SYNTHETIC FILL MATERIALS FOR SKIN, LEATHER, AND FURS
ABSTRACT—This article describes some synthetic fill materials for use with processed and minimally processed skins and furs. The applications outlined illustrate the production of versatile and flexible fills in stable skins and leather products with losses. All repairs have been made on artifacts that were in good condition but visually disrupted by losses in the skin, leather, or fur. The first two applications are based on the search for a bulked flexible resin or resin mixture that can be easily used and manipulated to form a cohesive fill. The third example illustrates the use of a synthetic fabric fill for a natural history specimen with hair.
TITRE—Matériaux synthétiques pour le remplissage de pertes sur les peaux, cuirs, et fourrures. RÉSUMÉ—Cet article décrit quelques matériaux synthétiques qui peuvent être utilisés pour la compensation de pertes sur des peaux et des fourrures traitées ou légèrement traitées. Les exemples décrits montrent la production de réparations souples et flexibles pour des objets stables. Toutes les réparations ont été faites sur des objets en bon état mais dont les pertes sur la peau, le cuir ou la fourrure dérangeaient visuellement. Les deux premiers exemples sont basés sur la recherche d'une résine épaissie flexible ou d'un mélange de résine qui pourrait être aisément utilisés et manipulés pour former une réparation cohérente. Le troisième exemple montre l'utilisation d'un produit de remplissage de textile synthétique sur un spécimen d'histoire naturelle poilu.
TITULO—Materiales sintéticos para reponer faltantes en piel, cuero y piel con pelo. RESUMEN—El artículo describe algunos materiales sintéticos para reponer faltantes en piel y en pieles con pelo procesadas y mínimamente procesadas. Las aplicaciones que se reseñan ilustran la producción de materiales de reposición versátiles y flexibles, para ser utilizados en pieles y productos de cuero estables y con faltantes. Todas las reparaciones fueron hechas en artefactos en buenas condiciones pero visualmente interrumpidos por los faltantes. Las primeras dos aplicaciones se basan en la búsqueda de una resina o mezcla de resinas con cuerpo y flexibles, que puedan ser fácilmente utilizadas para formar un relleno con cuerpo y cohesión. El tercer ejemplo ilustra el uso de una tela sintética utilizada para reponer un faltante un espécimen de historia natural con pelo.
Skin, leather, and fur are materials abundantly found in natural history, ethnographic, historic, and decorative arts collections. Leather is hide or skin that has been chemically treated (tanned) to make it imputrescible. The terms “hide” and “skin,” in the leather industry, are used conventionally: the difference is one of size, weight, and thickness. Hide usually refers to a large, heavy skin such as that obtained from a buffalo, cow, or horse. Skin is simply a small hide or the skin of a small animal such as a bird, rodent, or reptile. Fur is the hair projection of an animal. Skin products are proteinaceous in their original chemical composition but have been treated in a variety of ways to obtain products tailored to different uses as well as different physical characteristics, i.e., tanned, tooled, grained, or waterproofed (Fogle and Raphael 1984).
A variety of conservation issues arise with skin products, dealing with the protein chemistry, shrinkage temperature, tannage interferences, and other matters. Among the variety of conservation issues to be reviewed is the issue of gap-filling when losses occur. The fill depends on such factors as the composition of the proteinaceous materials, their tannages, their finishing treatments, the use of these materials as artifacts, the environments in which they are housed, and their state of deterioration. The aim of this article is to provide information regarding some repair techniques and fill materials for skin and leather that have proven useful for a variety of applications.
One should be cautioned, however, to use the proposed fill materials only on stable skins and leather. Before considering treatment, an accurate assessment of the hydrothermal stability (shrinkage temperature) of the collagen fibers of the artifact should be conducted (Young 1990; Larsen et al. 1993). The following suggestions for fill materials should not be used as a “cookbook” for leather conservation.
