Conservation Treatment of a 17th-Century Dutch Print

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Figure 1. Focht Naer Nova Zemla, by Jan Luyken, c. 1681, before treatment

In my last treatment post, I wrote about the Myriopticon, an object that is far from the type of treatment that normally comes across a paper conservator’s bench. This time, I’m going to highlight an object that received a much more “typical” paper treatment while introducing a couple of common conservation techniques along the way. Keep reading for details on how I completed the treatment and for some satisfying before and after photos!

This print, titled Focht naer Nova Zemla in den Jaere MDXCVI (translating roughly to “Trip to Nova Zemla in the year 1596”) by Jan Luyken came to the lab for treatment due to its fragile condition. The piece was printed c. 1681 and depicts a scene from Willem Barents’ expedition to find a northeast passage from Western Europe to Eastern Asia. Barents made three separate voyages from Amsterdam spanning from 1594-1597. Ultimately the voyages were unsuccessful, with most of the crew members, including Barents himself, losing their lives on the third and final attempt. This print illustrates one of the many dangerous obstacles the crews faced on their journeys: walruses (yes, those are walruses).   Read more

Paper and Water – Friends or Foes?

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Making paper by hand. The wooden vat contains cotton fibers suspended in water. I am holding a wire mesh mold which was dipped into the vat to pick up some fibers. I am shaking the mold back and forth to get even fiber distribution while the water drains.

We all know that paper isn’t exactly one of the most waterproof materials out there. In fact, water exposure is one of the most common causes of damage to paper objects that I see as a paper conservator. It can cause major issues such as distortion, staining, loss of media, and mold, just to name a few. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, then, that water is a crucial part of many types of conservation treatment. People are often a bit shocked that bathing paper (yes, it’s what it sounds like) is a common practice with positive results! In this post, we will explore a few ways in which water interacts with paper on different levels, how conservators harness and leverage these interactions to treat condition issues, and how, if left unchecked, these interactions can cause major and irreparable damage.

Papermaking – Wet Beginnings

To understand paper’s relationship with water, we have to go back to the beginning – papermaking. True paper is defined as a non-woven mat of fibers formed by draining water from a slurry. The water holds the fibers in a suspension into which a screen called a mold is dipped and drawn upward, allowing the water to drain and the fibers to settle into a layer over the screen. To ensure an even distribution, the mold is shaken back and forth while the water drains, causing many of the fibers to orient in the direction of the movement before coming out of the water. This causes a characteristic called “grain” in a finished piece of paper.   Read more

The Show Must Go On

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Conservation Treatment Toys Ahoy! 2019
The Myriopticon before treatment. The left edge of the cardboard housing is completely split, which made handling the object difficult.

We are a little over a month out from the opening of a new exhibition entitled, “Toys Ahoy! A Maritime Childhood.” The exhibit will put a playful spin on the typical maritime history exhibit with plenty of toys, games, and books to excite both the young and the young at heart.

Here in the paper conservation lab, I helped prepare for the exhibit by completing treatments on paper-based collection materials being brought out for display. While the treatments all involved paper in some shape or fashion, it’s safe to say that the types of objects coming across my bench were a bit outside the (two-dimensional) range of what I typically work on here at the museum. Instead of the normal prints, drawings, documents, and photos I have been treating, this exhibit brought me board games, puzzles, toy ships decorated with paper, and even a pop-up book!   Read more