As well as a mixture of both wool and silk threads. Such an artwork! It begs the question, who was the owner? Who did they present it to? Were they successful at their trade?

One of the several Bargello panels featuring the beautiful
brightly colored wool yarns. Here, two of the dividing
border patterns can be seen as well. 

After it was done being used as a demonstration piece for earning a living, no doubt someone saw the beauty in the piece and it became decoration. Following examination, we learned that it had been mounted previously. Signs of thumb tacks and nails were present along the twelve foot long sides of the embroidery.

The prepared mount was unusual, 150" long and only 9" wide. The owner wanted to have it span the entire upper wall "frieze" area of a room with a high ceiling.  

We are often asked what goes in to creating a mount that is both constructed of materials that are archival, and preferred among conservators, as well as museum professionals to ensure that the mount materials are safe and will not harm the artifacts they hold.

The structure of the mount is multi-layered. At its base is a support which is created from an aluminum honeycomb panel which will not release harmful pollutants, is buffered against acid migration, is not prone to warping, and is light weight (which is a wonderful characteristic when you are creating a large mount that could be tremendously heavy!). Over it is a layer of soft material, typically polyester batting. Then, over that is a mounting fabric, chosen to blend best with the artifact, composed of plain weave long-fibered cotton. The textile is then carefully attached to the mount using fine thread and stitches that follow former or existing stitching so as to not create additional holes (see illustration above). At the perimeter of the mount is the fillet, which creates the space (between the mount and the UV filtering Plexiglas) for the textile to rest. The frame of the mount is constructed of aluminum and is powder coated in any color, but typically black is the color of choice. Smaller mounted items can have a decorative frame placed over the top of the aluminum frame of the mount. The mount is completed with UV filtering Plexiglas. Plexiglas is much lighter than glass and it does not shatter like glass. Depending on the mount, the hanging mechanism is often incorporated into the back (see image below).

The reverse of the mount, with hanging mechanism.

Here at Spicer Art Conservation, we mount a lot of flags and other items that all tend to be closer to being square or a "reasonable rectangle". But to have a mount with this odd proportion is not just unusual, but also fun. The studio's work tables get moved around to accommodate the extra long size and then we begin to think about methods that might be slightly out of the standard. This is all great fun; we welcome and embrace the challenging mount and unusual textiles at SAC.

Textile Conservator, Gwen spicer works to prepare
the mount for the long needlework sampler.
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Gwen Spicer is a conservator in private practice. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper. To contact Gwen, please visit her website or send an email.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How do I camouflage my magnets?

There is an increasing interest in the use of magnets, both in museums and among the general public. In many museum exhibits it is desirable to make the magnet blend with the artifact being mounted. Conservators and mount makers have used many methods of disguise to achieve this. A magnet or ferromagnetic material can be used and disguised quite easily (For more on what a magnetic system is, read our other posts: http://insidetheconservatorsstudio.blogspot.com/2013/05/ferrous-attraction-and-science-behind.html and http://insidetheconservatorsstudio.blogspot.com/2015/05/a-magnet-is-only-as-strong-as.html). 

The camouflaging method selected is often based on available supplies, expertise, and the experience of the practitioner. Other aspects depend on selecting a substrate similar to the artifact's texture, color, pattern and design. Concern for the durability and the magnet placement depends on the situation. In particular, the magnet's tolerance for being handled multiple times. Also, concern for its proximity to the visitor, especially in the case of patrons who might be susceptible to a magnet's effect (pacemaker wearers, for example).

Useful Tools:
If you must trim any material after it has been attached to the magnet, the use of metal tools like standard metal scissors can be frustrating because your tool and magnet are attracted to each other. Luckily tools made of zirconia (Zr, atomic number 40), like knives, are perfect and will not be attracted to a magnet. These knifes are very sharp and brittle, so great care is needed to prevent them from breaking.

ferromagnetic knives are not a good choice when working with magnets. Choose one of these non-metallic tools instead. Magnet mounts in art conservation with Spicer Art Conservation, Upstate New York
Useful non-metallic tools that won't be attracted to a magnet


Below is a list of various options for camouflaging a magnet:

A) PAINT
A layer of paint can be a quick camouflaging method, but it also brings challenges. One, is creation of an uneven application (it can be difficult to apply an even coat on the plated surface of a magnet). Another, is protecting the applied surface. An added protective coating is useful to aid in reducing the potential of chipping. Another option is to "rough" the surface slightly, allowing for a better grip of the paint to the magnet surface.

The painted surface on a magnet will become chipped or marred when opposing sides are quickly snapped together. This often occurs when magnets are removed and stored, or are placed near one another during preparation when ferromagnetic materials are not present. To minimize this problem, ensure that all of the magnets for one project are stored with the poles in the same direction, so that the fragile painted layers repel each other.

