Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Controlled Destruction

We don't often suggest (metaphorically) taking a work of art down to the studs, or in this case down to the substrate, but this 1904 Colorado Midland Railway advertisement was an exception. This post focuses on the preparation and stabilization of a very unusual project.

Work after our gelatin process and temporarily mounted to a board. 

While it might appear that the majority of this advertisement is intact, huge sections of the paper were completely rotten. You can see in the images below where the mold that was eating the paper is visible. Essentially, the majority of the black background was slowly flaking off.

The white area is where the mold had eaten away at the ink and if you touched it the top layer of paper would flake off.

Another example of an area where the paper was rotting away can be seen below. Almost all of the area above the figure is disintegrating due to the water damage. 

In this area, not only was the top layer beginning to fall off, but the texture of the paper was becoming pitted. 

 I don't know how but the images in this were mostly intact and it was just the black background that was in danger of flaking away at the slightest touch. So, we made a decision to strip the rotten background paper away.

I used an Exacto knife to gently score the top layer of paper around the image. Then I began to scrape the top layer of paper away using a specially shaped and sharpened palette knife. We saved all of the images and focused on removing the moldy background paper.

Slightly less than halfway through the process of stripping away the top layer of paper. As extreme as this option is, I must admit to really enjoying removing the rotten paper. 
I eventually began to save the bits I scraped off just so I could see how much we were removing. 

This side was more intricate since we were very focused on saving the image. 

Once the top layer of paper was removed, I then patched in a new layer of paper. Sorry, I don't have any photos of that process since I'm the one taking photos and I sometimes forget to photograph myself!

Layers of tracing paper to get the exact shape of paper patch to put back in that top layer of paper. 

The other issue we encountered with this project was the tear running through the poster. I glued everything back together, but that didn't make the poster flat enough for Gabe to airbrush. 

The large tear before I began working on it.

It took multiple attempts in conservation to get this project mounted onto a board and flat. Even after that this tear still needed a lot of work.

This was one of the few parts where the image was damaged. 

So I used a compound made in part from the paper that we had stripped away previously to fill in the crack. I essentially whisked together a custom-made spackle specifically for this poster. It takes a couple rounds of filling, drying and sanding to get it flat. However, I eventually had the fracture flat enough to put a paper patch over it.

Beginning the process of filling, sanding and refilling this tear. 

Close up shot of the filled tear before I put a paper patch over it.

After that, Gabe masked off and painted the background and detailed the few areas of damage in the image. The final step was to silkscreen in the text at the bottom of the piece and VOILA! 

 I just want to add that this project in particular required a LOT of effort that wasn't documented in this blog. It is an extreme example of what we do and we discuss all of the options and what would be involved with the client.

Certain proprietary steps and procedures have been omitted. If you have any comments or ideas for things you would like to see us cover on our blog, please let us know! Additional questions regarding other work or your pieces, please contact us via email at or by phone 818.882.1214.

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