WHY?

Books, paper-based artwork, and paper records can sometimes be salvaged after being exposed to water, smoke and other extreme conditions during an emergency. Use these tips to evaluate what damaged items can be salvaged, and then to salvage what you can.

Art Conservation Treatments

Professional conservation treatments are usually carried out on fine art, special or rare books, and certificates or documents when the damage has compromised the integrity and/or stability of the artifact. For example, an etching that has gotten partially wet, with a tideline resulting, will benefit from a reduction of the stain and the removal of the contamination in the paper deposited by the flood waters. Similarly, a framed watercolor in an archival mat that has gone through a house fire has absorbed moisture because of the high level of humidity in the house. If it is unframed and air-dried, the painting should be fine and will simply need to be rematted.

In deciding whether to have a piece conserved, go back to your priorities. What is the value of this piece to my total collection? What is its monetary value, its emotional value? Is this a unique piece, a duplicate or one of several in an edition? Answering some of these questions may help you make your decision.

A conservator’s code of ethics requires them to be the advocate for the artwork, in much the same way that a doctor advocates for the patient. A trained conservator will spell out your options for treatment. Treatment needs are broken into four categories:

  • If the piece is severely torn and bits are going to be lost in moving it or trying to store it, then it will be a high treatment priority.
  • If the artwork has a few small tears and is a bit dirty and rumpled, but can be stored safely, then treatment may be deferred but should be done in the near future.
  • If damage such as staining has compromised the overall aesthetics of the artwork, but the work can be safely stored, then treatment becomes an option.
  • The artwork is in good condition and needs no work.

Conservators can also work within a budget. A full treatment might cost several hundred dollars — but if you only have $200 to put toward this project, then ask what can be done for your budget.

For advice on how to choose a conservator, visit the American Institute for Conservation.

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