This might not be a choice for magnets that are used regularly. However, it can be an easy and quick method for short term needs. To do this, place them on inexpensive plumber’s tape behind silicone Mylar, scrap steel, or a metal filling-system. (see the image below).

Using a layer of adhered paper or Japanese tissue below the paint layer can improve the cohesion. For more about painting magnets go to: http://denverartmuseum.org/article/how-dam-prepared-rare-earth-magnets-installation-oceanic-textiles


storing magnets for use in conservation mounting and museum display. this quick snapping together can damage the magnet and hurt your fingers too. At Spicer Art Conservation we work extensively with magnets to create innovative treatments.
These block magnets are spaced far
enough apart to discourage them from
snapping together quickly.  

B. DIGITAL PRINT
An excellent camouflage technique is to use a digital image to duplicate the surface that the magnet covers. Larger flexible magnets are ideal for securing thin artifacts. Several conservators have published the technique, but on-line you can go to the Asian Art Museum's blog (http://www.asianart.org/exhibitions_index/batik-mounts) to read about it. 

A digital print can also be added to the outer surface of any rare-earth magnet (see photo below). 

Camouflaging is created using a long flexible magnet that
is covered with a 1:1 image of the artifact it will secure.

C. COVERING LAYER
Another approach to disguise the magnet is to apply materials that are the same, or with similar texture, as the artifact that is being supported . The materials are disguised by the color, texture or images in the local area that is being covered, or even the actual embellishment itself (see the decorative element section below). Examples of materials that have been used include Japanese paper, mat board (http://www.conservation-wiki.com/w/index.php?title=Magnet_Mounts), Nomex, fabric (http://spicerart.com/2014/12/17/hunzinger-chair-re-tufted-with-magnets), Tyvek, felt, leather, artificial rawhide, and ultra suede.

When fabric is used, using a sufficiently tight weave-structure to withstand the strength of the magnet is recommended. If the weave-structure is too loose, then the fabric weakens prematurely.  



Gwen Spicer, Textile Conservator and expert in the care of historic flags, furnishings, objects and artifacts. Art restoration and preservation services in New York, the United States, and world-wide.
Creating tufting on a chair seat using magnets. These magnets 
will be covered with the same red show-cover fabric, creating a 
camouflaging of the magnets.
D. DECORATIVE ELEMENT
Conservators have cited the magnet itself as the decorative element and hence requires placement above the artifact. The decorative element in this case aids in determining the size and strength of the magnet. If the magnet is replacing a missing element, then the size is predetermined. But the grade can be adjusted to better match the magnetic system.

When a magnet is securing the element to the artifact the magnet needs to have the strength for support. The element can be a range of sizes and shapes, large; and flat or small footprint and tall. A magnet must be selected that will secure the element, while also not damaging the artifact below. 

Read more about disguising magnets as decorative elements at the Asian Art Museums website: http://www.asianart.org/collections/magnet-mounts 


Decorative element secured to a costume using a magnet.
E. Embedding
A successful method of placing rare earth magnets within materials is embedding them properly. Keeping the magnets surrounded by materials aids in their longevity, by lessening the risk of demagnetization from both shock and heat. These embedded magnets or ferromagnetic materials can be placed on top or within an artifact, as well as used as a point fastener, or as continuous pressure on the artifact. 

Any three-dimensional artifact can be easily mounted and supported. The magnet or ferromagnetic material can be embedded and hidden inside. In addition, many of these systems can be reused. The wide selection of materials used are Ethafoam, pillows with batting and a baseboard, materials that are easily carved, and rigid or simple acid-free board.  Read more about creating mounts here:

Magnetic exhibit and display is possible with a variety of applications of a magnetic system. Here, the magnetic system is used within the artifact. The application is fully reversible, will not harm the artifact, and is reusable.
Ferromagnetic material attached 
to an acid-free board inserted 
into the base of a wooden box.

Magnetic systems for mounting and conserving artifacts can be complicated, but with some knowledge, any conservator or mount maker can create a great magnetic system.

The shape of the magnet, whether using a disc or a block, does not affect many of the methods described above. The only exception is cutting a hole into mat board. Here having a block-shaped magnet could be simpler than cutting a round hole, but a drill bit can be used.



At Spicer Art Conservation we are always interested to hear of magnet use success stories. In fact, Gwen Spicer, owner and principal conservator of SAC is busy writing a book about the use of magnets in conservation. The book features examples of successful magnet use by conservators. If you have a story or project you are particularly proud of, and would like to possibly be included with other successful magnet using conservators in the book, please share your own experience of covering and camouflaging magnets. We want to hear!

