Methodology

Damaged or deteriorated artwork may require conservation treatment to stabilize its condition or facilitate repair.  To meet this aim, Alvarez Fine Art Services is a full-service facility specializing in the conservation of artwork on paper.

Every work of art arrives with its own history and circumstance requiring individual treatment and care. Artwork brought to Alvarez for treatment is initially examined to determine condition, the techniques and materials used by the artist, and what type of treatment is feasible. A treatment proposal and cost estimate are then prepared and presented to the client for review.  Once a specific course of treatment has been approved, the work commences.

The following is a synopsis of the procedures that may be performed to correct structural or cosmetic deterioration to works of art on paper.

Dry Cleaning

Often the first stage to any treatment after analysis and testing is a general surface cleaning to remove accumulated layers of dirt and atmospheric contaminants.  When applicable, this step is performed before beginning a wet treatment in order to prevent dirt from settling between the cellulose fibers of the paper when wetted.

Great care is given to prevent any displacement of media during this process and thus a variety of techniques are employed to remove surface dirt.  This step is specifically tailored to the treatment of each individual work of art.

Support Removal

The removal of a vintage support is sometimes necessary to protect or save a work of art from decomposition or structural failure. In many cases, older works of art are mounted (or glued) to hardwood panels or vintage boards composed of acidic paper pulp. Through a natural process of aging (hydrolysis) the acidic content of these supports can migrate to the art and cause deterioration.  If found desirable and prudent, the support and mounting adhesives can be removed manually allowing the work to then be properly cleaned to minimize the oxidation and discoloration caused by aging.

Wet Cleaning

Wet (or aqueous) cleaning treatments are used to arrest oxidation, minimize staining, and remove contaminants from paper.  Sometimes works on paper are bathed and other times they are humidified or rinsed with a fine mist.  A treatment can be performed locally in specific areas or generally to the entire sheet.  The method of choice depends greatly on the medium and its response to initial testing.  The conservator is at all times aware of the type, composition, and age of the paper since this greatly influences the safest method of treatment.

Mending and Inserts

When the structure of a piece of paper has been damaged and the are fibers bent or separated, they need to be properly mended. This is done by rejoining the edges of the fracture back together as close to their original orientation as possible.  Methylcellulose paste and mulberry tissue are the typical tools of choice for mending since this process is easily reversible.  Sometimes when there is a loss of paper in a specific area, such as a missing edge or a hole, it may be prudent to fill the loss by installing a paper insert.  An insert is carefully chosen from our archive of vintage paper or sourced from a manufacturer to closely match the existing support as best as possible.

Flattening

“Wave”, “ripple”, “cockle”, and “belly” are all terms used to describe planar distortions in paper. These disturbances can occur when a sheet of paper is exposed to humidity or improperly handled when fit in a frame.  Direct contact with water or simply a humid afternoon can cause paper to warp.  Improper hinging during framing or a frame that does not allow the paper to expand can also induce distortions.  Whatever the cause, this condition can often be corrected by re-humidifying the sheet and drying it between paper blotters and holytex under pressure.

Archival Lining

Often artwork that has been weakened by extensive oxidation or structurally stressed through creasing, tears, or paper loss will require an additional layer of support to ensure stability and continued flatness. The primary materials used are usually mulberry tissue and acid-free cotton rag papers. The materials we use are acid-free and buffered with calcium carbonate to counter acidification, and the entire mounting process is reversible.

In some cases, when the flexibility of a sheet of paper is endemic to its structural problems (for instance, when heavy gouache paint begins to cup and flake from the paper support), it may be prudent to prevent the surface of the artwork from flexing by mounting it to a paper or fiberglass honeycomb panel.

Inpainting

As a last resort, and to moderate the visual disturbance of lost pigment, inpainting is sometimes necessary to cosmetically complete an image. This is a reserved and limited process in compliance with a ‘less is more’ philosophy in which original pigment is never removed or masked.  Quite often the consolidation of existing pigment that has dried out (or dessicated) takes precedence during this procedure and the actual placement of new media is minimal.