Fills in skin products must fit the criteria of appropriate strength, stability, flexibility, adhesion, aging, appearance, and ease in identification. Common drawbacks of fills in skin products are the following:
- imperfect fit resulting from an insert
- ensuing difference in flexibility between the original material and fill
- retraction of the sides of the original skin from the shrinkage of the collagen caused by water contained in an aqueous fill
- change in shrinkage temperature of a severely deteriorated artifact occurring from exposure to water from an aqueous adhesive (Young 1990)
- change in shrinkage temperature occurring from exposure to heat from the use of thermoplastic qualities of an adhesive. (It is generally noted, however, that dry, undeteriorated fibrous collagen is considered stable up to temperatures of 200°C, whereas saturated, deteriorated collagen can exhibit shrinkage at room temperature [Young 1997]).
- lack of reversibility
- leaching of soluble skin materials and subsequent staining caused by solvents used in the repair
- shrinkage of fill materials from their original intended size due to solvent evaporation
- uneven fill surface due to the nature of the fill material, shrinkage or drying stresses as solvent evaporates, and/or separation of the bulking agent from the carrier.
All these negative aspects of fill materials for skin products could contribute to the loss of physical and aesthetic continuity. Some are also deleterious to the skin to be conserved. In addition, it should be noted that degraded skin products exhibit more severe results than those in good condition. Hydrothermal stability testing is of paramount importance in order to assess artifact condition.
Generally, fills in skin products are accomplished using a standard method: a backing is applied to bridge the area of loss when possible (Dignard 1992), and then a fill material is inserted into the area of loss. Most commonly used materials for backings are inert fabrics coupled with either resins, starches, or cellulose ethers with evaporative solvents, or resins or systems requiring the use of a heat-seal process.
Popular suggestions for fill treatments for leather and skin have included a variety of standard and uncommon materials: other skins, gelatin, wax, wax and rosin, white glue emulsions, polyurethane, resins, and pastes made of resins bulked with various materials, such as collagen fibers, cellulose fibers, or glass microspheres.
The following materials have been used by the author to produce versatile and flexible fills in skins and leather products. The first two applications are based on the search for a flexible resin or resin mixture that can be bulked and easily used and manipulated to form a cohesive fill. The third example illustrates the use of a synthetic fabric fill for a natural history specimen with hair. All examples have been made on skins, leather, and fur in good structural condition but are visually disrupted by losses in the skin, leather, or fur. The author has utilized these fill materials on a variety of leathers and skins including 20th-century American commercially chrome-tanned leather and suede materials, 18th-century Italian and French vegetable-tanned and tooled leathers, 20th-century Ethiopian dyed leathers, 19th-century unprocessed calfskin, and 20th-century Native American brain-tanned artifacts. The examples are a representative grouping of the proposed fill applications on stable skins and leathers.
2.1 BULKED BEVA 371 FILM
The materials used for this repair are standard for conservation: polyester spun-bonded fabric (i.e., Reemay or Hollytex), BEVA 371 film, glass microspheres, and dry pigments. The only other items needed are a heated spatula, texturing implements, and inpainting materials. BEVA gel (O'Donnell 1996) and BEVA 371 (Kaminitz and Levinson 1988; Jones 1996) have also been used in similar applications. Because of the solvent content in these BEVA formulations, however, and the shrinkage of the fill due to the evaporation of solvent, BEVA 371 film is suggested for use.
- 15.0 × 15.0 cm piece of BEVA 371 film
- (3.5 mil thickness)
- 15 cc 3M K-15 glass microspheres
- dry pigments
For mixing, use a glass or metal container and a heated spatula with a small tip. For the greatest degree of success, a G. Engelbrecht ERSA heated spatula with a small infilling spatula is suggested.
Wearing a particle mask to avoid inhalation of the microspheres, mix the BEVA 371 film and glass microspheres together with the heated spatula. The melting point of BEVA 371 film is 65°C.
Mixing will be somewhat difficult because the BEVA 371 film must melt in order to incorporate the microspheres. Mixing in only 5 cc of microspheres at a time is suggested. After the microspheres are incorporated, add dry pigments to tone the fill material to the appropriate color. Mix the pigments into the BEVA 371 film and microsphere mixture with the heated spatula.
