backing removal

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. 

Family Heirlooms Restored

Lord's Prayer  drawing before and after conservation treatment.

Lord's Prayer drawing before and after conservation treatment.

Treasured family heirlooms often come to us for restoration, and these projects are some of the most gratifying to work on. Paper-based items like family bibles, marriage certificates, portraits and photographs of ancestors can suffer damage over time that make them fragile and difficult to access. Whether you're doing genealogy research or passing things along to your children, its important to consider the condition of the object and treat it gently and safely.

We can restore your heirlooms and bring items back to their original glory by repairing and cleaning the materials, stabilizing them so that they can be safely handled, and provide advice on proper storage. Through conservation treatment, your objects can be preserved for your family to treasure for many more generations.

Lord's Prayer, hand drawn and lettered by the owner's grandfather, dated 1837.

Lord's Prayer, hand drawn and lettered by the owner's grandfather, dated 1837.

This beautiful piece came to us recently for restoration. The hand-drawn and lettered image was executed by the owner's grandfather in 1837; the delicate penmanship had been obscured by heavy brown discolouration, caused by adhesive and the acidic backer backer board. 

The acidic backing must be removed carefully from the verso to protect the piece.

The acidic backing must be removed carefully from the verso to protect the piece.

Spot testing the brown discolouration.

Spot testing the brown discolouration.

Preparing the drawing for bleaching.

Preparing the drawing for bleaching.

The treatment was a multi-step process, beginning with the removal of the backer board. This acidic wood-pulp material had caused much of the discolouration, and needed to be removed before any cleaning could be undertaken. 

Once the backer was removed, the piece underwent testing to determine its response to washing and bleaching. Both processes were successful and the staining was significantly reduced over the course of several applications. 

Three washes removed much of the brown.

Three washes removed much of the brown.

The drawing was washed and bleached in stages; the progression is shown here.

The drawing was washed and bleached in stages; the progression is shown here.

The drawing after conservation treatment, in it's original period frame.

The drawing after conservation treatment, in it's original period frame.

After treatment, the piece is restored to a relatively bright and clean state. Some evidence of age is retained - it doesn't look like it was made yesterday - but the paper is clean enough that the delicate ink and penmanship can be appreciated once again. It was reinstalled in its lovely original wooden frame, but with acid-free backer and UV-filtering glass to protect it in the future. The family can now treasure this artwork for many years to come. 

If you have family heirlooms that could benefit from restoration, we are always available to discuss treatment options. Get in touch with us for a consultation and we will be pleased to help you preserve your family's history. Or, check out our portfolio of conservation of archival materials for more examples of our work.

Conservation Treatment of a Bird's Eye View of London, 1872 Lithograph Print

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada,  1872, before conservation treatment. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada, 1872, before conservation treatment. 

Book and Paper Conservation Services recently had the privilege of restoring this wonderful early Bird's Eye View map of London, Ontario, Canada. The detailed colour lithograph print, dated 1872, resides in the collection of Western University Archives, which holds extensive records of London's history.  

History

The map is an illustrated vision of the city from a bird's eye perspective, a common theme in the late 19th century. It was drawn by the artist E. S. Glover, and produced by Strobridge Lithographing Company, in Cincinnati, OH.  It would have been distributed in London and purchased by prominent local citizens at the time for display in homes and businesses.

Detail of the 1872 map showing streets of London, Ontario, and the Military Garrison in what is now Victoria Park.

Detail of the 1872 map showing streets of London, Ontario, and the Military Garrison in what is now Victoria Park.

The map illustrates significant buildings in the city as of 1872, such as the Covent Garden Market, Labatt Brewery, and the military garrison, situated on land which is now Victoria Park. The locations are numbered in a key in the bottom margin. The map is extremely interesting as a historic document because it depicts a number of streets and locations which no longer exist or have since been renamed. 

 

 

When it arrived at our studio, the map suffered from a variety of condition issues. After examination and consultation with University Archivist Robin Keirstead at Western's Archives and Research Collections Centre, an extensive treatment protocol was determined. During the course of conservation treatment, the print underwent almost every process in a paper conservator's repertoire; it was an extremely satisfying project for our studio. 

Condition

The map was produced by a lithographic printing process on machine-made wood pulp paper, a typical paper but prone to discolouration over time. Sometime in its life, it had been mounted to a black pulp board backer, a very acidic material which had further contributed to the overall yellowing and brittleness of the paper. It also exhibited pronounced discolouration in vertical bands across the image, as well as extensive tears and breaks in the paper and minor losses around the perimeter.

Tears and losses along the border of the print.

Tears and losses along the border of the print.

Creases and breaks distorting the surface.

Creases and breaks distorting the surface.

In short, it was in urgent need of conservation treatment to keep it from deteriorating further, and to restore its original detail and vibrancy.

Conservation included surface cleaning to remove dirt and grime. 

Conservation included surface cleaning to remove dirt and grime. 

conservation treatment

The conservation treatment to address these damages included several stages. First, the print was surface cleaned to remove loose dirt and grime, and then the acidic backing was painstakingly removed with a scalpel and metal spatula, working from the verso to avoid any accidental damage to the print. 

Next, the print was washed and light bleached to brighten the paper tone. The yellow discolouration products were removed from the paper in this process, returning the image closer to its original colouring and removing the distracting bands of stain from the print. It was also deacidified to halt further deterioration of the cellulose.  

The Bird's Eye View of London is washed and deacidified to remove discolouration.

The Bird's Eye View of London is washed and deacidified to remove discolouration.

Once washed, the lithograph was lined onto a new, stable backing of Japanese paper, to provide support and repair the breaks and losses. This backing will not cause discolouration the way the old board did, and will help the print remain stable while also being slightly flexible.

Wash water becomes progressively less yellow as the print is cleaned. Behind, the washed and lined lithograph is visible brighter. 

Wash water becomes progressively less yellow as the print is cleaned. Behind, the washed and lined lithograph is visible brighter. 

The Bird's Eye View of London, after washing and lining on a stable Japanese paper backing. 

The Bird's Eye View of London, after washing and lining on a stable Japanese paper backing. 

The final step in the conservation treatment was to inpaint losses to the printed image where cracks and breaks had disturbed the surface. Using watercolours and a delicate brush, the image was restored.

Inpainting to restore losses in the printed surface.

Inpainting to restore losses in the printed surface.

The restoration of this beautiful historic artifact was extremely successful, and the satisfying results can be seen below.  The paper tone has been brightened, allowing the image to be viewed without distraction; the damages have been repaired and print is supported and stabilized with a new backing. It has been returned to the Archives where it will be stored and preserved in ideal conditions, and can be accessed by future researchers and interested Londoners for years to come. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada,  1872, before and after conservation treatment. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada, 1872, before and after conservation treatment. 

Art conservation is an extremely satisfying occupation, and Book and Paper Conservation Services was very pleased to have contributed to the preservation of this important artifact. If you have historic or archival materials or antique prints that you are interested in having restored, don't hesitate to get in touch with our studio. There is no charge for a consultation, and we are always happy to discuss conservation options with you.