Custom Framing

Bringing the Past to Life: Conservation & Preservation of Historical Family Documents

Tape removal is executed using solvents during the conservation treatment of a client’s family tree.

Tape removal is executed using solvents during the conservation treatment of a client’s family tree.

The most common paper artifacts that ordinary people save and collect are documents related to their personal family history. Photographs, love letters, marriage and birth certificates that have been passed on from grandparents and great-grandparents are carefully - or not so carefully - saved in albums and drawers of personal mementos. Our ancestors may not have been able to protect them as well as we might wish, and whether through disaster, neglect or simply inherent vice, paper remnants of a family’s history often end up damaged and deteriorated.

Maybe you’re engaged in researching your family’s genealogy. Maybe you want to pass on some treasured items to your children or grandchildren. Maybe you’re simply curious or sentimental about an item that belonged to your great-grandparents. Either way, a conservator can help you restore and preserve these important personal items.

Our studio regularly treats family documents needing repair and restoration. We clean, flatten, repair tears, remove stains, deacidify, and fill and inpaint losses. We offer advice on proper storage conditions to preserve artifacts going forward, and can provide archival housings such as acid-free folders, mylar encapsulation and clamshell boxes for books and bibles.

A Polish birth certificate c.1905, folded, broken, and inaccessible.

A Polish birth certificate c.1905, folded, broken, and inaccessible.

Previous repairs with tape and bandaids have stained the paper fibres.

Previous repairs with tape and bandaids have stained the paper fibres.

This birth certificate, from a family of Polish ancestry, was recently brought in for conservation treatment. The document, over 100 years old, had been stored folded and the brittle paper had broken along the fold lines. It had been repaired in the past with materials close to hand, specifically sellotape and the unusual solution of band-aids! The owner was hesitant even to open the folded document, and consequently couldn’t access the information written inside, the birth and christening dates of her grandmother.

Removing various tapes from the document with scalpel and solvent.

Removing various tapes from the document with scalpel and solvent.

Treatment included humidifying and unfolding the tightly folded package, removing the pressure sensitive adhesive tape and the remaining adhesive residue, and lining the fragments onto a new backing paper in order to create a new full sheet to stabilize the document. Some panels of the document were missing, but luckily the areas with handwritten text were all intact and the client could finally read the information.

Reassembling fragments of the birth certificate before repair by lining.

Reassembling fragments of the birth certificate before repair by lining.

The certificate is lined onto a new sheet, making it safely accessible.

The certificate is lined onto a new sheet, making it safely accessible.

Ancestor photographs often come in for conservation treatment as well. Restoring treasured heirlooms is one of the most satisfying tasks of our daily work, and the feeling of returning a revived photograph to the descendent of it’s owner is wonderful validation for our hard work. The photograph below was the only image one client had of her great-grandmother, but biological damage had affected the emulsion layer of the photograph. Careful stabilization and inpainting restored the image, and the client was pleased to frame it with museum quality materials for display in her home.

Inpainting losses to the emulsion layer of a 19th century photograph.

Inpainting losses to the emulsion layer of a 19th century photograph.

This small notebook belonged to another client’s Polish father, and was brought with him when he immigrated to Canada after serving in the second world war. Her family now happily considers themselves Canadian, but memories of their father’s war experiences are treasured and revered, and this diary serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles he went though to reach safety. Conservation treatment stabilized it and a collection of other documents related to her parent’s immigration, now preserved for the family’s future.

Repairs with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste to a Polish immigrant’s notebook.

Repairs with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste to a Polish immigrant’s notebook.

A charming item came into the studio just before Christmas this year - a client’s childhood letter to Santa. We’re guessing it was c.1970s, by the request for bellbottoms, and the thoughtful request for a mink coat for her mother is very heartwarming. The letter had great sentimental value for the client, and we were pleased to return it carefully restored as a “christmas miracle” in time for the holidays.

Letter to Santa, before conservation.

Letter to Santa, before conservation.

Letter to Santa, after conservation.

Letter to Santa, after conservation.

Family history documents are one of our specialities at Book and Paper Conservation Services, and we don’t consider any items too small to be deserving of careful conservation and restoration. The stories that come with these artifacts make the work worthwhile, and although the documents may not be of much monetary value, the sentimental worth is incalculable.

Custom archival storage folders made to house family history documents once they have been conserved at our studio.

Custom archival storage folders made to house family history documents once they have been conserved at our studio.

Art Conservator and Book and Paper Conservation Services owner Jennifer Robertson recently spoke to the Ontario Genealogical Society about preservation and conservation of family history documents. The talk was recorded and is available for viewing here. If you are interested in learning more about genealogy and connecting with other passionate family researchers in the London area, the OGS’s Middlesex branch website provides information on their monthly meetings and talks.

This small bible (before conservation treatment), travelled with a client’s father while he was on active duty in WWI. The restoration filled losses and stabilized the book, which was then passed on to her son as a family heirloom.

This small bible (before conservation treatment), travelled with a client’s father while he was on active duty in WWI. The restoration filled losses and stabilized the book, which was then passed on to her son as a family heirloom.

If you are interested in having restoration work done on your family documents or simply have questions on repair or preservation options, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or, view our portfolio of conservation treatments of Archival Materials for more examples of this type of work.

May your artifacts live safely for many years to come!

Fine Art Conservation: The Agricultural Art of Ross Butler

Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Bull  - Before Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Bull - Before Conservation

Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Cow  - Before Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Cow - Before Conservation

Ross Butler was a self-taught artist who made a lasting impression on the agricultural and art communities in Canada and the United States. Working in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada in the mid-20th century, Butler created striking idealized portraits of various breeds of livestock, and his renditions became the standard of measurement for evaluating prize animals. 

