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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Make it better, but keep it the same

by Conservation


Helmut Federle , behind the scenes , paper conservation

Sometimes an artist presents us with something that looks good from the front, but when we turn it over we notice that there are problems that can’t be seen when the art is hanging on a wall.  That is the case with this small painting by Helmut Federle.   The painting on cardboard is attached at the corners to a piece of white-painted plywood, seen in the raking light image.  The original frame looked sturdy enough, and the drawing was protected by a piece of anti-reflective glass that was separated from the drawing by spacers.  The back was protected by a paper dust cover.  After removing the paper, it was obvious that the wood was too narrow to allow us to screw appropriate hanging hardware on the back. 

In addition, the back of the plywood has a window cut out so the artist’s inscription on the back of the drawing can be read, and the inscription needs better protection than the paper backing provides.  The museum’s carpenters built a new frame out of thicker stock and painted it to match the original in both color and gloss.  The original frame was painted with water soluble paint, and the new acrylic paint will be easier to clean if that is ever needed. 

We also replaced the glass with unbreakable, ultraviolet-filtering acrylic, and added an acid-free backing board to protect the back of the drawing.  Finally, strong D-ring hangers were attached with screws to replace the small hangers that were tacked onto the back of the original frame.  Each of these small improvements add up to much better protection for the drawing while preserving the artist’s original presentation.