42nd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Group, May 31, “Indian Coloured Drawings: Modern Repair Techniques for an Album of 19th Century Paintings on Mica by Sarah Reidell”

In this talk, Sarah Reidell gave a detailed description of her treatment of an album of 19th century paintings on mica from the New York Public Library collection.
Her treatment steps included:

  1. Hows and whys – background research
  2. Stabilize – consolidation
  3. Digitize – high quality files
  4. Accessorize – new archival mats and housings
  5. Publicize – increase awareness to researchers/public/staff

The albums had red buckram, generally indicating NYPL bindery work, and perhaps also associated with the WPA. There were two volumes of albums, Volume I was opaque watercolors on mica, and Volume II was watercolor on European and Indian papers. Mica is a material that is used in make-up and the mining industry. It is chemically inert, stable, and somewhat flammable. It is a cheap substitute for colored glass and lanterns.
They started the project in 2007 by removing the papers from the acidic album paper using traditional paper conservation techniques. This revealed ink inscriptions on the verso of the watercolors. Once digitized, these were encapsulated and housed in boxes and also on the NYPL online gallery. There were 29 pages total with 135 mica paintings. The full extent of the damage was now clear.
Reidell stated that since she is not a paintings conservator or an objects conservator, her aim was stabilization for future exhibition. The mica paintings were marketed for westerners, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Library have large holdings of mica paintings. The NYPL mica paintings had catastrophic media condition because the mica was damaged. None of the conventional paper techniques were suitable. Reidell used PLM and known McCrone samples to confirm that it was mica and not cellulose nitrate.
Relative humidity and temperature fluctuations were apparent in the albums and mica paintings. There was paint on the verso to create shadows and there was major media loss and damage to the lining and mica. Reidell tried cast fills using B-72, which didn’t work because it was not even and trapped dust. In-painting was also not an option because there was too much damage and loss. Consolidation with an ultrasonic mister did not work because everything was water-soluble. The damage was extensively documented and the works were put in temporary mats. Due to a previous mounting, the versos had even more damage. After testing JunFunori, Isinglass, methyl cellulose, Paraloid B-72, and Aquazol, Aquazol was chosen. Aquazol’s refractive index was the closest to the mica and various types of Aquazol were used for consolidation of large flakes, wetting out cupped or lifted flakes, and general consolidation and cohesion. B-72 was used for adhering large flakes of mica together.
The work flow consisted of using Excel for notes, copies of slides to color-map (using different colors for different adhesives, and silicon shapers to hold down flakes. After consolidation, the paper linings were removed and worked under the microscope on a Teflon-coated board. To repair the mica, BEVA 371 was used for fills and B-72 was used for complex tears.
After treatment, the paintings were digitized before mounting. Mounting was a challenge because Reidell needed to determine how to mount the paintings without messing up the micas but still enabling access. BEVA 371 film was attached Mylar-to-Mylar. BEVA 371 was used because it is pre-made, has a consistent thickness, and is fast. A silicone-coated Mylar barrier was used because it left no cloudy surface, unlike silicone-release paper barrier.
Finally, the project was publicized on social media and reached over 550,000 people through twitter, Instagram, Vine vidoes, and much more!

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