Conserving Government Propaganda prints from the Great War
Follow Mar Mateo, Emily O'Reilly and Beth McIntyre as they conserve the museums own complete set of 66 works from the 1917 print portfolio “The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals”, commissioned by the Ministry of Information.
Divided into ‘Ideals’ and ‘Efforts’, these lithographs provide a broad and fascinating representation of Britain’s war objectives, military activities and effort on the Home Front.
Some of the best known British artists of the period contributed to the series including Augustus John, Frank Brangwyn, William Rothenstein and C.R.W Nevinson.
9 DAYS TO GO! A VIDEO OF FRAMING UP A LITHOGRAPH PRINT
We are in the final stretch of concluding this interesting and amazing project. We have been working hard during the last few weeks mounting and framing the 66 lithograph prints to have them ready for the exhibition The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals on the 2nd August at National Museum Cardiff.
In the following video you will enjoy the framing process carried out by our colleague Richard. As you can see it is a delicate procedure and the framer needs to be really clean and gentile with the work of art.
We have had the 66 frames specially made and stained by a local frame maker. The scratch resistant Perspex* we have used had to be washed with soap and water to remove all traces of adhesive before being taped into the frame. Conservation framing is about making a sealed package to protect the work of art from the outside environment whilst making sure that the content of the package are all up to conservation standards.
Once the Perspex is fitted in the frame, we clean it very well with glass cleaner and anti-static cloth being sure that is completely clean and we don’t want to scratch the Perspex. Then we put the mount with the work which is already free of any fluff over the surface in the frame. After that, we put in the backboard and keep it all together using a framer’s gun. Lastly we seal the frame with gum brown paper tape.
Don’t forget to join us next Saturday 2nd August for the opening of the show!
*Perspex: acrylic material is useful because it is light and unlikely to break on impact. However, these materials do scratch more easily and because of static, should never be used to glaze pastels, charcoal, chalks, or friable material
RESEARCHING FIBRES IN THE MICROSCOPE!
Now it is time to research the fibres used during the paper making process in the different papers of ‘Effort and Ideals’ lithograph prints.
There are several methods to identify fibres such as the staining technique. The most common is Hertzberg’s Reagent which is used for paper fibres are based on iodine and zinc chloride. This type of stain is formulated to dye different groups of fibres differing colours. However, there are many disadvantages using this system because the specific colours stated for particular fibres are difficult to reproduce.
So, in this case we decided to take some samples of fibres of the prints and identify them under the polarising microscope.
In the first image, we are taking a small sample of fibres from one of the prints. We are using an invasive and destructive technique for that reason we have to be extremely careful taking the sample. Just shaving a little bit the very bottom edge we will be able to get enough fibres to analyse in the microscope.
In the third picture we are leaving the fibre sample on the microscope slide. After that, we will cover the sample with a cover slip and sealing with Meltmount (is a thermoplastic: it is fluid when heated and functionally a solid at room temperature; the appearance of the prepared slide will remain unchanged after the slide is returned to room temperature).
Once the sample is ready, we will work with it in the microscope. We took photos applying different magnifications.
In the fifth image, you can observe a detail of a linen fibre through the microscope. The term ‘linen’ covers a wide variety of material described as flax or linen. In both Europe and China flax has been used as a textile material since at least 4,500 BC.
The raw material after cutting and removing the seed head is retted in still or slow running water to slow process of bacterial decomposition. In some areas the process is carried out in a damp atmosphere only.
Linen is a bast fiber. Flax fibers vary in length from about 25 to 150 mm (1 to 6 in) and average 12-16 micrometers in diameter. Flax fibers can usually be identified by their “nodes” which add to the flexibility and texture of the fabric.
Other samples taken from the thinner prints revealed cotton as a main material. So in both cases we are talking about good quality paper fibres.
TIME FOR PUTTING THE PRINTS IN MOUNTS!
Here we are again with more news about the lithograph prints conservation process. Now is time for mounting each print in its own conservation mount to be ready for the exhibition opening 2nd August in gallery 18 at the National Museum Cardiff.
Preparing the mounts where the prints will be housed for the next 100 years hopefully! The mounts are cut to the museum standard size, using 100% cotton alkaline buffered museum board (the most expensive available – but the highest quality). The back board is hinged to the mount using water based adhesive tape.
In the following photos you will be able to see how I attach the print to the backing of the mount. First of all, we attached the hinge to the back of the print on the top edge. The hinge is made with Japanese tissue. (Second Photo)
Then, in third photo I am applying an adhesive over the surface of the hinge. This then folds back over and stick to the back board of the mount.
To reinforce the hinge we will glue another hinge over the top, creating a T hinge. This then allows the print to hang within the mount.
After one week making mounts for the prints we have already done 30 mounts.
Another 36 more to do and just 7 weeks to go… But we still need to make the frames and put them in…
FIGHTING AGAINST FOXING
Do you want to know what happened after washing one of the lithograph prints??
