Our paper conservator has not been in the lab since March, but she is still working on the collection. She does not have access to the actual works of art, but the time away from the museum has provided the time to investigate treatment options for works with common condition problems.
The piece shown here, an intaglio print on rag paper from 1888 by the French artist Paul Besnard has been glued to cardboard (visible along the top and right edges) and had a window mat adhered to the front margins. When the window mat was pulled off, the starch adhesive and paper remnants were left behind. A bad mat burn, caused by acids in the window mat, surrounds the image. The mat burn is not only unsightly, it is also a sign that the cellulose of the paper has been damaged by the acids. The conservator removed the old cardboard backing by first carving away the bulk of the board with a knife, followed by more delicate thinning of the remaining paper fibers with a scalpel. Washing in a water bath softened the adhesives and allowed for the remaining remnants of the window mat and cardboard backing to be removed along with some of the glue and paste. Washing alone cannot remove the mat burn, even though water soluble acids can be flushed out. Ordinarily, the conservator would apply a dilute, chemical bleach to the stain with a small brush, taking care to work slowly enough to prevent over bleaching and avoiding the ink, which can be damaged by the bleach. But our conservator has been doing some research. New methods for stain reduction are being tested by students at the graduate conservation training programs, and promising results may give paper conservators the ability to forgo traditional bleaching by adjusting the wash water to more directly target stains. The treatments do not use a new magic potion, but rely on the experience and judgment of the conservator to apply them appropriately to achieve the best results. This print is a good candidate for these new methods, and soon our paper conservator will be able to test how successful they can be.