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Re: [BKARTS] matching old paper

Did you have to resort to name calling to make your point???
I may have been drastically wrong to have relayed the information, but I was
not mean spirited or rude while doing it.

Suzanne M. Manns
Studio School and Dept.of Art History Faculty Chair
Glassell School of Art,
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
P.O. Box 6826
Houston, Texas 77265-6826
Telephone: 713-637-7793
Fax: 713-639-7709
E-mail: smanns@xxxxxxxx

-----Original Message-----
From: Thomas Conroy [mailto:booktoolcutter@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 5:42 PM
To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: matching old paper

A number of people have made rather ill-advised suggestions about
coloring paper "old" and making it translucent, and a few have
quietly tried to stem the tide. I must offer an apology for not
having commented on this topic earlier. I can speak only for myself,
but after a certain point exhaustion sets in: the effort of
continually commenting on the destructive media indulged in by
artists, only to be told that the person you are correcting "wants it
to age further,"  is matched only by the fury of hearing the artist
who, twenty years down the road from such decisions, decides that
they want their piece to survive after all, but want someone else to
correct uncorrectable inherant vice. And the time required for
correction is substantial, especially if one tries to deal with some
of the complexities of a very complex topic instead of relying on a
knee-jerk anti-acid reaction.

I will start by complimenting Carmela Rizzuto on her admirable and
thorough discussion of the one suggestion for making paper
translucent without introducing known serious known causes of
degradation. Wax impregnation can sometimes cause physical
difficulties by stiffening the paper, but those can be judged
immediately by the maker; and wax in itself is protective against
introduced pollutants. The various people who suggested food colors
also were at least suggesting materials with no major, widely-known
causes of inherant vice. Beware, though, that food color is not
likely to be light-fast or water-fast--- why, after all, should it
be? Also, food coloring is not one uniform substance, and certain
colors or brands may offer different aging and destructive
characteristics from others. Jane Brown pointed out the acidity of
coffee and tea, rather too gently in light of the uncurbed enthusiasm
that others continued to show for them. And I would like to
compliment Shu-Ji on her concern about the insect-attractive
potential of cooked sugar--- I don't know if there is in fact a
problem in the very thin layers that would be used on paper, but the
question shows that her intelligence and common sense are working

I held my nose and read while various people talked about oiling
paper. Oil will irreversably embrittle and brown paper, in short
order in conservation terms---say in a decade or so, soon enough that
you will see that oiling has left the paper browner and more brittle
than exposed newsprint of the same age. One of the most serious forms
of damage to leather-bound books is oil stains caused by
over-enthusiastic application of oily leather dressings to the spine,
wicked up by cracks and spread by the sewing thread along the gutter.
Oil paintings on paper and oils on unprimed canvas are common-enough
problems for painting conservators, and must in time be met with
complete replacement of the oil-damaged support; early silkscreen
inks were oil-based and within a few decades were causing major
problems to paper conservators. Note, by the way, that oil-based
silkscreen inks cause much worse damage than oil-based letterpress or
lithographic inks; these are not simple issues, but this difference
is very likely due to the simple quantity and drying characteristics
of the oil used. Oil damage is not acid deterioration; oil, to
simplify, acts by oxidation, not hydrolysis. It is important not to
reduce all paper deterioration to acidity; just as it is important
not to conflate  discoloration, embrittlement, fading, and other
types of deterioration, which may occur together, but which may also
occur separately.

I held my nose and read while coffee and tea were suggested as
coloring media for "aging" paper. Oldfashioned restorers used coffee
and tea freely for trying to match old paper, in ignorance of the
serious questions of acidity involved; but today a binder caught
using either would immediately ruin his credibility with conservators
and, even more, with preservation administrators, unless he was
willing to put up a spirited defense and had an impeccable scientific
background. Coffee and tea do not cause radical complete destruction
the way oil does, but considering how much effort now goes into
keeping various acids out of paper there should hardly be any
question of whether coffee and tea are a conservationally sound
colorants. There are serious issues here, and while there may be a
case to be made for using coffee and tea, the decision should not be
made without knowledgeable debate in light of scientific knowledge
and long experience. But on a common-sense level: ever had acid
stomach from too much coffee? Do you know how resistant the stomach
lining is to acids? Do you really need to ask if coffee is good for
paper? In any case, experience with coffee and tea stains shows that
the color cannot be removed but also changes over time; and they do
not really look the color of old paper.

But I cannot just hold my nose and read Suzanne M.  Manns' relayed
suggestion of "old boiled book solution". This is not only
conservationally wrong; it is stupid. She suggests that you take the
least permanent, most rapidly self-destructive books that exist; make
an infusion of anything and everything that will come out; and then
soak an artifact of cultural value with it. Can anyone with the
brains of a chipmunk seriously believe that this is innocuous? In a
bit more detail: Acid deterioration shortens the chains of cellulose,
breaking off short bits which are themselves acid and which speed up
the rate of decay. The rate of acid deterioration in paper proceeds
geometrically due to this effect. Most of the acid degradation
products are water-soluble. It is widely believed among book
conservators that the single most beneficial treatment for the
chemical well-being of paper is to wash it in alkaline water, washing
out soluble acids and deterioration products; the only drawbacks to
washing from the point of view of permanence are the skill and cost
involved. (Bibliophiles have other, mostly cosmetic, objections to
what they call washing, but they rarely distinguish washing from
bleaching...  that, however, is another matter).  Washing completely
and physically removes serious destructive material, which Ms. Manns
now proposes to reintroduce. It does not matter that she got the
suggestion from someone who is "a purist as well as the conservation
specialist with a very prestigious museum"; whatever that
conservator's training, whatever her experience, she has no more
common sense than a poodle.  It is not just that this is wrong, which
would be forgivable; it is totally, unforgivably stupid. I presume
the conservator works with an art on paper, not archives or books,
since with art on paper cosmetic concerns are primary while strength
and flexibility are not of such importance; but this is no adequate
excuse for subjecting artifacts of cultural value to a stew of acids,
lignins, alum, soluble pollution, and whatever other random muck came
out in the cooking. Not even though the dilution was, we are assured,
with distilled/deionized water.

The basic issue to consider when deliberately trying to make paper
seem aged is: do you care if the piece is ruined by your choices long
before the end of your career; or do you want it to survive? This is
a choice for the artist, not the conservator, and awareness of this
right of choice may be why so few conservators have weighed in on
this thread. If you are willing to have the piece deteriorate rapidly
you may as well go ahead and do whatever you please. But if you do,
be prepared to see your vision crumble apart long before you are old;
and if you sell the piece, be prepared to face liability issues if a
customer thinks he was buying a thing of beauty to last through the
ages. If you want your work to last take the trouble to learn about
conservation and then make sure you apply your common sense to it,
instead of relying on gossip online. Or if you must learn online,
search the COOL archives, not BookArts.

Tom Conroy

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