Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Grandpa on the Lawn, Before and After

The treatments are finished!  This is the sixth in a 12-part series on selected conservation treatments of artwork and photographs.  "Preserving a Family Collection" concludes on August 31.
Theodore Carl Anderson, my grandfather, in the
early 1920s.

On the “June and Art” blog, I identified this photo as Theodore Anderson at Brown University in the early 1920s.  In retrospect, I could be wrong – he could just as easily be at home in Deep River, Connecticut or down south in Luray, Virginia, where he met and fell in love with Maud Clem.  Theodore and Maud were my maternal grandparents.

My grandfather mastered the dark room at an early age so it’s a very real possibility that this 8 x 10 enlargement may have been developed by him.  The image itself has held up fairly nicely over the past 80 years.

But I’m betting that he didn’t do the very sloppy framing job.  The print was mounted on a board and then the board was apparently cracked, possibly against the edge of a table, in order to tear it down to frame size.  Pen lines were drawn directly on the image surface to indicate the edges of the mat.  Then a polyvinyl acetate (PVA) white (or school) glue was smeared all over the portions of the image that would be covered by
the mat.  Finally, the mat was adhered directly to the image surface.

Eighty years later, the task of rescuing this poor, mistreated silver gelatin print fell to Barbara Lemmen, Senior Photograph Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art
Barb Lemmen using a heated
spatula to remove mat
and Historic Artifacts.  Sometime in its history, the print had been removed from its frame and mat, leaving fragments of mat board and PVA residue along all four sides of the photo.  Barb pointed out that removing PVA can be a challenge since it is not easily softened.  She used a heated spatula to lift off many pieces of the mat board but had to leave some pieces where removal would have meant taking off some of the silver gelatin of the image.

Barb commented that the image itself has changed over time – but not necessarily in a bad way.  Originally, she said, it would have been a crisply detailed black-and-white image.  However, partly because of the acidic board it was mounted on, the colors have deteriorated to these sepia and greenish-yellow tones.  Details have been lost in the face and hands, and Barb ventured that the background has probably lost clarity, as well.  But we both agreed that these changes have added a certain degree of charm, creating an effect as if we are looking at the photo across the mists of time.

Photograph of Theodore Carl Anderson, before treatment.

Photograph of Theodore Carl Anderson, after treatment.

© 2011 Lee Price

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