39th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 3rd “Nicolas De Fer’s L’Amerique Wall Map: A Look into the Ethical Dilemmas Resulting from Past Restorations”

Doris St-Jacques and Maria Bedynski of Library and Archives Canada presented the challenges they faced when working on the restoration of a hand colored 1739 ed.  L’Amerique Divisee selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties wall map.

Highlights of the talk included images of anthropomorphized, bipedal, dam building beavers (Follow the link for more information on the map itself, and especially the beavers!) and the description of the Library and Archives Canada’s “light wall”.  I don’t think I was the only attendee green with equipment envy at the thought!  I know next time I get to design a new lab space, I will be investing in frosted glass and fluorescent light fixtures.

Library and Archives Canada has two copies of L’Amerique, a map that is important not only for the textual information and hand colored map, but also for the various illustrations of daily life in the Americas.  Their 1689 ed. is in relatively good condition except for heavy trimming, but the 1739 ed. had been brought to conservation in poor shape.  The 1739 ed. had had been previously, and creatively, restored.

  • The map had originally been printed on several panels that were glued together in overlapping segments.  The left text panels had been cut from the map during the previous restoration.  As a result, there were definitive breaks between panels that were tenting up and fragmenting at the edges.
  • The map had been lined with acidic machine pulp paper (date unknown).
  • The map had been trimmed and been given a decorative machine marbled paper border (date unknown).
  • The text panels were extensively damaged, and had been in-filled in a variety of creative and baffling ways.
    • Some segments were infilled with replacement printed text.  This text was not only not from the same map, but was not even in the same language.
    • Some segments were decoratively infilled with meaningless scribbles, no doubt meant to emulate text.
  • Small fragments from the text had been retained, but had been re-adhereed to the map in seemingly random places.
  • The two bottom text panels had been reversed.
  • An opaque grey paint had been used to mask areas of loss/damage – further obscuring full lines of text in some areas.

The conservators approached the complex dilemma of L’Amerique by consulting the 1698 ed. of the map which also resided in their collection.  Unfortunately, a previous treatment to that map had heavily trimmed the edges, resulting in significant text loss that made the map unsuitable as a guide.  The conservators were able to purchase a facsimile copy of the map, printed at 1:1 aspect ratio, from the University of Michigan @ Ann Arbor.  Notes on the full treatment of the map are as follows:

The Reboot:

  • The full map was humidified, the marbled paper border removed, and the map separated into individual panels.  Humidification allowed the panels to be delaminated where they overlapped, so that the margins were retained where still present.
  • Each text panel was pre-treated with alcohol, then immersed in a water bath to remove the paper lining and heavy adhesive layer.
  • The two hand-colored map panels could not be immersed in water due to their soluable colorants, so instead, the adhesive and lining paper were removed by laponite poultice.  They were then cleaned by spray misting and light sponging through pasting tissue.
  • Gelatin was brushed through pasting tissue to resize the paper of all the panels
  • The “creative” infills were carefully removed.

The Repair:

  • Leaf casting and hand pulp infills were used to restore areas of loss in each map segment (and to replace the severed margins on the left text panel), and each segment was lined with thin Japanese tissue and allowed to dry.
  • The individual sections were then reassembled into the 4 original panels (map, left text, right text, bottom text).  It is at this stage that the conservators were able to switch the left and right sections of the bottom text panel back into their original configuration.

The Reinforcement:

  • Terylene fabric was spray-wetted then pasted out with wheat starch adhesive and adhered to the lab’s light wall.  Sheets of kizukishi paper were water torn at the edges and pasted out.  They were adhered to the terelyene to form one large sheet of lining tissue.  The tissue/fabric laminate was then allowed to partially dry to reduce the likelihood that the lining tissue would be disturbed/damaged during the map mounting phase.
  • The laminate was repasted out and the map sections (1st the map, then the text panels) were humidified and rolled out onto the kizukishi tissue.  Since the conservators were working on the drool worthy light wall, they were able to easily reach different parts of the map for exact repositioning.
  • It was decided to retain the marbled paper because it obscured nothing, would be easy to remove if necessary, and was a part of the history of the piece.  The border was readhered to the map in the original configuration.
  • The map was allowed to dry on the light wall.
  • Once dried, the map was carefully peeled free from the light wall, with the terelyne serving as a release layer.  The map was placed face down, and the terelyne carefully peeled free from the tissue lining.
  • A second layer of water torn tissue was pasted onto the map as a final layer of strength.

The Record:

  • From the start, the conservators were concerned about dimensional change during the humidification and lining of the map.  To guard against misaligned fragments, the map was extensively measured and photo-documented before treatment began.
  • As the various creative infills were removed,  they were adhered to a mylar overlay in their home positions.
  • During the treatment, it was realized that the title banner was delaminating.  Viewed with tramsitted light, it became obvious that the L’AMERIQUE title banner had been pasted over a printed EUROPE banner, and in fact some of the original letters of the EUROPE banner had been altered as a part of  L’AMERIQUE.  The conservators found a that this was also the case on their 1698 ed. map, and that digital images of the same map at other institutions showed a delaminating title banner as well.  So the conservation treatment of this map actually revealed a new fact about the printing methodology used by the map’s creator, Nicolas De Fer.
  • A full and complete version of the map text was printed onto a second mylar overlay to be stored with the original map.
  • Fragments of the acidic paper lining were retained to save the impression of the original cloth lining still present in the thick adhesive.