Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Introduction to Friable Media

CCAHA Senior Conservator Soyeon Choi unrolls a
rolled charcoal sketch.

Both of my parents liked to work in charcoal.  My father filled several notebooks with his charcoal sketches and my mother worked frequently in charcoal, including the 50 rolled nude drawings that she drew while attending Traphagen School of Fashion.  Preservation of these charcoal pieces poses a considerable challenge, largely for the simple reason that charcoal smudges so easily.

In the language of conservation, charcoal is a friable medium.  This means it has a tendency to crumble, detaching from its original surface and easily transferring to another.  Place a clean sheet of paper over a charcoal drawing and some charcoal will invariably rub off onto the clean surface.

The decision to roll up my mother’s charcoal nudes was an unfortunate one.  With the scrolling, the paper became in constant contact with it reverse side (the “verso”) and any jostling in storage increased the rate of transfer.  Soyeon Choi, Senior Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, recommends that I invest in a new storage strategy for the rolled nudes.  Ideally, she says, I should have each sheet of paper humidified, flattened, and matted, and then store them flat.  Unfortunately, the expense rules out this option for me, at least for now.

So Soyeon suggests a second option, not as ideal as storing them flat but better than returning them to the plastic trash bag that has accommodated them for many years.  “You can get a good acid-free box – ideally custom-sized so they don’t shift around – from a respected supplier like University Products or Gaylord.  Place the scrolled papers inside the box to create a single layer along the bottom.  You can probably comfortably fit around ten into a single box.”  She emphasizes that there should be no weight from the top.  “They’ve been squashed enough.  You can keep them rolled and safe in a box until you’re ready to upgrade to an even better approach.”

Rolled paper placed in a single layer in acid-free box.  Ideally,
boxes can be purchased that are custom-sized to fit the paper
length, preventing unnecessary jostling.

© 2011 Lee Price

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