art restoration

Conservation Treatment of a Hand-Drawn Map of Sarnia, Ontario, 1848

A watermark from the notable papermaker J Whatman is visible in transmitted light. The map is drawn on hand-made laid rag paper.

A watermark from the notable papermaker J Whatman is visible in transmitted light. The map is drawn on hand-made laid rag paper.

Archival materials see some of the hardest use and wear of all paper objects, because their original purpose was usually utilitarian. Sometimes ephemeral, often consulted, maps are no exception. The maps that come in to Book and Paper Conservation Services for treatment show damages typical of handling and haphazard storage, such as tears, breaks, creases, soiling, and evidence of previous restoration as owners have performed DIY repairs in order to return functionality to an item in frequent use.

1848 Map of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Before conservation treatment, the map suffers surface dirt, tears and losses, as well as previous repairs with damaging adhesive tape on the verso.

1848 Map of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Before conservation treatment, the map suffers surface dirt, tears and losses, as well as previous repairs with damaging adhesive tape on the verso.

An 1848 map of the town of Sarnia, Ontario that we conserved last year is a perfect example. The map, now part of the collections of the Lambton County Archives, shows several streets close to the shore of the St. Clair River, with specific lots carefully laid out and numbered and buildings and geological features marked.

The map is an original, and has been hand drawn with pen and ink, with roads and waterways highlighted in watercolour. It’s a utilitarian, yet beautiful object, with elegant penmanship and a green silk ribbon folded and sewn around the perimeter of the paper. It may be a thoughtfully designed piece, but it was meant foremost to convey information, and the handling and use it has seen are evident in the damages it now presents.

Lambton County Archives brought the map in for conservation treatment in order to preserve a delicate piece of Sarnia’s history, and make it safe for researchers to access and study.

Map in raking light, showing severe planar deformation.

Map in raking light, showing severe planar deformation.

The map suffered a variety of condition and damage issues caused by use and age, dating from it’s lifetime before entering the Archives. A heavy layer of surface dirt, tears and losses, and adhesive tape residue on the verso were present and needed to be addressed. After thorough condition reporting and photo-documentation, an essential step in all our conservation projects, the treatment began.

Surface cleaning using a smoke sponge is a slow and tedious process, but one which in this case yielded dramatic results. The time lapse images of the cleaning show the grime coming off section by section, brightening the paper beneath.

Surface cleaning the verso of the map.

Surface cleaning the verso of the map.

Time lapse video showing the process of surface cleaning the map.

Next, the remains of the repair tape applied by a well-intentioned soul was addressed. The tape carrier had long since flaked off, but the adhesive residue remained, brittle and yellowed and crosslinking with the paper fibres on a microscopic level. Some solvent tests revealed a match, and by careful swab application, over suction to draw out the dissolved residue, we were successful in removing the disfiguring material. Luckily there was not much staining left in the paper after this was removed, and more stable repairs could now be applied.

Solvent removal of adhesive tape residue.

Solvent removal of adhesive tape residue.

In keeping with conservation aims and ethics, a new, stable and reversible repair method was chosen, that of Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. Wheat starch paste is a clear, strong and flexible adhesive that will not fail, discolour or become brittle with time. It is used by paper conservators to attach thin strips of handmade Japanese tissue to paper objects, to repair tears and breaks. The long-fibred, acid-free tissue holds together the breaks and can be selected to match the colour and thickness of the artifact, being nearly invisible after application so that it won’t disturb the aesthetics of a piece. These repairs were performed on the verso of the map, and fills were added to the losses with a similar process, completing the repair of the mechanical damages on the map.

Japanese tissue repairs applied to the verso of the map, with LED light pad underneath.

Japanese tissue repairs applied to the verso of the map, with LED light pad underneath.

After conservation treatment, the map is clean and stable.

After conservation treatment, the map is clean and stable.

After treatment the map is bright and clean, the damages are repaired and damaging materials have been removed so as not to cause further long-term deterioration. Conservation treatment has restored stability and aesthetic integrity to the map.

It was returned to Lambton County Archives as good as new, and is now kept in their newly renovated storage facility, ready to serve researchers interested in Sarnia’s early history. Please visit the Archives in person or online to learn more about their collections and the preservation strategies they undertake for artifacts in their care.

To learn more about archival conservation at Book and Paper Conservation Services, check out our portfolio section or read about our process.

Fine Art Conservation: Gloucester Harbour, Watercolour Painting by J. M. Barnsley

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

Sometimes bad things happen to good art! This elegant watercolour painting by Canadian artist J. M. Barnsley had suffered water damage in a flooded basement, causing a large disfiguring stain across most of the image. 

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

Luckily, recent stains are often easier to treat than old stains, and when the owners brought it to Book and Paper Conservation Services, we were able to help. 

The process was multi-fold. First, the acidic pulp board backer on the watercolour was removed. This step was painstaking and time-consuming, but necessary before any cleaning could be undertaken. The brown colouring and acidity of the pulp board had leached into the painting when it was exposed to water, causing the staining in the image; it had also caused the paper overall to yellow and deteriorate. Backer boards like this are very common on 19th century watercolours, and this is why we always recommend they be removed as a preservation measure for any work of art on paper. 

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Once the painting was free of the backer board, it underwent aqueous cleaning in deionized water; this treated not only the overall yellowing of the paper but also began the process of loosening the dark brown staining in the image. After several rinses, the watercolour was air dried, and the results evaluated. Washing had brightened paper tone and significantly reduced the hard brown water stain.

