Friday, August 19, 2011

The Monkey Photograph, Before and After

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

Front of photo, before.

Of all the items we brought in for treatment, I think this tiny photograph may have been in the saddest state of all.  Only slightly larger than a postage stamp, the photo was thoroughly crumpled and a corner had been ripped off, only to be pasted back on by Scotch tape – the bane of conservators everywhere.

Back of photo, after.
Tiny though it is, this picture means a lot to my sister and I because it’s the only physical memento of a favorite family story.  When our father was stationed in Shanghai in 1945/46, he was told that it was his duty as quartermaster to care for the monkey.  Since he had his own room as quartermaster, he was expected to share it with the monkey.  My sister remembers
that he never said anything nice about the monkey – a likely indication that they never became particularly close.  When they sailed from Shanghai, the monkey stayed behind to become the charge of the next quartermaster.

Back of photo, after.
Treating this photo was a two-person job at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  Rachel Wetzel, Photograph Conservator, used a heated spatula to remove the tape and then got rid of any remaining adhesive residue with a little organic solvent and a crepe square.

Then Barbara Lemmen, Senior Photograph Conservator, received the photograph in two pieces, no longer attached by the tape.  Barb pieced it together with some wheat starch paste, adding a layer of warm and dilute photographic gelatin over the crack to help consolidate it.  She meticulously inpainted the areas of loss, using a stipple technique of little dots that appear
                                                                 as a harmonious tone from a normal
Front of photo, after.
viewing distance. 

It’s a real thrill to recover this picture and now we even have it in two versions.  We have the original, now in better condition than we’ve ever seen it before.  And we have a digitized image by Michelle Dauberman, Manager of Digital Documentation, that enables us to view this 65+ year old picture enlarged and close up on a computer screen – or even to post it on a blog.  Our family’s legendary monkey is fully visible at last!

Art Price with monkey in Shanghai, circa 1945, before treatment.

Art Price with monkey in Shanghai, circa 1945, after treatment.

© 2011 Lee Price

1 comment:

  1. My Dad was on the YMS 6 for 3yrs as the Motor Machinist Mate and used to talk about that Monkey. They got it from another ship and ended up throwing it onto a passing Destrorer. He hated that Monkey too... He passed 12/23/11
    Thanks, Bill Pierce III (