Shattered in Shipment: Saving a Work from Broken Glass

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At The Conservation Center, we are acutely aware that accidents happen, so that is why we offer our services at EXPO Chicago every year. We serve as exclusive conservation and framing providers at EXPO, and also manage an educational booth that features recently treated works. Our team of art handlers and conservators prepare annually to assist in every way possible as hundreds of pieces of art are installed in Navy Pier over two short days. This year we assisted with numerous situations, including a piece from Mostyn Gallery that suffered damage from international shipment. Somewhere along the way, the glass shattered and the paper piece underneath was in need of a quick rescue. 

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As the piece was brought into the laboratory, the team of art handlers diligently held the packaged piece level so that the movement in the box was minimal. Even so, the conservators supervising the transport could still hear glass shifting.  Using specialty glass-handling gloves and a vacuum, our team began to excavate the lithograph. Once disassembled, the Paper Department noted that the sheet with printed media was mounted to a secondary sheet of Rives BFK. The secondary sheet exhibited impact damage from the glass in two areas.  

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The frame had open miters at the bottom left and right corners. There was a V nail at the bottom edge and no nails at the top of the miters. That nail contributed to some of the damage done to the print. The wood of the frame exhibited a gouge with frayed fibers at the proper right center and appeared to be unfinished and covered in a layer of packing material particulates.

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After the piece was photographed for in-house documentation, the sheet was carefully freed from the mount using mechanical techniques, and the hinges were lifted. Once the sheet was ready, our Paper Conservators started treatment by surface cleaning the print. Next, they consolidated any areas of lifting fibers with the appropriate conservation adhesives. Losses were infilled with cellulose paper pulp, and tears were repaired with Japanese tissue. The tear repair was also supported from the reverse with weight paper and adhesive.

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Once all of the repairs were made, the conservators reduced any deformations to the sheet with a combination of humidity and flattening techniques.

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Meanwhile, the Framing Department was busy repairing the frame. The conservators stabilized the miters and added a brad nail to the top portion. The frayed wood fibers were then consolidated with the appropriate conservation adhesives and the whole frame was then cleaned.

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After the conservation work was complete, it was time to put the work together again. The work was reassembled with UV Plexiglas- a conservation grade acrylic glazing that protects against UV light rays. The conservators reinstalled the work in to the newly-repaired frame and added an acid-free Coroplast backing board to provide additional protection during transport.  The piece was then ready for its big debut on opening night of EXPO Chicago.

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