Thursday, August 18, 2011

Minesweepers in Shanghai, Before and After

The treatments are finished!  This is the seventh in a 12-part series on selected conservation treatments of artwork and photographs.  "Preserving a Family Collection" concludes on August 31.

Minesweepers at port in Shanghai, circa 1945.

Charcoal sketch of a
minesweeper by Art Price.
As quartermaster, my father served as the petty officer in charge of day-to-day navigation tasks on several minesweepers during his service in the Navy, 1944-1947.  When he was stationed in Shanghai, his ship was the YMS6, a Yard minesweeper.  You can see it pictured in the photograph above (the ship with the 6 on its bow) and in his own drawing on the right.

The treatment of this magnificent photo of American minesweepers at port in Shanghai, circa 1946, was assigned to Barbara Lemmen, Senior Photograph Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  There was a large tear running across the image surface along the far right side, as well as image losses along the top.

Barb mended the tear by working on the back, adding layers of Japanese paper adhered with wheat starch paste.  This was followed by humidification and flattening.

Barb Lemmen inpainting the photo.
The final step is an aesthetic one.  On a project like this, a skilled conservator is sometimes asked to inpaint the losses.  I definitely wanted this.  Inpainting reduces the distracting appearance of the damaged area.  With a talented and experienced inpainter like Barb, inpainting can make the image appear much closer to its original appearance.

First, Barb applied a layer of methylcellulose to the areas of loss – a step that enables her to paint on an inert and water-soluble surface rather than the actual image surface.  When it comes to inpainting, old photos like this require the ability to match very subtle tonal differences.  Black and white photographs often age into muted tones of green, yellow, and brown.  Barb still uses her own favorite watercolor set on most inpainting jobs, skillfully mixing them to get the colors just

“It was against the rules for anyone to go on liberty in Shanghai alone.  I always went with this buddy of mine and usually there were 3 or 4 more of us.  Even then we never went in the old Chinese section or even down a side street at night.  Plenty of sailors, out alone with too much to drink, ended up in the river.”
                                                                                                                                    Art Price

Minesweepers in Shanghai photograph, before treatment.

 Minesweepers in Shanghai photograph, after treatment.
© 2011 Lee Price


  1. My Dad was also on the YMS-6. He was the wheel -man. His nickname was "boots", given to him by the crew. Your Dad probably knew him.

  2. My Dad (Bill Pierce Jr.) was on YMS 6 from the time it left the Panama Canal until it was scuttled in Shanghai (3yrs). He was the Motor Machinist and told us the tales of the men and officers and what a great crew she had... He passed on 12/23/11
    Thanks, Bill Pierce III (