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Protect Your Art

swf object (protect_your_art.swf)
Laura from Lodestone Gallery & framing
gives us some tips on protecting art

Art – it's more than something on a board or piece of paper. Art moves us. It evokes emotions, sometimes memories. It’s only natural to want to protect our art.

 Your art
 Your art on acid

Total protection would mean controlling the light (or lack of it), humidity, temperature, and reducing exposure to pollutants and oxygen, among other factors. This is simply too expensive for most of us, as well as depriving us of the very thing we want to enjoy. So, we do what we can.

Knowing that art is affected by variations and extremes in humidity and temperature, however, can give us ideas on what can protect our art. In a climate with less than 30% humidity, a humidifier can help. Are you in an area with high humidity? See about reducing the moisture inside through air conditioning and good air flow. When we look at reducing pollutants, putting the art away from cigarette smoke can help. Placing an art piece on a wall that does not get direct sunlight exposure can slow aging of the art.

Consider what, in your environment, may be harming your art. You are sure to come up with more items than we cover here.

Find out what materials were used in your art. High quality materials make a difference in how the piece will act over time. Consider newsprint. It is highly acidic. In a relatively short time, newsprint yellows and becomes brittle. However, a high quality acid free paper, such as cotton rag, will last a much longer time.

See if you can find out from the artist or publisher of the work what the contents are of the materials used in the art. This will help you and your framer decide how best to protect the piece.

Let’s say your great aunt drew portraits of your kids and presented them to you. You want to save these and give them to your children later. You find out it’s drawn on newsprint. Now you can take it to your framer, let them know this, and ask that the paper be de-acidified. Your portraits have just had their lives substantially extended.

Framing can help your art last for lifetimes. Framing can also ruin a piece of art. Find out about the framer you are working with and ask questions about the methods and materials that are being used.

You’ll want to be familiar with the different types of mounting. There are two broad classes of mounting, full mounting and conservation mounting. Full mounting is appropriate for decorative items of little value. Conservation mounting is appropriate for investment, historical, and sentimental pieces of art.

In full mounting, the art is fully attached to a backing board through the use of adhesives and pressure. There are various types of full mounting, including dry mounting, wet mounting, spray mounting, and the use of pressure-sensitive adhesives. While some of these methods claim to be reversible, the chemicals and separation process itself can easily damage the artwork, along with leaving residues.

Conservation mounting is fully reversible. Common methods of conservation mounting include encapsulation, various edge strips and corner pockets, sink mats, water-reversible hinges, and pressure sensitive tape (least recommended).

For conservation framing, the art should also be mounted in such a way that it is allowed to expand and contract when temperature and humidity change. To achieve this, hinged artwork, for example, is often only attached to the mounting board at the top of the piece of art.

Matboards, mounting boards, and other items touching or near the art should be acid free for precious works of art. Acid migrates. If you’ve seen a piece of art with yellow-brown stains where the matboard touched the art, it’s likely you were seeing acid damage from the mat. Matboards are much better now than they were just ten, twenty years ago. Still, relatively acidic matboards are on the market, and may be on your art.

Support, mounting, and backing boards should also be acid free or contain acid neutralizers.

 Acid in matboard shows in the bevel of the two lower pieces of matboard. The top matboard has been freshly cut from a conservation-grade matboard.

Glass and acrylic can help protect from ultraviolet radiation. Glass companies are offering conservation glass, which they advertise as screening out a minimum of 98% of ultraviolet light. That’s pretty spectacular.

This picture was double matted and framed with ordinary glass.  The art has been pulled out from behind the mats.  The line where the mats protected the art is clear.  The border of the picture, protected by the mats, shows a much more vivid color.  The other portion of the art, unprotected by the mats and unprotected by the grade of glass used, faded substantially.

There are also different grades of conservation glass and conservation acrylic available. Here is an example of three grades of conservation glass – conservation clear, reflection control, and museum glass. These products are put out by Tru-Vue and are carried in our shop.

 You can see the difference for yourself in the pictures.  The Conservation Clear is on the left.  While it reduces damage to the art, it reflects many items clearly.  Conservation Reflection Control is on the right.  At about 1 ½ times the price of Conservation Clear, it protects the art and diffuses reflection.  Museum Glass is in the center.  I put a piece of tape on this panel to show there really is glass covering the art.  This runs about 3 ½ times the cost of the Conservation Clear.

Naturally, there are also non-conservation grades of glass available for your framing needs.

Watch for this with your framing – glass should not touch valuable pieces of art. Glass changes temperature slower than the surrounding air. This causes condensation, which can adhere the art to the surface of the glass, as well as resulting in mold and other problems. If you’ve taken apart some old frames and looked at the glass, you may see the image of the art on the glass surface. This is called photo-transference. It is also a result of having glass touching the surface of the artwork.

Using matting creates space between art and glass, while adding a decorative touch. If you prefer not to have matting with your art, spacers can be used for a mat-free look.

Also be aware of the materials used in your art when choosing whether to go with acrylic or glass. Acrylic, for example, is unsuitable for pastels, pencil drawings, and charcoal. The static properties of acrylic will draw particles from the art off the surface and on to the acrylic surface.

Common framing problems with decorative art pieces that are mass produced – cardboard backing boards and/or support boards (highly acidic, and fluting in cardboard can leave lines on the art), masking tape used to support the artwork (highly acidic, permanently stains the art), ordinary glass is used so fading occurs fairly rapidly.

