by Laura Stirton Aust, ARTcare

Paper is the most common support for artistic expression.  Most paper is inexpensive, mass produced and of poor quality.  Only a small portion is handmade of stable materials.  But, even handmade paper is inherently frail.  It's easy to tear, crease and soil.  Paper easily becomes stained or distorted even while protected in a frame.  Some changes in paper are a normal part of the aging process.  Others are more serious conditions which require the intervention of a conservator.  The most common paper conservation needs include old mending or hinging tape, tears, staining, or distortions.  Knowing when paper needs a conservator may save a work of art with intrinsic or personal value.

Before framing or storing a work of art on paper, look closely at the paper and media.  Look for tears, tape, creases, distortions, staining on either side of the paper, as well as cracking or flaking of the media.  If possible, determine when or how the damage occurred.  Did a framer use tape to attach the print to a window mat?  Or was the tape applied by a well meaning but uniformed collector?  Has the paper been mishandled?  Did something splash or spill on a corner?  Was the art or document framed with acidic materials which have caused staining?  The most important question is whether or not any of these conditions are likely to get worse over time.  If a conservator is needed to answer this question, then yes, it's time to call a conservator.   Damage is much less likely to be repaired, more likely to go unnoticed, but get worse without notice after a piece has been framed.

Tears are prevalent on old paper.  Any tear puts a sheet at risk of irreparable damage.  Complex tears are sometimes impossible to mend successfully.  There may be distortions that hamper hiding or disguising a repair.  But, fixing a small edge tear invisibly is often possible.  A conservator would never mend a tear with tape.  Mending even a simple tear requires an appropriate weight and color Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.  Moisture from the paste must be wicked out of the paper before it causes distortions.  And, a mend should be weak enough to give way before allowing another tear to form near by.  Unquestionably, mending torn paper requires the skills of a paper conservator.  Once in a suitable frame, a mended tear is unlikely to require further attention.  Untreated, a tear may extend into the image area or a tear may lead to paper loss.

If there is tape one a work of art it is time to call a conservator.  No tape is good tape, but some tapes are worse than others.  Tapes cause staining, embrittlement, distortions, and skinning.  They almost always leave behind adhesive residue.  Though the least damaging tapes cause little more than distortions, removing these tapes improperly may cause irreversible damage.  Only a conservator should attempt to extract tape from paper.  This task often requires solvents and surgical tools.  When all goes well, a conservator is able to remove tape and adhesive without solvent staining or skinning of the paper.

Any sort of stain is understandably concerning to a collector.  Though stains may appear on paper for a variety of reasons, some blemishes which are unavoidable.  For instance, if the artist has used an ink which has a high oil content, there may be halos around heavily inked areas.  Little can be done to diminish this staining.  But other stains should be addressed immediately.  Those include; foxing, water stains, and mold.  Also, acidic framing materials and adhesives may cause streaks, yellowing or darkening of the support.  The edge of an acidic window mat can burn paper a hazy brown..  Any of these stains is a worthy reason to call a conservator.

Distortions may or may not be reason enough to call a conservator.  With high humidity paper expands and often ripples along the edges.  Some paper gently waves through the center.  Expect changes in paper.  These changes in planarity may be more of a distraction than an actual conservation problem.  In fact, if a paper does not change and is extremely flat all the time, no matter how humid the climate, there is more reason for concern.  The print has probably been mounted or stretched in what may be an unsafe manner.  Dimples in the upper edge of a print may be the result of hinges which are too heavy or improperly applied.  It is often difficult to know just what circumstances are causing distortions without close examination by a professional.  Improper mounting and hinging are both very common paper conservation issues.

Flaking media or any sort of dust within the lower edge of a frame should initiate investigation.  Whether the ink is lifting away from the paper or insects are feasting on the sizing, a conservator should be called to determine the cause of the problem.

Most collectors consider the condition of a work of art before purchase.  A conservator may be called for a condition report and treatment estimate to ascertain if repairs will change the value and / or appearance of an artwork.

Many collectors are aware of protecting their investment with the proper framing, display and storage.  But, when there is an emergency such as a flood or fire, or an accident which causes a frame to break, one of the first calls should be a paper conservator.  The fall newsletter will give details on how to go about finding a conservator.

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