Earlier this year we worked on an exciting project for the House of Illustration, conserving and mounting pieces for their incredible retrospective of Jo Brocklehurst’s work: Nobodies and Somebodies.
Some of the pieces discovered and hung in the exhibition hadn’t been seen for many years and had been stored in a loft space. They had a variety of conservation issues, though creasing, edge tears and surface dirt were the main issues tackled.
Most of the works had been stored individually in plastic sleeves, all though these coverings may have protected them from some forms of damage they had, in the case of the pastel works, also rubbed the surface of the artworks and created a lot of loose pigment that was dispersed across the surface of the artworks and the plastic sleeves themselves.
Once removed from their sleeves we brushed the blank areas of the paper with a soft brush to remove loose dislodged pigment particles. We then softly went over these areas with smoke sponge to lift off any other loose dust and dirt, which was more heavily ingrained on areas not covered by the protective sleeves and at the open edges. On a couple of the pieces there were several dark drag marks, this ingrained dirt was lifted using grated eraser pieces.
Some of the pieces had yellowed adhesive tape attached to the edges of the works, some presumably left over from when the pieces had been displayed in the past. Although the tape was evidence of the way in which the pieces had been displayed in the past it was decided with the curator that on balance we should remove the already very degraded tape. The tape was removed using a heat iron and the residual yellowed adhesive was then lifted off with crepe rubbers.
Creases and tears
Most of the pieces had creasing and folds, most heavily around the corners. Some had surface cockling too which may, perhaps, have been caused by damp conditions in the loft they were stored. Due to time and equipment limitations we concentrated our efforts on reducing the folds and creases around the edges of the pieces and away from the pastel markings themselves as we wouldn’t want to disturb the artists marks.
Most of the edge tears were less than 10mm long, but to stop them getting any bigger they were pressed and the fibres secured back together using wheat starch adhesive. Larger tears were also supported on the verso using Japanese tissue. There was a large gouged hole in the centre of one of the largest pieces, luckily after humidification and flattening, the gouged paper refilled the hole and was secured in place with a Japanese tissue backing.
In order to make some of the artworks appear to float over a metallic backdrop we float mounted the works using several Japanese tissue tabs secured with wheat starch paste to archival boards that were slightly smaller than the artworks themselves. Magnets were then placed between the artworks and the backing board to hold the pieces in place against the metal sheeting with displaying the pieces to great effect.
The exhibition is open for just a couple more weeks, until 14th May, in the Kings Cross regeneration area of London, make sure you get down to the House of Illustration and take a look!