When ready to use, simply scoop the fill material with the heated spatula and apply it to the area of loss. Take care to limit the contact of the heated spatula only to the area of fill material to avoid heat damage to the original skin artifact.
Texture the fill while warm. The fill material cools very quickly and will need to be warmed in the area to be textured in order to properly imprint. Rough sandpaper and stencil brushes may be rubbed onto the surface to mimic suede. A finer sandpaper may be used to achieve a nubuck appearance. Silicone-coated polyester film may be used to smooth a surface. Molds can be taken of adjacent areas; the mold may then be pressed onto the fill surface to achieve the desired texture or pattern (Larsen 1981).
To avoid the problem of dust adhering onto the BEVA 371 fill, it is recommended to use a paint that has a medium with a high glass transition temperature. A glass transition temperature of BEVA 371 film cannot be given (Chludzinski 1997). The fill is easily reversed mechanically,or with heat or petroleum benzine applied sparingly.
Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate the use of the fill material to conserve a damaged skin drum from the Northwest Coast. This drum was manufactured from a deerskin, which upon examination appeared to be minimally prepared by soaking, scraping, and then stretching the skin. In this instance, there were several tears and losses to the skin of the drum that required stabilization and restoration. In order to back the tears, pieces of a feathered-edged spun bonded polyester fabric were applied to the reverse of the drum with BEVA 371 film and a heated spatula. The spatula was set on approximately 65°C. The fabric acts as a backing to hold the tear in place and make a platform for the fill. The BEVA 371 film-glass microsphere-pigment mixture was then applied to the loss area by scooping the fill material with the infilling spatula tip. The fill was flattened using the heated spatula and silicone-coated polyester film. Light sanding followed to decrease the amount of shine created by the polyester film. The prominent design element on the drum was extended onto the fill with Rowney acrylic emulsion paints.
Northwest Coast drum before treatment
Detail of the tear after treatment
In a similar treatment, this fill mixture was used in the restoration of a monitor lizard that was part of a larger Mario Merz installation, Untitled, 1989. The lizard had been dried, stuffed with sawdust, and mounted by inserting a metal armature. A tear at the abdomen-tail junction had been created as a result of the strain placed in this area by the weight of the tail while it was on exhibit in a vertical position. In this application, a backing of spun-bounded polyester was adhered to the underside of the tear with BEVA 371 film and the aid of a tacking iron. The fill material was then applied on top of the spun-bounded polyester platform. The BEVA 371 film-glass microsphere-pigment mixture was placed in the area of loss. A mold was taken of the surrounding skin pattern and used to impart texture to the fill. The fill was made warm with the tacking iron and the mold pressed with gentle pressure onto the fill material to receive the texture. The fill was painted with Winsor & Newton gouache colors and glazed with Paraloid B-72 and dry pigments. In addition, it was necessary to have a mount fabricated to reduce the strain on the lizard abdomen-tail junction. This mount braced the tail and was affixed to the wall for the installation. Figures 3–5 show the BEVA fill application.
Monitor lizard before treatment
Deatil of a tear before treatment
Detail of the tear after treatment
2.2 BULKED ACRYLOID F-10
This treatment is a variation on the use of a bulked resin to form a flexible fill. In this example, Acryloid F-10 is mixed with glass microspheres to form a paste that can be applied to a loss directly or used as a formed film made by applying the paste to a mold. Acryloid F-10 is a homopolymer of butyl methacrylate with a low glass transition temperature of 20°C. When the glass microspheres are added to the solvated resin and the solvent is allowed to evaporate, the rheological properties of the resin change greatly to a rather static yet flexible material. To the author's knowledge, the fill material does not exhibit cold flow in controlled museum climates.
- 25 ml Acryloid F-10 (butyl methacrylate supplied in 40% solids in petroleum benzine—Amsco F 9:1). Amsco F is characterized as a C-8 aromatic with a flash point of 150°F. (Wolthman 1996).