So here you are, the before and after washing treatment where you can see that the foxing spots have disappeared completely over the paper surface.
As we said before, the foxing reddish-brown spots can appear in the paper surface due to different causes. For example, the print has been exposed to relative humidity and temperature fluctuations for a long period of time creating an environment for the growing of mould or another possibility, could be that during the paper making process were used raw materials infested with mould.
These micro-organisms can remain latent for months or years awaiting for the appropriate conditions for growth and there are a wide range of colour stains. In some of the lithograph prints we found basically small yellow spots in different areas of the paper surface.
This week we are going to talk about the watermark found on the lithograph prints.
Do you know what a watermark is? Well, the watermark is a design or a pattern which is made during the paper production by the paper makers. The first paper mill which introduced a watermark in its papers was Fabriano, Italy in 1282. A watermark is made by attaching wire in a shape or letters to the mould, the sieve which catches the fibres making a sheet of paper. This then causes the paper to be thinner in this areas. Another way to make a watermark is impressing a water-coated metal stamp or dandy roll onto the paper during manufacturing. Watermarks can show us the manufacturer’s name, an animal, geometric designs, etc.
If you hold a bank note against the light you will be able to see a watermark!
During the lithograph prints conservation process we found in many thinner papers a Holbein watermark. After some research, we discovered that Holbein paper was a handmade printing paper sold by Spalding & Hodge, 145-7 Drury Lane, London WC. At the end of nineteenth century Spalding & Hodge were the owners of paper mills at East Malling in Kent also they bought Horton Kirby Mill, South Darenth, Kent in 1872.
13 WEEKS TO GO! WASHING PAPER. PART II
Last week we introduced you into the wonderful world of washing paper. This time, we are going to show you a video where you are able to enjoy a real process.
The lithograph prints were mounted in poor quality mounts and for that reason we decided to remove all of them. The prints were attached to the backing with an animal glue along the very top edge on the back. When put in a bath of water it can be removed easily with the brush. That is what you are going to watch in the video. Enjoy!
Hope all of you had a good Easter!
Now is time to show you one of the most interesting process in paper conservation, the washing treatment. But, can we wash a sheet of paper once it is already made?? Yes, we can. Before washing we have to keep in mind how the art work was made, such as the stability of the ink, damage to the paper, etc. I need to test EVERYTHING to make sure I don’t wash it all away!
We only do the washing if the paper need it. In the lithograph prints we found some dirt, tears, folds, creases, stains and foxing*. Washing them would remove the dirt, some stains and foxing and at the same time would re-forms the hydrogen bonds between the fibres, reinforcing the paper strength and improving the appearance too.
After this process, we deacidified the prints to neutralize the acidity in the paper with an alkaline solution. The alkali reserve will remain in the paper, ready to act against future acidification.
*Foxing: reddish-brown spots (the colour of a fox) over the surface of the paper which can be caused by a mold activity or a chemical reaction due to metal impurities in the paper.
16 weeks to go...
Let me introduce myself, my name is Mar Mateo Belda, I’m a paper conservator and after working in different cultural institutions in Spain, Nicaragua, Cuba and the United States, I’ve got a traineeship at the National Museum of Wales.
The purpose of this traineeship is to carry out conservation of the 66 lithographs from the portfolio “Efforts and Ideals” in 1917 that will be exhibited at the beginning of August 2014 with the title “The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals”.
Let’s get the show on the road!
I’m sure that for most of you, paper conservation sounds like interesting and weird all at the same time and for that reason you need to watch this space to find out what it is and what I’m doing.
The first step we follow before carrying out the conservation treatments of the works is making a condition report to assess the conservation condition of each of them. The next step is to photograph them all to capture the initial condition of the prints.
The countdown has started
Welcome to our blog. This is the first blog in our journey to opening the exhibition, Britain’s Efforts and Ideas: Prints of the First World War on 2 August 2014 at the National Museum Cardiff. The countdown has started.
The exhibition will bring together the works from the portfolio, The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals. commissioned by Wellington House, the propaganda Bureau that became the Ministry of Information. The prospectus described the series as …’a first attempt by a number of British artists, working in unison, to put on record some aspects of the activities called forth by the Great war, and ideals by which those activities were inspired.’ Artists of the day including Frank Brangwyn, Augustus John, William Rothenstein, Eric Kennington and C.R.W. Nevinson all contributed prints to the series. In 1919 the National Museum of Wales was donated a set by the government. We will be exhibiting these works as a group for the first time.
Over the next few months we plan to give you an insight into preparations for this show. Working together, conservators and curators will research and prepare all 66 prints for display. We will give you an insight into what happens to works when they go ‘to be conserved’, how we can investigate the fibres to identify the paper, what new research will reveal about the series and the public reaction when they went on display.
Mar Mateo, Beth McIntyre and Emily O’Reilly
Conserving Government Propaganda prints from the Great War