Joint 44th Annual AIC Meeting & 42nd CAC-ACCR Annual Conference, Art on Paper Discussion Group, May 17th

When I attended this session, I was not planning to blog about it. Yesterday, I saw that no one had signed up to write about this, so I figured I would share the notes I have with the larger community.
Peggy Ellis began discussion with her rousing talk entitled Paper is Part of the Picture. (To envelop the room in the scent of old paper as she spoke, she passed around a bottle of Paper Passion Perfume.)
She feels that there seems to be a curious lack of language to describe paper. Often, no mention is made of the paper itself in the literature of art. It is important to be able to describe the physical properties of paper, even those that have been common in our lives. Common papers may change with technology and not be familiar to those in the future. For example, nineteenth century writing paper and etching paper had specific qualities that contemporaries would have recognized. In the past, artists were particularly attuned to the qualities of paper. Today, preference is given to extremely white paper. Most of today’s common papers are meant to travel through a printer.
She ended with a call to action: Using as many of our senses as we can, paper conservators need to develop and standardize descriptions that enable a fuller understanding of paper.
Kristi Dahm’s talk was entitled Winslow Homer’s Engagement of the Materiality of Paper.
Homer is an example of someone who was very attuned to paper and was very particular when choosing paper. He chose the best paper for the technique he intended to employ. Allowing the paper to show through is an important component of his and many other watercolor paintings. When the paper changes in appearance with age, the art is changed.
Homer often used watercolor blocks. You can find evidence of this, such as brown lines of adhesive at the edges, or white voids where adhesive was removed.
He used a particular paper during a trip to Bermuda in 1888/89 which has deep, diagonal furrows on the verso. In some cases, his printer printed his plates on both paper and parchement. The parchment versions were mre expensive.
He sometimes used Japanese vellum, which was introduced to Paris in 1888 and became very popular with artists. It was a smooth, dense Japanese paper with a lustrous, calenared surface. There were European-made imitations.
There are some posthumous impressions of Homer prints that were created by his later printer using the same paper, so they are hard to tell from originals.
The third talk, entitled Connoissership and Conservators’ Practice, was by Marian Dirda. She spoke about the importance of understanding the qualities of hte paper to inform treatment decisions.
Every institution has a curatorial tradition on which some of those decisions are based. This comes from an understanding of the part that the paper plays in conveying the spirit of the artwork.
For example, washing and flattening should not be done on a Mary Csssatt because undulations are typical in her prints and should be left. If something is an extremely rare first state, you should not wash it because it is important not to loose any characteristics. You can learn by comparing copies and variations of the same print.
Papers from the 1960s and 1970s are particualrly vulnerable to oxidative attack. The quality of paper has rise since the 1980s. We don’t have a lightfastness stadard for paper like we do for media.
Amy Hughes rounded out the presentations with a follow up to her talk about gels in paper conservation. To measure pH and conductivity, she uses a biopsy punch to make a small agarose pellet She leaves it on the paper 5 minutes, then places it in the conductivity meter first, then places it in the pH meter with 2 drops of water. The paper is less altered when you match the paper’s conductivity with that of the treatment solution.
She makes a bunch of stock solutions that will keep for a few months in the fridge. Learning to make the stock solutions is complicated. You need an instructor to teach you. There will be some future workshops with Amy, Daria Keynan, and/or Chris Stavroudis.
These presentations were followed by a lively discussion. Here are some select points:
* More study is needed about why color shift is happening in paper.
* It is important to collaborate with paper historians.
* There may or may not still be copies available of the Print Council of America Paper Sample book. Get one if you can. (I did a quick search and did not see any listed for sale online.)
* We need to create something even more comprehensive than that book.
* Colors can be scientifically measured, but simple color words and modifiers may be more useful.
* In a treatment report, it is always good provide context for why a treatment path was chosen.
* When concerned about over lightening, one trick is to light bleach from the back.
* Is it helping paper chemistry to preserve paper tone? We are not necessarliy extending the paper’s lifetime by washing.
* Why not just start with sodium borohydride? Paper chemists believe it is actually good for the paper.
* National Gallery of Art is putting together a comprehesive paper library. Please contact Marian Dirda if you have dated, known samples.
* Look, look, look, and look again!