So as we launch into the project I thought I’d spell out some more specifics of what I’ll be doing.
The first thing I do with any object is a condition report. That means I look closely at the object, figuring out what it is made of and how it was put together; I also do research on the manufacturer or the specific history of the object. Then I take photos, overall and close up, and measurements noting where there is damage or problem areas. For the map, it is so big and fragile that the Firefighters’ Museum took the photos, you can see here how their photographer, Orlo, did that.
Knowing the materials and condition is key to understanding what an object needs and what is possible to do during a treatment. The item’s specific history also informs treatment because sometimes you may not want to repair damage that was created on purpose – for example the stickers on the map – in another situation we might remove them but here they are key to this object’s significance and need to be preserved.
After the condition report and research are finished I then create a treatment proposal.
The proposal outlines what I think will be the steps I take to conserve the item. Old items are notorious for behaving in unexpected ways so it’s rare that you make it all the way through a treatment without any changes, so in treatment proposals you see “possibly”, “if needed”, and other qualifiers used often.
For the map my treatment proposal is this:
Remove the metal rod along the top edge.
Dry clean – this could include a combination of things like dusting with soft brushes, rolling eraser crumbs over the surface, wiping with eraser sponges, block erasers, or scraping off ‘gunk’ with a scalpel.
Testing dry-cleaning the map with an Absorene sponge
After dry cleaning, treatments can go different ways – some treatments will finish here but others need more extensive work.
For the map I am going to:
Remove accretions – along the top of the map where it was wrapped around the bar there are stains and some ‘crusty’ areas that seem to be rust, these need to have any extra material scraped away and possibly treated with chemicals. Rust (iron) corrodes paper and needs to be removed as much as possible.
Mending is the next step, rips, tears, and cracks are pasted together and supported with second paper layer.
A tear approximately 20.5 in. from top edge and 82 in. from left edge.
Starch pastes (wheat or rice), are types of glue that have been used for centuries and found to be stable and will not yellow. Paste is used with Japanese paper; Japanese paper is made from plant fibres that are very long and strong so that the papers can be very thin – many are nearly invisible when they are pasted – but they have the strength to support even much heavier Western papers.
Washing is generally next, but because the map is a blueprint and sensitive to water we won’t be trying to fully wash it. However, there are areas especially along the bottom edge with dark tidelines (areas where water has caused the paper to darken or washed dirt away) and I will be testing to see if I can use water to reduce the appearance of those lines.
Tidelines in the lower right corner.
There are still other steps that might follow – like full or partial lining – the map is already mounted onto a fabric backing but is separating in large areas, mostly along the heavily damaged bottom third. Depending on what happens as I treat those areas I may decide that rather than repairing small sections individually it makes more sense to hold them all together with a Japanese paper lining instead or in addition to mends.
Final steps might include inpainting, are there areas where the conservation work is obvious that need to be ‘hidden’ a little bit?
And always: are there steps that need to be repeated?
Treatments are a constantly changing process where there is daily reevaluation of the decision process and the outcomes. At any point the decision can be made to halt the process as too dangerous to the object or to take a different direction as new information about how the paper reacts to different actions is observed.