A Rescue Operation For A Charcoal Drawing
by Lee Churchill, Paper Conservator
The drawing Going Home by Augustus Frederick Kenderdine came into Glenbow's collection as part of a gift of Mrs. O.A. Beamish in 1957. In extremely damaged form, it stayed in storage for many years. In late 2003, I participated in a month long internship at the National Gallery to preserve several pastels and watercolours. Working with Anne Maheux, this presented the perfect opportunity to reclaim this Kenderdine work.
It was very exciting as a conservation challenge because the piece was stained, torn and partially stuck to an acidic backing paper. It is fairly rare that such damaged works are available to work on in a museum setting.
There were a number of key steps in the conservation process. I began by cautiously separating the adhered areas using water vapour, applied through Gore-tex fabric. The drawing was cleaned in distilled water to help de-acidify the paper. Then stains were chemically bleached on a suction table. The table is specially built so air and liquids are pulled through the paper into a substrate; like blotting paper. Working within very small areas, the bleach was applied with a small brush for optimum control and the area was rinsed thoroughly afterwards.
Throughout the paper there were many complex tears that were mended using a material called ‘wheat starch paste'. Wheat starch is made when starch is separated from the gluten part of wheat kernels, and as it ages it does not yellow or become more brittle than the artwork. Missing areas were replaced by shaping pieces of high quality 100% cotton paper to fit and then these were pasted onto the back of the sheet. The drawing was then backed onto a high quality Japanese paper for stability and new areas were coloured to match the surrounding image.
Do you think the treatment was successful? Decide for yourself by comparing the "before" and "after" images.