The conservation of a fire damaged print

IMG_6907

Fire damaged print of ‘Menin Gate before midnight’ before conservation treatment.

This blog will outline the conservation treatment I carried out on a print that was damaged in the fire last June at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. The print was on loan to the Winton and District Historical Society for their ANZAC exhibition “More than a name” when the fire struck. The print suffered water damage, weakening of the paper support and isolated areas of charring.

The print is a duplicate of the iconic oil painting “Menin Gate at Midnight” painted in 1927 by Australian artist William Longstaff. The painting depicts the shadowy ghosts of fallen soldiers marching past the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. The image gained iconic status in Australia as the nation mourned the thousands lost in World War One.

The treatment process took approximately 4 days to complete and involved the following steps:

Step 1: Surface cleaned front of the print

Detail od=f charred ares

Charred areas of print surface before treatment.

  • The surface of the print was cleaned using a soft brush and air compression avoiding the charred areas.

Step 2: Consolidating the charred areas – part 1:

  • The weak charred areas on the front of the print (see right) were consolidated with a thin Japanese Tissue (Bib Tengujo) and wheat starch paste to prevent any loss of the damaged paper. The tissue was then carefully toned using pastel pencils to reduce the visible impact of the charred areas.

Step 3: Removal of the window mats:

Water damaged window mat and strawboard backing board.

Detail of the mat board and swollen strawboard before removal from the print. Water damaged window mat and strawboard backing board.

  • The window mat was mechanically removed.
  • Under the  mat board was a thick layer of adhesive tape residue which had to be removed from the surface of the print (see image below right). As the paper support was very porous, it was necessary to use methyl cellulose poultices to soften the adhesive as direct applications of water would have caused staining of the paper.

Step 4: Backing board removal:

  • Once the window mat was removed the acidic and charred backing boards, which the print had been directly adhered to, were removed.

    Lydia Egunnike removing adhesive residue from the front of the print.

    Lydia Egunnike removing adhesive residue from the front of the print.

  • The first layer of mat board was very thick strawboard which had swollen significantly on exposure to water (see image above right). Most mat boards are a composite of a number of layers of paper glued together which can be carefully removed layer by layer. Straw board is made by compressing straw pulp in one thick layer. If the board gets wet, the pulp forms dense clumps of fibres which make removal very difficult and time consuming. The removal of the board had to be carried out without water and took more than two days.
  • Under the strawboard was another thinner mat board layer that was also removed. The bulk of the mat board layers were removed dry. Fortunately the second backing board was layered in structure making removal much easier than the strawboard layer.

Step 5: Consolidation of charred areas – part 2:

  • The charred areas of the print were consolidated on the back of the print using Lens Tissue and wheat starch paste.
  •  Areas where the paper was weak but not charred were also consolidated.

Step 6: Reduction of water staining:

  • The water solubility of the printing inks was tested and found to be stable so the print was blotter washed in deionised water to reduce the heavy staining. Blotter washing uses capillary action to gently remove any soluble staining and discolouration without the need to apply water directly to the paper surface. The treatment was successful and reduced the staining making it much less visibly intrusive to the image.
Water stained print damaged in Winton fire.

Detail of print before treatment.

Detail of print after treatment showing reduction in staining and repair of charred area.

Detail of print after treatment showing reduction in staining and repair of charred area.

Step 7: Cleaning the brass plaque:

  • The brass plaque was cleaned by firstly brushing off any loose dirt and then very gently cleaned with a jewellers’cleaning cloth. This did not change the appearance of the plaque but further treatment was not carried out to prevent damaging the surface.

Step 6: Rematting and reframing:

  • A new window mat package was created matching the original mat configuration including the brass plaque. Canson 100% cotton cellulose mat board was used for the mat and backing board.
  • The print was then placed in its original cleaned frame. New glazing and an archival quality backing board were used to seal the frame package.
Helen and Bruce Collins of Winton and District Historical Society receiving the conserved print on behalf of the lender.

Helen and Bruce Collins of Winton and District Historical Society receiving the conserved print on behalf of the lender.

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About Lydia Egunnike

Museum Development Officer - Southern Inland QLD, Queensland Museum Network

Posted on 10 February 2016, in Lydia's Diary and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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