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Gwen Spicer is a conservator in private practice. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the conservation of textiles, objects, and works of art on paper. Ms. Spicer is known for her innovative treatments and mounts using magnets. 

To contact Gwen, visit her website: www.spicerart.com or send her an email: gwen@spicerart.com.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mold on Pastel Portraits, why it grows and how it can be prevented

by Gwen Spicer and Barbara Owens
At Spicer Art Conservation, we treat many pastel works of art. Commonly they are portraits, but sometimes the occasional landscape or still life appears.

Spicer Art Conservation after treatment photo of pastel portrait painting with mold on surface, mould removal from pastel art work, Spicer Art Conservation, paper conservatorbefore treatment of pastel with mold, mould outbreak on pastel painting, Spicer Art Conservation, paper conservation framing , removal of mold from art






With few exceptions, the treatment of pastels is focused on the removal of surface mold (Above: before treatment close-up of mold damage on left, at right, overall after treatment photo). For many clients the mold present on their artwork is disfiguring and distracts from the enjoyment of the viewer, but it also serves as a "canary in a coal mine" because mold often grows in a perfect environment where temperature, and relative humidity, along with surface debris or dust has formed the perfect habitat for mold to flourish. If mold has bloomed, the environment has supported it, and if mold has bloomed on one artifact it may happen on others. For museum collections this can be of particular concern as collection are housed together, in one room or space. (Keep in mind that mold loves organic materials and we often see it on artifacts composed of wood, leather, feather, etc.)

Edna Millay pastel portrait before treatment and framing, mold on pastel, mould outbreak and removal from surface of pastel art, Spicer Art Conservation, paper conservator
A pastel portrait after it has been removed from its frame.
Here you can see at the lower border edge that the blue pastel
particles had fallen behind the mat.  

Before treatment of pastel portrait with mold outbreak, mould on pastels is very common, removal and treatment by professional art conservator, paper conservation
Closeup image of the mold that has bloomed. 


Spicer Art Conservation, removal treatment of mold on pastel, edna millay, mould on paper
After treatment, the mold has been neutralized and is not
disfiguring. Can it come back? Yes, given the right conditions
of temperature, relative humidity, and light, it could grow again.

removal of mold from pastel by professional art conservator, Spicer Art Conservation, mould on pastel, Edna Millay portrait
After treatment and reframing. Pastels are always framed with
glass because the static charge present on plexiglas will have
an effect on the small loose particles of pastel dust.

The number of pastels with mold present far outnumbers any other works of art on paper with mold present. Why is this? The answer lays much in the inherent nature of pastels. Other colored works of art (whether they are paintings or watercolors) all have some portion of binding material that protect the colored pigment. The more binder, the more protection and the more "stable" the pigment vehicle. The more binder also means the more ability for an art conservator to clean the surface. If a large amount of binder is present, the pigment vehicle (oil paint for instance) is more solid. For more information on pigments and their binders see the information below about paint.

pastel pigment, mold on pastel portraits, paintings drawings, art work
The above is a slide from a lecture given by Carl Plansky of Williamsburg Paint.

Unlike other pigment applications, pastels have almost completely unbounded pigment with the tiniest amount of binder. Mostly the pigment particles simply rest on the surface of the paper. The selection of the paper that some artists use also assists with the adherence of the pastel to the paper, as that there are special rough surfaced papers designed especially for pastels that help to "grab" the pastel particles. But these papers are not always what the artist has used.

George L. Stout of "Monuments Men" fame produced the most effective schematic of illustrating the various types of surfaces and the "tooth" of the media. His illustration, "Classes of Simple Paint Structure" was first produced in Technical Studies Volume VI, 1938, page 231 (Technical Studies later became Studies in Conservation). See below.

George Stout, Simple Paint Structure, Gwen Spicer, Spicer Art Conservation, conservation of paper, textiles and objects, mold on pastel paintings portraits and art

From the illustration above, pastel is classified along with chalk and charcoal as granular and loose. What might be harder to read is the arrows near the center of the page which show that as you move from left to right, the absorption and transmission of light is increasing. If you think of looking at a pastel it appears flat, whereas if you look at an oil painting, or even at acrylic paints with a glazed surface, it has reflective properties and might even be described as shiny.

The presence of binders around pigment particles creates different optical effects, and more or less saturation of color. One of the beauties of pastels is the full situation of the pigment, that it is only the pigment that one sees. It is these exposed pigment particles that become the surface from which the mold grows. According to Kit Gentry, "Mold loves pastel. Dense, fluffy, mineral-rich layers of pastel are basically like potting soil for mold". Well said.

Pastels cannot be easily cleaned for a number of reasons, but especially important to the growth of mold is that dirt is attracted to the rough surface (even when protected by a frame with glass or plexiglas). The dirt then becomes a food source for the mold. The challenge then becomes removing the mold without removing the small particles of pigment which are loosely held to the surface and can easily be dislodged from the surface.

