Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Mucha Masterpiece at Poster Mountain Episode 1 (Updated)

The next few blog posts are going to be mini episodes centering around a very rare piece of art. Over the next few days we will be posting about the restoration of an Alfonse Mucha (pronounced mookah) theatrical poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet from 1899. Mucha was an amazing artist who was an essential part of the Art Nouveau movement and is the grandfather of poster design. When this piece was brought in every single employee walked by and made a comment along the lines of "wow".

(When I originally wrote this post back in September I was horribly frustrated by the disappearance of all of my before photos. Just a few weeks ago I found them while looking for something else and decided to update this part of the Mucha episode so that it was complete and my inner perfectionist could stop sighing at me every time I thought about it.) 

This poster came in mounted to cardboard with a thin linen substrate that was barely holding together. There were multiple cracks all over the surface as well as several areas of missing paper. It also had what proved to be a rather nasty varnish all over just to add another issue.

Pictured: The poster was brought in framed and originally looked like it was in decent condition.

Pictured: Once it was removed from the frame we saw that there were numerous cracks and a horrible varnish over the top.

Pictured: The before picture taken in raking light shows all of the damage and glare from the varnish.

Step one was to strip the first layer of cardboard off the back. This involved John sitting there for several hours carefully skinning off the top stratum of the cardboard with one of his sharpened knives.

Pictured: John spent several hours taking the first stratum of cardboard off the back to make it easier to demount from the other layers of cardboard and linen that the poster was glued to.



Pictured: Skinning a poster like this is time consuming and needs concentration so that you don't dig into the poster on the other side.


This poster is 81 1/2 inches by 30, for those of you who aren't good at conversion that is 7 feet tall and 3 1/2 across. The size meant that we couldn't use our normal slanted capillary tables, so we used a table built to fit 3 sheets made of HDPE, high density polyethylene.

The poster was laid face down on top of a piece of Mylar. John had taken off about 2/3 of the top layer of board while testing the piece to see what the best conservation techniques would be. John and Robin wet the remaining layers of cardboard down then flipped it over to wet the front because we didn't want any uneven expansion of the poster that would cause warping. The poster was left to soak for a while to soften the cardboard up and make it easier to strip off.

Pictured: The poster is face down on a piece of Mylar, as you can see it is about twice as long as our normal wet mount tables.

Pictured: Here is a great shot of the two layers of cardboard and a little bit of linen peeking through.


Pictured: John beginning to soak the cardboard backing.

Pictured: Flipping the poster over to wet down the front.

Pictured: As you can see, there were areas all over the print where the paper was delaminating from the linen. It is also very shiny looking because of the varnish that was spread all over the piece.

Pictured: At the top there was an area where there were small hairline cracks that ran through the center of the image.

 The poster was left to soak for a while to soften the cardboard up and make it easier to strip off. Then using a couple of different techniques, John and Robin began the arduous task of removing two layers of cardboard down to the linen backing on the poster. 

Pictured: Here John is working on the first layer of cardboard, the darker one. The lighter one was revealed when he began poking around and developing a strategy to deal with the backing.

Pictured: We have several tools available for doing demounts, but the most useful for this project were hands and one of John's special knives.

Pictured: Here you can see the two layers of cardboard and then the white layer is the linen backing that separates the poster from the cardboard.

Once all of the cardboard was removed, they flipped the poster back over to start the next step. We had a guest helper for this part, famous rock poster artist Randy Tuten. He was in picking up some of his pieces and lent a hand!

Pictured: The linen backing of the poster with all of the cardboard off!

Pictured: Randy Tuten helping John flip the Mucha over.

Pictured: Wave for the camera!

The next step was to apply a facing to the front of the poster and then temporarily mount it face down so we could strip the linen off, the last layer before we finally reached the back of the poster. We began by rinsing the poster because lets face it, after more than a century of life anyone including the great Sarah Berhnardt is going to be a little dirty. After rinsing the poster, John squeegeed out the excess water and dirt so that the poster was as clean as we could get humanly get it before applying the facing.

Pictured: Here John is squeegeeing out water and dirt, at this point it is trapped between the two sheets of Mylar that are around the print. John then squeegees them into our muck bucket.

Pictured: Here is a great close up of a century of dirt.

Pictured: One of the earlier pictures we put up showed the areas where the poster was delaminating from the linen backing. When we remove the Mylar from the top of the poster these are the areas that are the most at risk for damage. In this case that means that when we rolled the Mylar back some areas of the poster wanted to stick to the Mylar instead of staying in place.

To do the facing we used a secret sauce and applied a piece of hollytex to the front as a temporary substrate for the poster to hold onto while we removed the linen.  Once the hollytex was laid down on the front of the poster, it was temporarily mounted face down to a large and heavy melamine board.

Pictured: John rolling out the hollytex.

Pictured: John and Robin carrying the print suspended between the hollytex and a Mylar over to the large and cumbersome melamine board.

Pictured: Squeegeeing the poster down through the Mylar. This makes sure that the poster and facing adhere evenly to the board with no ripples or air bubbles.

Pictured: And now we wait for a few hours for the poster to dry just enough that it grabs onto the hollytex and the board and makes it easier to remove the linen.

The next step was to remove the old linen backing. During the demount process when you are removing linen from the back of a poster there is a period that John calls the "butter zone". It is when the linen is just damp enough that it releases from the poster smoothly, like butter. We start by removing it in thin strips so that if we encounter a tear in the poster we don't rip a large section. The edges are usually the most difficult because they are worn or frayed, so we start in the middle and move out. 

Pictured: I love demounts. Picking apart something so that we can put it back together again makes the perfectionist inside me so happy!

Pictured: This linen was pretty easy to tear and was very cooperative for the most part when I was removing it. Here I am keeping the linen as close to the poster as I can so that I don't pull the print up from the facing and make an air bubble or tear it.

Pictured: This linen was so cooperative that we were able to start taking it off in larger pieces, but this also means you have to watch the entire line of linen that is being removed to make sure that you're not losing pieces of the poster.

Removing the linen went as smooth as butter, which is what we always hope for, although we don't always get. We're leaving you on a cliff hanger when we encountered an issue while the poster was drying. It had been incredibly hot the last few weeks and the soaring temperatures can affect some of the materials that we use and the curing time we need for posters to dry evenly. I was working right next to the table where the Mucha was drying and I noticed that the poster was beginning to pop off the facing.  A large air bubble had even developed in the middle of the poster.

Pictured: Ok, I know its difficult to see here but right in the middle of the photo is the edge of the poster and right in the center is where it started to lift off. I know that this picture makes it seem insignificant, but in this delicate state it is essential that the poster stay mounted to the facing.


Pictured: That little lift in the other picture was just the beginning. A huge air bubble developed and all of those little cracks and holes started to lift off the hollytex.


This is not good, since that facing is necessary to keep a poster that has gone through the demount process together before it is backed. I'm sure that you can guess that we had a solution for this problem, but the question is what. So, what do we do? You'll have to check back tomorrow to find out when we put the second part of this series up!


It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at postermount@aol.com or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: http://www.postermountain.com and http://www.lapapergroup.com/. Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

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