Common problems with older framing jobs – conservation matboard and conservation glass not available, not used.

Some circumstances need to be specially handled. Consider old photographs. If I want my pictures of my grandmother to be around for my grandchildren, there are steps I should take now. One way of handling this is to make copies of her photo. Place a copy on top of a box. In the interior of the box, place the original. I can take some steps to reduce fluctuations in temperature and humidity by the way I construct the box.  I can also line the box with materials safe for photographs.  The copy of the photograph is there for viewing at any time. The original is easily available for those special times, but is not unduly exposed to the elements. Some boxes for this purpose are quite beautiful and are works of art in their own right. 

Framing textiles, cross stitch, memorabilia, bark paintings, and other items all come with their challenges. Talk with your framer about the options available to you.

Also be aware of treatment that can damage the value of your art. Trimming art, even borders that do not show, can devalue a piece of art. Restoration, when not properly done, and also ruin an art piece. Look for qualified conservators and restorers for special tasks to bring a piece of art back to good condition.

Light, or more specifically the ultraviolet radiation in light, is extremely harmful to art. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible. All steps taken to guard against this can help. Conservation glass is one step. Minimizing exposure to light is another, especially sunlight (most harmful), fluorescent lighting (next harmful), and incandescent lighting (least harmful). Turn off lights when leaving a room. Keep pictures out of direct sunlight. If using fluorescent lights, use UV shields (you will see these on the fluorescent lights in our shop). The Tru-Vue website has good information on light damage. Follow this link for FAQs on light and art.

We mentioned this a little at the beginning. Fluctuations in humidity can be damaging. Minimizing fluctuations through good air circulation and other techniques can be helpful. Also, art that you value should be kept out of bathrooms. If you must keep the art in a bathroom, ask your framer about putting silica inside the frame, or any other technique for helping control humidity. Also check your piece regularly for damage.

Extremes in humidity (very high or very low humidity) are also harmful. This is where a humidifier or de-humidifier can help preserve your art. High humidity also encourages insects and bugs, many of which love to eat fibrous items such as paper or canvas. Mold and mildew also accompany many humid climates.

A trick to help raise humidity in a closed room – lower the temperature.

Just like humidity, fluctuations in temperature can damage your art. Air circulation can help smooth out some of the larger variations in temperature. Also, if your fireplace and chimney are poorly insulated or not constructed properly, hanging your picture over the fireplace could be harmful.

Glass – Use an ammonia free cleaner. We have a glass cleaner we recommend, put out by Larson Juhl, that is available for sale in our store. Museum glass – Use ammonia free cleaner. Do not spray the cleaner directly onto the glass. Spray it onto a soft, lint free cleaning rag. Wipe the glass, and immediately follow with a dry cloth, buffing off the cleaner. Avoid getting fingerprints on the glass. Museum glass can easily spot and pick up oil from fingers, and is difficult to remove from the surface. These precautions, however, should keep your glass in pristine condition. Acrylic – Use lukewarm water and a clean, nonabrasive cloth. Gently wipe and blot dry. We also have an acrylic spray cleaner, as well as an acrylic polisher, that can help remove minor scratches. Canvas – Brush lightly with a soft bristle brush.

Simple preventative maintenance can help prevent many mishaps. One lady recently came in to get the glass replaced on her art. The picture was being moved. For a moment, it was in the kitchen. Their Labrador came in and sat on the picture.

The dog was okay, thank goodness, but the picture did not fare as well. The frame and the art were damaged.

When possible, keep your art in a safe place where it is free of hazards, including the irrepressible affection of dogs.

When handling art, another easily preventable source of damage is dirt, oil, and debris left by fingers. Use clean white cotton gloves when handling art, or at least thoroughly clean hands before handling.

Record the condition of the artwork. Make copies and/or record images of certificates of authenticity, provenances, and other items that add to the value of your artwork. Keep a copy of these records offsite, away from where the art is located. Have valuable works appraised on a regular basis.

If you are interested in optimal conditions for your art, you may wish to speak to your local museum or library conservators. They may have specific tips for dealing with issues in your specific geographic area. Or come in and talk with us. There are some areas where we can help, or we can find the information you need.

Most of all, enjoy your beautiful pieces.  

Art, framing, and photography credits:
Actual acid damage on old matboards, and light damage to art, courtesy of art picked up at Goodwill.  
Comparative glass display provided by Larson Juhl.
All photographs and acid damage simulation by Laura Laundre.  NOTE:  No actual art was harmed during the making of the photo.

Bibliography:, 2007, 2007, 2007

Kistler, Vivian C., CPF, GCF – Conservation Framing.  Akron, Ohio: Columbia Publishing, 2007
Kistler, Vivian C., CPF, GCF – Picture Framing.  Akron, Ohio: Columbia Publishing, 2006
Kosek, Joanna – Conservation Mounting for Prints and Drawings:  A Manual Based on Current Practice at the British Museum.  London:  Archetype Publications, 2004
Snyder, Jill – Caring for Your Art: A Guide for Artists, Collectors, Galleries and Art Institutions.  New York, New York:  Allworth Press, 2001.
Weintraub, Steven – “Demystifying Silica Gel,” Object Specialty Group Postprints (vol.9), American Group for Conservation, 2002

© Laura Lee Laundre, 2007
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