Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Dresses, Before and After

The treatments are finished!  This is the tenth in a 12-part series on selected conservation treatments of artwork and photographs.  "Preserving a Family Collection" concludes on September 1.

Two dresses fashion illustration by June Anderson.

Foxing visible around perimeter.
The brown spots around the perimeter of this fashion illustration are known as foxing.  It increases in severity as you approach the outer edges of the piece, nearly becoming a uniform brownish tone along the edges.  The fashion illustration itself is one of the nicest pieces that my mother drew while attending Traphagen School of Fashion from 1948 to 1950.  It’s a shame to see it marred in this way.

There are various possible causes of foxing, but Jessica Keister, Mellon Fellow at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, suspects that this particular foxing was the result of early mold growth.  She explained how this can occur:  “First, the piece is stored in a place where the circumstances are favorable for mold growth.  The mold spores start to collect on the paper surface.  But then the environment changes, cutting off the mold before it becomes a serious problem.  Any beginning mold that is present falls over and dies, decomposing directly on the paper.  Foxing like this is often caused by the mold decomposition.”

The good news is that there are no signs of any active mold growth.  The foxing probably took place years – maybe even decades – ago and the piece appears to have remained relatively stable since.

Sometimes conservators are asked to bleach the foxing out, but – while relatively effective – this  strategy also tends to be time-consuming and, therefore, expensive.  Historically important documents and artwork may demand this level of attention, but usually not items from a family collection like mine.  In the case of this illustration, I’ve opted to live with the foxing.

Jessica Keister.
Fortunately, there is a less expensive – but still aesthetically pleasing – solution.  Since the foxing is worse along the sides, matting the piece would hide much of the damage.  It’s a simple and elegant solution.

For this treatment, Jessica split the artwork from the backing board, removing the low-quality acidic filler between the board and the paper.  Then the illustration was washed, humidified, and flattened.  The foxing remains, but it will barely be noticeable after matting and framing.  I hope that ultimately it will go up on a wall in my daughter’s room, alongside some other choice examples of my mother’s work in fashion illustration.

Two dresses fashion illustration by June Anderson,
before treatment.

Two dresses fashion illustration by June Anderson,
after treatment.

© 2011 Lee Price

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