Wednesday, February 15, 2012

French Six Sheet Serial (try saying that 6 times fast) Part 1

We have been enjoying the Black Pirate serial so much that we thought it would be fun to do another. Fortunately for you, this will only be a two part serial because there is a deadline with this one.

For the next two weeks we will be chronicling a demount/remount of a 116 year old stone litho French 6 panel billboard (92in. x 117in.). It is a poster advertisement by the artist Théophile Alexandre Steinlen for a printer named Charles Verneau. It was mounted using double sided tape and tissue paper and has existing restoration that we are doing our best to save.

This piece has presented some interesting issues, namely that the restoration on it is very delicate and if we want to save the restoration washing each piece of the poster is not an option. You'll have to keep reading to see our solution to this problem. However, the first hurdle was the double sided tape holding the whole thing together. In January we put up a post that offered some advice to collectors and I may have gone on a rant, well a couple of rants actually. One of those rants was about tape. I am going to reiterate some of that rant here: there is NO such thing as archival tape. If there is tape on a piece of paper please expect a certain amount of time and expense to remove it. As was the case here.

John and Gabe and later Aaron spent several hours first separating the pieces, then removing any left over tape. John used a heat gun to soften the tape up enough that Gabe could get a sharp palette knife under it and pull it off of the paper with a minimal amount of damage.

Pictured: John and Gabe beginning the tedious process of pulling apart this poster so that we can linen back it.

Pictured: John is holding the heat gun to loosen up the tape. This was one of the strips that came apart relatively easily.

With some areas the tape released its hold on the paper easily enough that Gabe was able to pull the pieces apart. In other areas he really had to work at it.

Pictured: Other sections were coming apart on their own.

Pictured: We created a new word this morning: adhesivity. As in, "This tape has lost a lot of adhesivity, so it's no longer very sticky."

Pictured: We think this piece was originally conserved 15 years or so ago and was starting to come apart along the overlap lines.

Pictured: I have noticed, and commented, that sometimes the pictures don't represent how much fun we are having because no one is smiling. So, John is making an effort to smile for the camera. Gabe still needs to work on it.

Pictured: That's a heat gun, not a hair dryer. Trust me, it will burn your fingers.

Pictured: Here you can see Gabe holding the palette knife and inserting it under the tape to lift it away.

Pictured: We have so many of these photos because this was a truly involved process. I took almost 200 photos of this part alone.

Pictured: In some cases we did loose a little bit of the image. However, we were very careful and were able to confine the damage to the overlap lines.

Here John and Gabe are beginning to remove the tape that is still attached to the paper. It caused some issues in some places, but with patience it eventually came off. 

Pictured: Gabe is using tweezers because the air that the heat gun blows is extremely hot and will burn you.

Pictured: You don't want to put too much heat, because eventually the paper or tape will begin to burn.
With something as large as this we create a frame on the wall and then stretch the linen across that. So, that was the next step. The day before this Aaron and Gabe had spent the afternoon removing the old staples. Aaron and John then stretched and stapled the canvas down to the wall frame.
Pictured: John and Aaron stretching the canvas on the wall.
Pictured: This was a photo that was just too good not to put up!

Pictured: John is performing a very important function, he is holding the cord. Earlier he was leaning against that wall holding it up.

We did not continue to prep the canvas (putting paste and a masa paper substrate down) for the simple reason that John was not yet sure the what the best approach to mounting this poster was. The poster was in 6 pieces at this point. As I mentioned earlier, it had some previous restoration and upon closer examination we think this poster was at one point mounted to linen, then demounted and remounted to its current tissue backing. This poster had also been attacked by silverfish, who had chewed parts of it. We decided that the cautious approach was best, so we took the piece with the least amount of restoration on it and humidified it to see how it would react.

Pictured: After removing all of the tape the poster was separated into 6 pieces.

Pictured: The poster was mounted on tissue and you can see the silverfish damage where the paper is missing.

Pictured: John contemplating the best approach to mounting this as he watched how it reacted to the moisture in the humidity chamber.

Pictured: With the light table on, the missing pieces of paper from the previous demount and remount are more obvious.

Pictured: John testing how the paper is holding up when damp.
The poster held up well in the humidity chamber, so we moved it out to a melamine board in the back to take a closer look. Remember that the poster still has the tissue backing on it and we weren't sure whether removing that backing was the best option or whether we should just go ahead and mount it all.

Pictured: John checking the paper to see how the small wrinkles and the restoration is holding up after the moisture of the humidity chamber.
There were potential issues with both strategies. Leaving the tissue on was one option that might also retain as much of the paper and previous restoration, but the problem with the tissue was we weren't sure how it would react once mounted. It might be perfectly fine or there might be air bubbles between the tissue and the poster and the substrate. The air bubbles could mean that the poster would have to stay rolled and would not be able to be displayed, which kind of defeated the point of remounting it. The other option was to remove the tissue backing. This presented its own set of problems because we could lose big strips of the poster, as had already happened with its previous demount. If we removed the tissue we then encountered the problem of how to physically get the pieces over to the canvas because they might be incredibly fragile and too much handling could cause even more deterioration. 

So, how did we handle this rather delicate situation? Check back next week! Dun dun dah!

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