- 50 cc 3M K-15 glass microspheres
- For mixing, use a glass or metal container and a spatula.
While wearing a particle mask to avoid inhalation of the microspheres, mix the Acryloid F-10 and glass microspheres together. The recipe will make a material the consistency of marshmallow creme. This recipe yields a fill of approximately 10.0 × 10.0 cm and 0.2–0.3 cm in depth.
When ready to use, scoop the fill material with a spatula and apply it to the area of loss. Though it will still be sticky, the fill can be textured while solvated. Texturing can also be accomplished with the addition of solvents or with a hot spatula after solvent evaporation, utilizing the thermoplastic qualities of the resin. Molds can be taken of similarly textured areas; the fill material can be applied to the mother mold and the solvents allowed to evaporate. At least 48 hours are needed for the solvents to have evaporated enough that the film remains cohesive. Solvents will continue to evaporate after that time, leading to some shrinkage; however, the shrinkage is minimal. The fill remains slightly flexible due to the glass transition temperature of the butyl methacrylate. Cut the fill material to the desired shape. Adhere the fill in place with additional resin or heat the edges of the fill slightly with a heated spatula to adhere. Color compensation should be carried out with a medium having a higher glass transition temperature to decrease the chance of dust adhering to the fill material. Acrylic emulsion paints work well. The fill can be removed mechanically or by using either solvent or heat.
Figure 6 demonstrates the use of this adhesive and microsphere paste to replicate a taxidermy mount of black rhinoceros skin. The black rhinoceros mount is an alum-tanned skin and has been mounted to a prefabricated polyurethane form. A mold was taken of rhinoceros skin, and the paste was applied to the mold. Forty-eight hours were allowed to lapse before removing the fill material from the mold. The fill was then painted with Rowney acrylic emulsion paints. This fill material can be easily cut to shape and adhered with a variety of adhesives, by solvent reforming on the edges to adhere, or with heat.
Fig. 6. Replicate cast of Acryloid F-10 and glass microspheres on top of original black rhinoceros skin
2.3 SYNTHETIC FURS
For fur or hair inserts, National Fiber Technologies, Ltd., supplies a broad assortment of synthetic fur fabrics either from their vast stock or to order. The most versatile synthetic fur is an instock white fur made from 18 denier nylon with a four-way spandex stretch backing. There are three standard fur lengths: short (2.5–5.0 cm); medium (8.0–10.0 cm); and long (10.0–15.0 cm). According to the mill where the fabric is woven, the fur can be easily colored with markers, pens, paints, or dyes before utilizing as a fill.1
An alum-tanned and mounted Western Kob (Kobus Kob) from Central Africa was fire- and soot-damaged; the fire and subsequent water damage resulted in gelatinization and shrinkage of the skin, creating a loss on the proper right shoulder. A National Fiber Technologies, Ltd., synthetic fur was utilized to fill and integrate the loss.
First a template was made of the area of loss. This template was transferred to the synthetic fur, and a fill section was cut. A sharp scalpel was used to cut the nylon fur from the reverse side; care was taken to cut only the stretch backing and not the synthetic hair. The synthetic fur fill was trimmed and layered to match the hairs of the original fur. The synthetic fur was inserted into place using Acryloid F-10 in acetone: the adhesive was applied directly to the substrate (a prefabricated polyurethane Western Kob mount) by placing the edges of the fur fill directly to the adjacent sides of the extant fur and skin. The synthetic fur was toned and colored with Magna colors by brush application. Figures 7–9 illustrate this technique.
Western Kob before treatment; note damage on lower proper right shoulder
Detail of fill before toning
Detail of the fill after treatment
Cohesive fills in skin products were easily made and applied in these examples using standard conservation materials and techniques. A caveat must be made in the use of these types of fill materials on appropriate skins and leathers. The fill materials should be used on skin artifacts that are stable and in relatively good condition. The fill materials cited, when used properly, will aid in increasing the aesthetic continuity of the skin artifact by filling an area of loss.
