18 November 2009
Art preservation: a cautionary tale
I was just visiting Donna Watson's blog and saw the wonderful objects and materials she brought back from her recent trip to Japan. Several people mentioned that she should scan the more fragile items rather than handling them.
This raises some key issues we need to be aware of, especially in this digital age where now we are dealing with not only ephemera, but also with "cyber-ephemera," for lack of a better phrase.
In my profession we are trained about preservation of historical objects (monographs, maps, photographs, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, etc.), and the same practices can apply to our creative works today. Many of us already know about acid-free papers, not to use plain tape, etc. Did you also know that --
> hand lotion can ruin fragile papers? The oils and fragrances that rub off on these delicate materials can destroy them over time. Wear archival gloves (those simple white cotton gloves that we see at quilt exhibits) to protect your materials.
> archival storage boxes are readily available online or at some art stores. They are museum-quality boxes that are acid-free and lignon-free. Why bother? Direct or bright light can adversely affect papers, textiles and even artwork on canvas. If your artwork is not on display, why not store them in these boxes and prolong their lifespan.
> extreme swings in heat and humidity can destroy. I had a friend whose hand-crafted journals became mildewed because they were stored on a wood shelf in her studio (below ground level). The same is true of extreme heat and dryness, which can cause materials to become brittle and literally break apart. A basic ventilator/air-conditioner can help regulate the environment and prevent that occurring.
> and finally on the "cyber" front -- not only should we all be making back-up CDs of our work and images, but also negatives. Someday the technology may change and suddenly the CD format may not migrate to the new platform -- remember those old 8-track tapes and LP turntables? Many people throw older equipment away, but often these are the only machines that can run those formats. With negatives, a trained photographer/developer would be able to retrieve those images regardless of any changes in automation.
Some tips are available online at the Northeast Documentation Conservation Center in Massachusetts, and there are several conservations centers around the country, including the excellent Smithsonian site.
I hope I haven't sounded too officious on this, but it does bear thinking about.
I will be back another day soon with happier topics!