The Ross Butler Gallery, in the Butler family barn, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

The Ross Butler Gallery, in the Butler family barn, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

His works hang in many public and private collections in Canada, but the largest collection of them remains in the possession of the Butler family; his son David maintains the Ross Butler Gallery on the family farm in Woodstock, housed in the barn his father used as a studio during the later part of his lifetime. Being primarily depictions of agricultural life, it is fitting for the works to be displayed in this setting; however, over time the fluctuating environmental conditions in the building have caused some deterioration of the artworks.

The Woodstock Art Gallery recently mounted an exhibition of Butler's work titled Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, celebrating the artist's contribution to the community. In advance of the exhibition, Book and Paper Conservation Services was asked to treat several of the major pieces to be displayed.

Ayrshire Cow  before conservation - raking light showing planar deformation of paper.

Ayrshire Cow before conservation - raking light showing planar deformation of paper.

These two large pastel drawings on paper, titled Ayrshire Bull and Ayrshire Cow, are prime examples of Butler's skill and precision, and were to be featured prominently in the exhibition. However, the paper was suffering severe planar deformation and a sprinkling of mould spots was scattered across the surface of both pieces. 

Detail of  Ayrshire Cow  before conservation, showing mould spots on pastel surface.

Detail of Ayrshire Cow before conservation, showing mould spots on pastel surface.

Detail of  Ayrshire Cow  after conservation, mould spots have been removed.

Detail of Ayrshire Cow after conservation, mould spots have been removed.

The paper supports had been adhered with wide swaths of adhesive around the edges of the verso to thick masonite backer boards; the tension of this constraint had caused the paper to ripple with the dramatic changes in relative humidity in the barn gallery. To address this the acidic masonite boards were removed from each piece, as well as the adhesive residue on the paper; the artworks were humidified in a controlled humidity chamber and flattened under weight. 

The mould spots on the surface of the pastel media were carefully removed by mechanical means, being careful not to disturb the delicate friable media. Accretions and other debris that had become trapped in the frame were gently removed as well. 

Removing mould spots from  Ayrshire Cow .

Removing mould spots from Ayrshire Cow.

Biological remains of the barn's other inhabitants were also removed from the artworks.

Biological remains of the barn's other inhabitants were also removed from the artworks.

The artworks had been framed with care, however the powdery surface of the pastels had been placed directly against the glass, and combined with the rippling of the paper this had caused transfer of the media to the glass.

Artworks had been framed directly against the glass, causing the pastel to transfer.

Artworks had been framed directly against the glass, causing the pastel to transfer.

The final stage of treatment was to clean the original frames and reinstall the artworks with acid-free backer boards, UV filtering glass and spacers to separate the art from the glass and prevent further damage to the media. We do not generally recommend a fixative for pastel media, as the solution can dull the vibrancy of the colour and affect the stability of the piece in the future. 

Cleaning surface dirt and grime off the original frames.

Cleaning surface dirt and grime off the original frames.

Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Bull , Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Bull, Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Ross Butler -  Ayrshire Cow , Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Ross Butler - Ayrshire Cow, Pastel on Paper - After Conservation

Conservation treatment has stabilized these two important works by Ross Butler, ensuring their continued safety and stability. The works were installed in the Woodstock Art Gallery for the exhibition Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, which runs from February 17th to June 30th, 2018. Curated by Samantha Purvis-Johnston, the exhibit explore's Butler's contribution to the agricultural and art communities in Ontario and across Canada. 

Ayrshire Bull  and  Ayrshire Cow  on display in the exhibition  Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls , Woodstock Art Gallery.

Ayrshire Bull and Ayrshire Cow on display in the exhibition Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, Woodstock Art Gallery.

Curatorial and Collections Assistant Samantha Purvis-Johnston address visitors at the opening reception of  Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls , at the Woodstock Art Gallery. 

Curatorial and Collections Assistant Samantha Purvis-Johnston address visitors at the opening reception of Ross Butler: Branding, Butter and Bulls, at the Woodstock Art Gallery. 

Book and Paper Conservation Services was pleased to work with the Woodstock Art Gallery and David Butler to restore these remarkable artworks. We encourage you to visit the exhibition this spring, and also to check out the Ross Butler Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario, which tells the story of Butler's life and work in his own environment. 

If you are interested in having works from your own collection conserved and restored, please contact us for more information. We invite you to browse our portfolio pages for other examples of successful conservation treatments. 

Conservation Treatment of Watercolour Architectural Drawings

Set of 7 watercolour architectural drawings, tightly rolled before conservation treatment.

Set of 7 watercolour architectural drawings, tightly rolled before conservation treatment.

Architectural drawings are not only archival documents, but can also be beautiful artworks in their own right.

Book and Paper Conservation Services recently treated a set of seven watercolour architectural drawings depicting details of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King in Hamilton, Ontario. The treatment involved humidifying the tightly rolled drawings, surface cleaning to remove dirt and grime, removal of tape and adhesive residue from the back of the works, and finally framing in acid-free materials to preserve and safely display these gorgeous watercolours.

The watercolours were exquisite works of art, and we were thrilled to be part of the project! Read more about the process and see the results on the Diocese of Hamilton website.

Conservation Treatment:  Watercolours from the Cathedral Collection

 

If you have architectural drawings or other archival materials you or your organization are interested in having restored, contact us to discuss conservation options. And check out our treatment portfolio to see other treatment projects we've undertaken on documents and records!