This summer, Fleur van der Woude and Juliet Baines carried out a challenging conservation treatment of a huge, beautifully designed film poster from 1931 in the film related collections of the EYE Filmmuseum. The poster was in a terrible condition when it arrived in the conservation studio, but it returned to the museum fit for handling and display!
Fleur and Juliet are post graduate book and paper conservators in training at the department of Conservation and Restoration of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). This blog post will take you through their experiences and will touch upon some of the challenges they encountered.
Unfolding the folds
The poster arrived at the conservation studio folded. Due to tears and brittleness, it was impossible to handle the paper without causing more damage. When carefully unfolded the poster turned out to measure an impressive 240 cm in width and 160 cm in height. The lithograph depicts a lady in a bright red jumpsuit kicking a grey cooking pot. The text on the poster is all printed in black. The use of only three colours gives the poster a minimalistic look while the composition is lively due to the body movement of the lady in red. The poster is from a French comedy called ‘Nicole et sa Vertu’ that was released in 1931. The poster itself dates from around the same time. To make handling and viewing of this attractive poster possible, a conservation treatment had to be carried out. Tearing of the paper meant the poster was now in four parts while it was initially compiled of two halves that could be attached using a pasting strip in the middle. However, the pasting strip showed no sign of it ever being used, indicating the two halves of this poster were never adhered together. Therefore, the decision was made to keep the two halves apart. The size of the two halves, both 120x160 cm, still meant the conservation treatment was a challenge for the two conservators, demanding a creative use of tools, space and workforce.
Exciting times for ‘the lady in red’
First, the paper was washed to remove degradation products and strengthen the paper. Next, a lining of Japanese paper was adhered to the back of the poster using wheat starch paste. For lining of the poster a flat surface was needed. None of the tables available in the studio turned out to be big enough. Particle board was cut to size and covered with a sheet of Melinex®, a transparent polyester foil, to create a big enough flat surface to work on. After a first lining, Japanese paper and starch paste was used to fill in missing areas and reinforce tears. Finally, a second lining was applied.
The Japanese paper used for the lining weighs 6 grams per square meter, which is extremely thin. In comparison, the paper generally used in printers weighs 80 grams per square meter. The decision to line the poster with this type of paper was based on previous conservation treatments on film posters in Eye’s collection carried out by Art Conservation Europe. These posters were machine-lined with 6 grams Japanese paper and had gained a lot of strength while maintaining their original thickness and flexibility as much as possible. Also, the writing or printing on the back of these posters is still visible through the thin lining paper.
The choice for lining by hand with extremely thin Japanese paper in combination with the size of the poster, meant the lining had to be made up out of thirty smaller sheets of paper instead of one single sheet. After the first lining, a second lining was applied to prevent undesirable tension because the orientation of the paper fibres of the second lining was positioned perpendicular to the orientation of the fibres in the first lining.
To apply the pasted Japanese paper to the back of the poster, a Japanese lining technique was used. The lining paper is placed on a flat surface and with a special, traditional Japanese brush, the thin paste is applied evenly. Then, a corner of the pasted paper is lifted and adhered to a wooden stick. The stick is used to lift the paper and to place the paper onto the object. While one hand holds the stick horizontally, the other hand positions the edge of the pasted lining paper on the back of the object. Because of the extremely thin and fragile lining paper, a second set of hands was needed to accurately position the paper. But even with two pairs of hands, the two conservators could be heard whispering to one another, wishing for a third pair!
After drying under light weights to flatten the paper, retouching was carried out using water colour pencils. The water colour pencil was only applied in the areas where the Japanese paper lining was visible through a hole in the original poster. Here, the white Japanese paper was retouched to a yellowish brown close to the colour of the original paper to make the repair less visible. In consultation with Soeluh van den Berg, curator and head of the film related collections at EYE, it was decided to be modest in retouching and allow the age of the material to be visible. The same goes for the brown chequered pattern caused by degradation of the folding lines, as well as the discolorations caused by fatty components in the printing ink created in areas where ink and paper were in direct contact when folded. Both patterns of discoloration are still clearly visible on the poster. Removing them would require a more invasive approach using bleaching techniques that would weaken the paper in these areas even more. Although, by some viewers, these areas with stronger discolouration might be experienced as distracting, they are part of the history of the object as they show what the poster has been through.
A bright future in a dark archive
The poster is now stored in the archive of EYE. In the archival storage, a stable climate of around 18 °C and a relative humidity of around 50% is maintained to slow down the degradation of the materials. Light is only turned on when staff members need to handle objects in storage. The poster is stored in a folder made of acid-free cardboard with sheets of TST® interleaving between the two halves of the poster. This prevents more discolouration as the interleaving keeps the printing ink from being in direct contact with the paper on top. The folder is kept in a big drawer where the object is stored flat. After conservation, this poster has a future again, and it has helped two young paper conservators to gain more experience in dealing with a fragile and oversized object.
