44th Annual Meeting & 42nd Annual Conference – Book and Paper Session, May 16, “Paper Tapestry: Wallpaper Preservation” by Joanna P. McMann

Joanna McMann, Assistant Conservator at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, was incredibly busy in Montreal, presenting two talks at the Book and Paper specialty session! This presentation outlined the work completed for the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Ontario. The historic house museum opened in 1984, and has been the subject of restoration treatment previously, as presented in the 2011 CAC-ACCR conference in Winnipeg: https://www.cac-accr.ca/files/pdf/e-cac-conference-2011.pdf (see page 20 for the abstract of “Wallpaper Reproduction Goes Digital”).

Photo of "Paper Tapestry: Wallpaper Preservation" presentation by Joanna P. McMann
Photo of servants’ hallway and wallpaper, from “Paper Tapestry: Wallpaper Preservation” by Joanna P. McMann.

The 1912-1913 third floor servants’ hallway had not been restored, and the floral-patterned wallpaper’s in situ stabilization was McMann’s goal. There were a number of condition issues including losses, abrasions, delamination of wallpaper from the wall, water staining, tearing, and significant soot, dust, and grime, resulting from the area being used as a storage space. The wallpaper’s paper substrate was pulpy and weak, and its media was water-soluble. McMann found that a modified technique of the full-scale digital printing previously used was necessary to complete the conservation project in the short timeframe of the month of December. There was 500 square feet of wallpaper requiring treatment, requiring a specific coding system to map the damage efficiently.
Surface cleaning was completed using goat-hair brushes and latex-free makeup sponges. The fragments were carefully cleaned, and cracks were cleaned with the makeup sponges and Absorene chemical absorbing sponges. McMann remarked on the effectiveness of this, allowing the cracks to recede into the overall aesthetic of the wall.
Delaminated wallpaper was re-adhered to the wall with a very dry wheat starch paste, gouges were pulp-filled, smoothed, and toned, and if necessary, damaged plaster was filled.
Losses were divided by size, so that medium – large losses were filled with the digitally printed reproduction papers, and small losses were filled with papers that were toned with watercolour. Using this coding system, more than 600 infills and 63 losses/abrasions were completed and treated! Three rounds of proofing were used to produce a quality output of the reproductive wallpaper paper, and the printed paper was split mechanically while damp as the reproduction paper was thick overall and chamfering was not possible. All fills were first done with toned Japanese tissue, in order to ensure a sympathetic colour if abrasions were to occur again, as the area will remain used as storage space after stabilization. The large losses required precise alignment before they were trimmed, and a combination of methyl cellulose and wheat starch paste was used to adhere and to allow for some slip during alignment.
Final toning was done using acrylics and a number of different light sources, to ensure compatibility to the viewer.
McMann presented the challenges and problem-solving techniques needed for the completion of the project to the very interested audience. She guided us through the stabilization of the servants’ area, noting its imortance to the Spadina (Spa-deenah or Spa-dinah depending on your class status in the nineteenth century!) Museum, as they have gained the title of being “Toronto’s Downton Abbey” and have exhibited costumes from the popular BBC drama.