Recently, while on a visit to her mother’s house, a client of The Conservation Center rediscovered a photograph that she remembered as a constant fixture in her childhood home. She found the photographic portrait, which had hung in her family dining room, in a box alongside an old marriage certificate. Treasuring her memories of the photograph, and wanting the pieces to last for generations to come, our client entrusted The Center with the conservation of the two pieces, and decided to learn more about the items.
The photograph shows our client's great-grandparents as a young couple, around the turn of the nineteenth century. The discovery also included a marriage certificate which belonged to the pair. A discussion between our client and her mother revealed that the photograph had hung on the walls of her family members’ homes for generations. Just as our client had gazed at the photograph as a child, her mother also remembered looking at the picture when it hung in her childhood home. Around the time that her mother was married, our client was gifted the photograph by her aunt and uncle, and in turn hung it in her own home while she was growing up.
The couple was married on September 15, 1897, as detailed on the marriage described above. Our client also learned that her great-grandparents lived just outside of Rochester, New York, where her great-grandmother ran a boarding house for travelling salesmen. Her great-grandfather served as a caretaker for the grounds at Eastman House in Rochester, the home of George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and a major figure in the popularization of photography as a mainstream medium (the house still stands, now functioning as the George Eastman Museum).
The portrait is a reinforced, embossed photograph with hand-painted pastel additions, mounted to lead. When the photograph arrived at The Center, it exhibited a layer of surface soil and age-related discoloration throughout. Given the materials and the age of the piece, it was no surprise that the sheet had selectively darkened, and that the edges had become embrittled. The photograph also exhibited abrasions on the surface and showed signs of mold growth.
The Center’s Paper Department surface cleaned the stable areas of the photograph, carefully avoiding the areas of reinforced pastel. The mold was also addressed using various conservation methods, and the abrasions were retouched. A sheet of Mylar was loosely attached to the verso of the piece to act as a buffer between the soft lead and the framed housing.
After treatment by The Center’s Paper Department was complete, the photograph was then sent to the Custom Framing Department. The piece was placed back into the original frame, which had been cleaned and conserved, with the addition of new archival matting and Conservation Clear glass to protect the photograph from damage caused by UV rays. For additional protection and support, a new backing board was also attached.
Along with the photograph of her great-grandparents, our client also brought the couple’s marriage certificate to The Center for conservation. The Center’s paper department worked to fill losses and reduce visual inconsistencies that had developed in the document over the years. The Custom Framing Department then worked to house the certificate in a new frame, with conservation-grade materials, in order to help preserve the piece for years to come.