by Laura Stirton Aust

Most of us have more art than we have walls to hang it on.  And, the term deaccession seems to be a word reserved for museums.  So, where do all these large, flat, fragile objects get put?

At museums works on paper are usually hinged (with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste) to a standard museum sized rag matboard.  This back board is hinged (with linen tape) to a rag board window mat.  These matted works are covered with glassine (a very smooth, neutral pH, translucent paper) and boxed with other art which has been matted with the same sized materials.  As a conservator, I store paper art in flat files with map folders (an acid-free card stock paper) and buffered tissue (a soft, thin paper which has calcium carbonate added to neutralize acids).  But how many people have flat files in their home?  Where and what is the next best option?  And, what about pieces that are too large for flat files?

Although museums generally mat paper art, some collections remain boxed without mats.  There are several different kinds of storage boxes made for works of art on paper.  Solander makes standard museum sized boxes of acid-free materials.  These are made with binder’s board covered with book cloth and have metal latches.  They can be stacked one on top another as they are quite sturdy.  Another alternative is acid-free cardboard boxes with metal corners.  These also come in standard museum sizes but should not be stacked more than few high as the thin cardboard will collapse under pressure.  These boxes will require replacement in time because they will tear or break as the buffering material is depleted.  Both boxes serve the same function.  They reduce the amount of dust and light that comes into contact with the art.  If glassine is placed between each work and the paper size is near the box size, you have provided housing very near museum standards.  Do not fill the box.  Instead, use several sheets of matboard (the same dimensions as the box) to prevent shifting and remember to store the box flat, not upright.

It is preferable to keep works on paper flat because a rolled print usually requires the service of a conservator to remove the curl.  But, for pieces that are too large for flat storage, rolling is an option.  Just remember, NEVER roll a paper tightly and NEVER force it inside a tube.  Roll it over a large diameter, solid walled tube (one which will not bend).  If the tube is not acid-free, first cover it with glassine.  Use two, one inch pieces of acid-free tape to anchor the glassine to the tube at each end.  Place another sheet of glassine on top of the artwork before rolling it.  If several works are to be rolled around the same tube, stack them with glassine between each and roll them all together.  Finally, cover the tube with another sheet of tissue or glassine.  The glassine and tube should extend at least two inches beyond the edge of the largest sheet.  This unused portion of the tube will help prevent damage to the edge of the papers and, if this package is to be placed inside a larger diameter tube, you will have something to grab a hold of when removing the interior tube. 

Museum storage has a constant temperature between 60o Fahrenheit and  74o F and a stable relative humidity above 35% and below 50%.  These conditions prevent desiccation caused by low humidity and mold growth which may appear with high humidity.  Because the environment is stable there is little expansion and contraction of the paper which may cause distortions.  Since most homes are not climate controlled, the private collector may question where to keep their prints?  There is no easy answer, so I suggest locations to avoid.  First of all, temperature and humidity extremes and fluctuations are harmful.  This eliminates most attics for art storage.  Secondly, high humidity is especially injurious which excludes most basements.  Even though the temperature may be fairly constant, basements are prone to flooding and excessive dampness.  Closets with any sort of water pipes can be a hazard for art storage.  Finally, keep the storage boxes an inch or two off the floor to promote air circulation and check the boxes several times a year.  Many damages start small and get worse with time.

Usually when art is created it is in pristine condition.  The support paper is the color chosen by the artist.  There is a crisp plate mark on etchings, mezzotints, and engravings.  The margins are clean and without distortion.  There are no flaws or damages to distract from the image created.  But, with time, handling, and improper storage art may become discolored, distorted, creased, edges may have become dog eared and the beauty of the work diminished.  Therefore, the care taken with storage and handling will be reflected in the condition of the artwork. 

All the materials you need for safe storage are available at TALAS, in New York (212.219-0770 www/, Metal Edge, Inc (800.862-2228 or Gaylord Archival (800.448-6160  Each has a catalog and will help answer your questions.

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