Mold removal from paper, pastel art, mould on art work, conservation of paper, Spicer Art Conservation
Gwen Spicer, principal conservator at Spicer Art Conservation cleaning
mold from the surface of paper. Here the mold is being vacuumed using a
method to capture the mold in a water chamber. Gwen wears gloves, mask
and eye protection. This mold cleaning is a bit different in that the mold
here is growing on the paper board, no pastel is present in this particular
 area of the artwork.

Often mold follows a particular path on the pastel, or is isolated to one pastel color, or one particular area. This odd behavior can probably be explained in that mold follows the source of food, so while you may not be able to see it, the "food" is there. Mold can be fluffy, flat, green, white, blue, etc. the variety of colors shapes and configurations tells us that many species are present, and they are opportunistic.

before treatment of pastel portrait with mold mould growth, paper conservation, professional art conservator
The mold covering this pastel covered the entire
surface, it is more noticeable on the dress of
the subject because of the dark color.

The question of why some older pastels do not have the same number of mold outbreaks has been discussed. Some experts believe that the copper, lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals and elements used in the early production of pastels are what keeps mold at bay on these very old drawing and paintings. Apparently these elements are naturally mold resistant, but of course poisonous to humans, and so are not used in the formulation of pastels the way they were in centuries past (that is not to say that pastels no longer contain hazardous materials).

There are important things to know about mold. There are 1,000's of known mold species. Mold is often dormant, not dead. Mold is omnipresent, therefore you will never be without; mold spores are airborne and therefore are in the air we breathe. Mold species have diverse lifestyles and can vary significantly in their tolerance to temperature and humidity.

We have heard from clients with mold affected pastels who say, "but my house is dry, there is no way mold should grow there". Remember, mold can certainly be kept in check, but it can generally bloom (or re-bloom) if relative humidity increases to 50% or higher, and if temperatures increase above 70   degrees F (this environment most certainly describes anyones home). However, we know that mold grows above 39 degrees F (hence is why food is refrigerated below this temperature) AND we know that mold also grows in our refrigerator which is often below 39 degrees F. The point is that mold is opportunistic and some form of it can grow nearly anywhere under any conditions.

optimal mold growth chart, mould growth on pastels, collections, organics, artwork, professional conservation, conservator Gwen Spicer
The chart above shows the zone for "optimal mold growth" in blue. Also shown is the ideal conditions
for artifacts as well as human comfort zone.

The lesson here for keeping mold away is that pastels must be kept as clean as possible. This might mean reframing a pastel before dirt enters an unsealed frame and therefore before mold even gets the chance to grow. Any torn or broken dust paper at the back of an old frame is an entry point for dirt and debris to find its way into the frame package. Conservators have in the last few years made tremendous progress on methods of framing, creating a sealed archival package around the matted artifact, and then sealing the frame as well. This is really now made possible with truly archival materials. Once created, the sealed package is then secured into the frame (either a new frame or into the original frame). With this method, it is no longer necessary to secure dust papers to the back of the frame (see image below).

conservation framing methods, mold on pastel, mould, sealing of framed package, professional conservation, conservator, art on paper
The sealing of a package of archival mounting materials with conservation
approved sealing tape. This sealed inner package will be placed into a frame
with archival materials, the frame will then be sealed (see image below).

Pastel portrait, painting, drawing, mold on pastel, mould, framing with archival materials, treatment of mold on artwork by conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation
The reverse side of a framed pastel, the pastel is framed with archival materials,
including acid free board and framers tape to seal the edges to prevent debris, dust,
or insects from entering the frame. Inside of the frame is the sealed package of
glazing and the art work (see image above).

Be warned. There are some amazingly frightening suggestions to be found online to offer assistance with getting rid of mold. Including baking your pastel in an oven along with a potato, or spraying it with liquid moth balls, YIKES. A professional art conservator is once again the way to go. Seriously, don't mess around with crazy methods or those which use toxins. Seriously. Lastly, placing a pastel with mold on it in direct sunlight as a method to deter or disable any mold is not a good idea. While it might disable the mold that is susceptible to light, the light damage to the pigment of the pastel are both cumulative and permanent.

For further reading, The Pastel Society of America has an informative website about everything you want to know about pastels. If you own a pre-1800's pastel, Neil Jeffares book, Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800, talks about everything pastel before the 19th century, including conservation. You can also check out our "Inside the Conservator's Studio" blog posts about Mold in Collections, also our post on Environmental Conditions. Both are informative, but if you have concerns about a pastel and need a conservator to help, please contact us.

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Gwen Spicer is a conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.   To contact Gwen, please visit her website or send an email.