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After extensive testing to determine the sensitivity of the pigments and potential reaction of the stain, the final step was to locally apply a chemical bleach to further treat the discolouration. Only solutions that have been tested and approved by conservation scientists are used for chemical bleaching treatments, and only in very controlled applications; the treatment must not leave any trace amounts of chemical, or cause any further damage to the materials. In this case, a very low percentage of a reducing agent was used, and the paper was then rinsed multiple times to remove all chemical residue.

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

The bleaching treatment further reduced the stain, to the point that it is nearly eliminated. Light losses to the watercolour pigment in areas of mould damage were inpainted to unify the image. The scene can now be appreciated without distraction, and the paper tone is brighter, allowing the colours to appear as the artist intended. 

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

An unexpected revelation after treatment was the title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, handwritten in graphite on the lower left corner of the verso. 

The title of the painting,  Gloucester Harbour , revealed on the verso.

The title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, revealed on the verso.

The clients selected a new framing scheme for the artwork, and our conservation framing included Japanese tissue hinges adhered with reversible wheat starch paste, acid-free backer and mat board, and GroGlass ARTGLASS 99, offering 99% UV protection. The watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley is once more looking its best, and is properly preserved for the future. The owners have it displayed in their home once again, and one day will pass it down in their family.  

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

If you have an artwork that has been damaged by flooding or another catastrophe, don't hesitate to contact us to discuss restoration options. You may think there's little hope to reverse the damage, but it never hurts to get a professional opinion; we're not miracle workers, but quite often conservation treatment can dramatically improve a damaged work of art.

Check out our portfolio of treatments, or contact us today.

Book Conservation: A 19th Century Carte de Visite Photograph Album

19th century carte de visite photograph album - conservation treatment

At Book and Paper Conservation Services the variety of objects we treat is broad, but they all have one thing in common - the owners or stewards of the objects have deemed them important enough to be preserved. We often receive objects of fascinating historical significance, and learning about the provenance of the item is one of the thrills of the job for an art conservator. 

An intriguing item came through our studio recently - a 19th century carte de visit photo album with an interesting theme and provenance. The album is from the collection of The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

History & Context

Although it was most recently part of the library of Bishop Ryan, the album originally belonged to Bishop Crinnon, who was the 2nd Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton from 1874 - 1882. An inscription on the front free end paper indicates it was a gift presented to Crinnon in London, Ontario, in September 1864, when he was a dean of the Diocese of London. It was gifted by Fr. Joseph A. Kelly, a Dominican Friar serving at the time as the prior of St. Peter’s Church in London. Crinnon obviously brought the album with him when he transferred to Hamilton, where it eventually joined the collection of the Diocese.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The album contains 89 cartes de visite displayed in specially made pages, inserted through slots in the bottom of two stiff sheets of cardboard and visible through die cut portrait openings. A large number of the photographs depict ecclesiastical figures, some identifiable and some not. Several of the cards have the sitter's name included, either printed on the card or inscribed by hand. It is an intriguing portrait collection of clergy from the early 19th century.

Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Cartes des Visite

The album is an example of a popular collecting trend of the second half of the 19th century, but with an important twist of theme and local significance. The carte des visite, a photograph mounted on a piece of card the size of a formal visiting card, was a common way to immortalize both celebrities and ordinary people, and they were produced by photographic studios around the world. Sitters would have cards produced for friends and family, and purchase or trade images of important personalities including royalty, politicians and men of arts and letters. 

Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

In the case of this album, the collector has compiled a group of photographs featuring ecclesiastical figures, along with some other notable heros of the day. The portraits may have been commercially distributed - much the way postcards are bought in souvenir shops today - or may have been gifts from personal acquaintances of the collector, especially if he was involved in the Roman Catholic community. Many have logos of photography studios in Canada printed on the verso, including ones from London, Hamilton and Toronto. There is at least one from the well-known Notman Studio in Montreal. The album is rich with historical context and provides an interesting opportunity for a study of Roman Catholic clergy in Canada in the late 19th century; the Archives of the Diocese of Hamilton are currently exploring the album's history. 

Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Page 6 - Photo 2 - Verso.JPG

Conservation Treatment

The album arrived in our studio in rough condition. The main issue was damage to the binding, caused by years of handling of the inherently delicate materials; there was also a fine layer of grime on all of the materials, dulling the vibrancy of the pages and photographs.

Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Photograph albums were manufactured in a variety formats in the 19th century, and a careful study was made of the mechanics of this particular album in order to understand the structure and to design an appropriate repair solution. The fabric lining attaching the thick card pages together had torn at the joint of the final page, a location which received a lot of strain whenever the album was accessed. As well, the weight and motion of the pages had caused delamination of the facing paper at several locations throughout the album. Repairs needed to be sympathetic to the original binding, while providing strength and stability, and still maintaining the mechanical action originally intended. 

New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste was used to line the spine and repair the joint, the spine was strengthened with a new card stiffener, and new endbands were applied, in a style matching the remnants of the original materials. The binding and pages were surface cleaned to remove the grime, and each photograph was carefully removed from its slot, cleaned, documented on both recto and verso, and replaced. 

Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

The end result allows the album to be opened, carefully and with proper support, so that the cartes des visite can be viewed by researchers at the archives. The repairs have restored the original function of the album, and the cleaning has rejuvenated the portraits. Preservation of the photograph album will allow it to remain in the best possible condition for future study and appreciation, and we are very pleased to have worked with the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton to preserve this interesting artifact. 

After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

If you are interested in conservation for archival materials in your own collection, don't hesitate to get in touch with us. We provide conservation and restoration for documents, photographs and rare books, and we'll work with you to devise a preservation strategy to meet the needs of your object. Check out our portfolio of treatments and contact information below.