The author would like to thank the many individuals who were consulted and gave generously of their time, advice, and expertise: Ellen Pearlstein, Brooklyn Museum, for support and critical review; Leslie Ransick-Gat, conservator in private practice, for her understanding, support, and guidance; Toby Raphael, National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center, for his critical review, which yielded many insights; Paul Storch, Minnesota Historical Society, for his many suggestions and ideas; Gwen Spicer, conservator in private practice, for treatment ideas and help; Judith Levinson, American Museum of Natural History, who was instrumental in introducing BEVA 371 solution and microspheres as a fill material; Lisa Kronthal and Samantha Alderson, American Museum of Natural History, who supplied their selfless support; Alex Allardt O'Donnell, conservator in private practice, for her time and expertise with leather conservation; Christine Giuntini, associate conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, for fun fur and dye information; and Gregory Young, conservation scientist, Analytical Research Laboratory, Canadian Conservation Institute, for shrinkage temperature information and expertise. Special thanks go to Maria Berman, Colleen Brady, Michaela Neiro, Nathan Otterson, Eugenie Milroy, and my past and present staff at Give Me a Break Conservation Services, Inc.
1. Nylon fun furs can be dyed with acid or premetalized dyes according to the manufacturer's directions at pH 5.5 and pH 7 or slightly above, respectively. The dyed fabric must be subjected to an after-scour at 140°F.
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SOURCES OF MATERIALSAcryloid F-10
A butyl methacrylate homopolymer supplied in 40% solids in mineral thinner: Amsco F at 9:1, manufactured by Rohm and Haas. Amsco F is characterized as a C-8 aromatic with a flash point of 150°F. Acryloid F-10 has a glass transition temperature of 20°C.
Conservation Materials, Ltd., P.O. Box 2884, Sparks, Nev. 89431BEVA 371 film
A mixture of DuPont Elvax 150 (ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer), Allied A-C 400 (ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer), BASF Laropol K80 (cyclohexanone resin), Hercules Cellolyn 21 (phthalate ester of hydrobietyl alcohol), and paraffin (petrolatum)
Conservator's Products, Conservation Materials, Ltd., P.O. Box 2884, Sparks, Nev. 89431Bocour Magna Colors
Pigments in Acryloid F-10
Bocour Artist Colors, Inc., Garnerville, N.Y.Dry pigments
Available at art supply stores
For the greatest degree of success, an ERSA heated spatula with a small infilling spatula is suggested. Manufactured by G. Engelbrecht, Germany.
Olaf Unsoeld, Kolner L.L.C., 23 Grant Ave., New Providence, N.J. 07974Hollytex #3529.
Non-woven polyester fabric
Ahlstrom Filtration Inc., Talas, N. Y.Reemay
Spun-bonded polyester fabric Manufactured by DuPont
Conservation Materials, P.O. Box 2884, Sparks, Nev. 89431Rowney Cryla Artist Colors
Acrylic emulsion paints
Daler-Rowney, Available at art supply storesSynthetic nylon fur with four-way stretch spandex backing
18 denier nylon hair with woven nylon wrapped LycraTM backing
National Fiber Technologies, Ltd., 300 Canal St., Lawrence, Mass. 018403M glass microspheres K-15
Unicellular soda lime borosilicate glass microspheres, 3M Corp.
Conservation Materials, P.O. Box 2884, Sparks, Nev. 89431Winsor & Newton gouache
Winsor & Newton, Available at art supply stores
LINDA NIEUWENHUIZEN received a B.A. in art history and archaeology from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1986 and an M.A. and certificate of advanced study from the State University College at Buffalo, N.Y. in 1990. After finishing her training, she interned and then gained employment at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, where she worked until 1996. She is an adjunct professor at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she has taught since 1992, and is in private practice specializing in ethnographic objects and natural science materials. Address: Give Me a Break Conservation Services, Inc., 48-20 Vernon Blvd., Ste. 2, Long Island City, N.Y. 11101.