Photography and image editing by Juliet Baines, Fleur van der Woude and Nick Kuijpers.
Text by Juliet Baines, Fleur van der Woude (editor) and Aafke Weller (editor)
The use of self-adhesive plastic foils in architectural designs in the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (NL)
The researchers of the project Materials in Motion - a research project on animation artwork conservation - found a lot of self-adhesive plastic foils in EYE's collection of animation artwork. These plastic foils constitute a challenge for conservators. A reason to visit our collegues of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam who struggle with the same material in their collection of design drawings. This blog post takes a closer look at examples from both collections.
Self-adhesive plastic foils, transparent sheets, tapes, markers. If a material is time-saving, inexpensive, easy to use, readily available and has a contemporary appeal, you can be assured it has been fully exploited by artists and designers. During our condition survey of the animation artwork in the collection of the EYE Film Museum, we regularly encounter self-adhesive foils adhered to both plastic as well as paper. We found several degradation phenomena that are typical for self-adhesive plastic foils such as shrinkage; sticky edges where the adhesive is exposed; loss of adhesion; wrinkling and bubbling. Example are the study for the film Between the Lights (1975) and the cel used in the production of Reversals (1972) by Karin Wiertz and Jacques Verbeek as depicted below.
Although conservators are familiar with the use of plastic foils and the problems they can present, we know very little about the degradation of these foils or what causes them to shrink, warp, bubble or even weep. In most cases, we don't even know their composition or the composition of the adhesives used. And to make the situation more complicated: manufacturers constantly adapt their recipes and change constituents. To better understand the degradation of plastic foils used in the animation artwork in the collection of EYE, we now survey the whole collection looking for patterns. During an expert meeting on the inventory of damages in archives and libraries organized by Metamorfoze, we learned Het Nieuwe Instituut, the national institute for architecture, design and digital culture in Rotterdam, is coping with similar problems. In many of their technical drawings and artist impressions, self-adhesive plastic foils are used as in integral part of the design. Curious after the ways in which these foils have been used in technical drawings and the specific problems these drawings present, we took a look in the architecture archives in the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Self-adhesive plastic foils in architectural designs
When self-adhesive plastic foils came on the market shortly after the Second Word War, they were immediately embraced by architects. With these plastic foils architects could quickly achieve an even colourful fill of the architectural elements in their design drawings. The foils gave an idea of surface quality such as transparency, texture or colour. Moreover, transparent foils could be used in designs on tracing paper or transparent plastic sheest, which permitted their copying by photomechanical processes in which a degree of translucency is often desired. But above all, their textures and colours appealed to the designers and architects of the time.
Plastic foils, in short, were the equivalent of Adobe’s paint bucket throughout the second half of the 20th century. Brands such as ASLAN®, Pantone™ and Zip-a-tone™ offered a huge variety in opaque, transparent and patterned foils. The designer would cut to measure and (usually) paste the foil on the verso of the transparent paper allowing a more fluent integration into the drawing on the recto.
A beautiful example are the designs for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (1963-1971) by Rietveld, Van Dillen en Van Tricht. The studio used transparent and patterned foils to emphasise the different volumes and the play between inside and outside.
Typical damage caused by storage in rolls and tubes
The drawings show damage and degradarion phenomena that are typical for self-adhesive foils: wrinkling and the presence of air bubbles between the substrate and the film. These bubbles are comparable to those we found in the animation artwork shown above, but their elongated shape and predominantly vertical orientation suggest a different cause. Plus they all seem to originate in a corner of the cut out shape.
Architecture archives are often characterised by the large size of the technical drawings they contain. The example above is relatively small (ca. A1), but drawings longer than two metres are no exception. Often these drawings were stored rolled and the small drawings were simply rolled together with the larger drawings, using the roll or a cardboard tube as an archival unit. Many damage patterns we now encounter in architectural drawings are an immediate result of handling or storage in rolls. The drawings by Rietveld, Van Dillen en Van Tricht are an example of these damage patterns. When rolled with the plastic foil on the inside, the foil is compressed and starts to butt at the weakest points: the corners.
Most of the damage occurs during the formation of the archive in the architecture studio. When they arrive in Het Nieuwe Instituut, these drawings are ideally unrolled or unfolded, flattened and stored flat in archival folders, in which they are interleaved with thin, archival quality silk tissue paper. Unfortunately - as a result of the size of the archives and the limited financial resources of institutions such as Het Nieuwe Instituut – conservators cope with backlogs and many architectural drawings are still kept folded or in rolls waiting for an opportunity to rehouse them
By Aafke Weller, paper conservator and researcher at EYE Film Museum for the research project Materials in Motion
If you want to know more about Materials in Motion visit our blog: www.materialsinmotion.nl.
Cinqualbre, Marion et al. “‘Zip’: an Adhesive Plastic Film in Architectural Drawings.” Studies in Conservation 61. S2 (2016): S283–S285. Print.Tag:animation artwork, animation, artwork, plastics, conservation, cel, plastic foil, karin wiertz