Conserving the Proclamation - Transcript

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The following is a transcript of "Conserving the Proclamation"  a talk by Elizabeth D'Arcy at Dublin City Hall on Monday, 25 April 2016.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode Elizabeth D’Arcy shares the exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking story of how she conserved the 1916 Proclamation so kindly donated to Dublin City Council by the family of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell. One of three talks given at a seminar held in Dublin City Hall on 25 April 2016.

Hello.  My name is Liz Darcy and I am going to be speaking about the conservation restoration of this Proclamation.  Just to give you a bit of background about myself, I studied History of Art in UCD in Dublin and I then went on to do a Masters in Conservation of Fine Art on Paper over in the UK and basically what my job involves is conserving and restoring anything paper based, so documents, archives, maps, works of art on paper, drawings, water colours, prints – anything at all that’s on paper.

So I was asked by Mary Clark to take a look at this Proclamation last year and I took it away for 24 hours to test it and gave it back and established that it could be conserved.  So this is what it looked like – and I’m sure many of you here from the family of Elizabeth O’Farrell are probably familiar with it – when I first looked at it.  So there were various issues for me to consider.  The huge issue was it was covered front and back in Sellotape and some bits of laminate.  So at some stage it had become stained and discoloured and then it had been covered in Sellotape and then placed in this frame at some stage.  So the main concern was that if I wanted to clean this and preserve this I had no way of getting to it apart from removing the tape from it and as you can imagine removing Sellotape from any paper if you just take it off obviously you’re going to pull all the ink off, the surface of the paper is going to be damaged.  So the reason I took it off for the 24 hours was just to test various solvents to check that that Sellotape could be removed from the paper without damaging the ink.  I found a solvent that worked with it so that was the first step for me to consider.  Also the frame that it was in was just a little bit tight, so it was putting a good bit of pressure on the paper and causing further tearing and slight damage because it was just that little bit too tight in the frame.  So, the first step was to take it out of the frame. 
So this is an image of the front of the Proclamation before conservation, so you can see obviously the shine on it is from the Sellotape and it has various stains on it.  Now the stains aren’t a huge issue because you want to retain the integrity of the object as it was.  I describe my job as conservation because I’m not restoring something to look like new, I’m preserving it and conserving so it retains its own qualities and its own inherent strengths as it should be.  You don’t want something old to look brand spanking new but you do want it not to degrade over time which was my job, was to try and prevent any further degradation.

So this is the reverse, the back of the Proclamation.  Again, totally covered and you can see quite clearly the staining.  Now that staining I think was kind of an oil based staining and you know the nature of the Proclamation at the time was people didn’t think they would be kept you know, they were meant to be seen at the time and then possibly thrown away or used as bedding (laughs) by the nurses.  And the paper itself wasn’t great quality paper, it was quite poor quality so it would tend to degrade over time as well, unlike say water colour paper or paper that is specifically produced for works of art, that would be a very pure cotton and linen paper, this would be a you know kind of poorly made wood pulp paper so it would contain acids in the paper that would degrade anyway.  So that was something else to consider, that the paper was probably acidic in the first place and would degrade over time.

So this is just a small section of the damage to the top left corner of the Proclamation.  So you can see the actual corner is missing and then just below that there’s a slightly different tone to the paper, so someone at some stage had tried to repair this corner and placed what was essentially I think grease proof type paper and then it was laminated but obviously it was with good intentions that whoever had the Proclamation at the time was trying to stop any further tearing or any further damage.  But this repair that was placed onto the Proclamation was actually causing further damage to it because it was even poorer quality paper so any acids in that paper would migrate into the original paper so I knew that I had to remove that new repair, newish repair, whenever it was done and replace it with a conservation grade repair to strengthen the paper which you will see further on in the photos.  So the first step for me was before taking all the tape off was just removing that old repair which I did, again using solvent just to soften the tape around it and then remove that and that was left to one side so that the Proclamation was basically back to the original state before someone had attempted to repair it.  So that corner was missing so that was something else to consider during conservation.

So this is a photo of me removing the Sellotape.  So I had a lot of things to consider.  As Mary specified, the printing was different.  Sometimes if I’m removing tape from something or cleaning something if it’s been printed, if it’s a poster or something like that, all the print is the same so I kind of know what I’m looking at but in this I was so conscious of the importance of the Proclamation in the first place and what I was working on, you know the historical importance of it, that some of the print had smudges on it already, some of the print, as we saw, there were little pieces of print missing so when I was using a solvent to remove the tape I photographed each very, very small section before I worked on it because I just wanted to be sure that the solvent I was using wasn’t shifting any of the ink and you know if I had worked on a section without photographing it and it happened to be one of the letters that the ink was smudged on already if I hadn’t photographed it I may have thought ‘Oh my God I’ve smudged the ink’.  So you know I photographed each section and I literally worked kind of millimetre by millimetre, photographed it, worked on it, photographed it, worked on it and I was extremely conscious of the discrepancies I suppose in the print and just checking as I went along that I wasn’t shifting any of the ink in the paper.  In general printing ink is very stable, you can clean it very well without shifting any ink but I just ... I was extra cautious because of the importance of this document.

As you can see I’m using a cotton swab there, so I applied a solvent to the tape, the Sellotape, and the shiny top layer was melted off first of all and then I reapplied it and then the adhesive underneath dissolved and then I could very, very gently lift that tape off the surface of the paper without damaging any of the print so it was a very pain staking process.  If I removed say a couple of centimetres of the tape from the front of the Proclamation I then turned it over and removed the tape from the exact same area on the reverse of the Proclamation because if I had removed all the Sellotape from the front the paper would have been very soft on the front whereas the back of the Proclamation was still covered in tape, it would have been very hard, it would have caused a lot of tension in the paper and again it may tear further or cause further damage because there would have been too much tension in the paper.  So what you’re looking at here is ... I hope you can see it ... the top corner to the right of the image, the tape has been removed and you can just see around it to the other edges is where the tape is still there, so it’s just an example of you know an image showing the tape removal section by section.

And this image shows ... so the top half the tape has been removed on the front and back and then the bottom half you can see the shine where the tape is still there so it’s kind of working methodically through it removing each section, checking on the print, checking there’s no damage, no smudging, was the smudging there already and just very slowly removing that tape.  So I’m hoping you can see where it’s shiny at the bottom and it’s not shiny at the top.

And again just another image, this is very, very gently lifting.  So I’ve softened the adhesive of the tape and I’m just very, very gently lifting it off with a scalpel so really just touching the surface extremely gently lifting that adhesive off.  Sometimes I used a scalpel, sometimes I used a cotton swab, depending on how it came off and just removing it very gently without damaging the ink or the surface of the paper.

And the next step was so all the tape has been removed and once actually the tape came off you could see quite clearly there was a lot of tearing in the paper, particularly where it had been folded and at the edges, so it had been folded in half and then folded over again.  So these were the weaker areas and they were torn and also there were some small tears at the edge as well as the small sections of missing area.  But once the tape came off it was very visible how damaged it was and how much tearing there was.  I’ll show an image of the repairs, later on you can see it a bit more clearly.

But the next step for me after the tape was removed was removing any soluble discolouration.  So, as I said, the process is not to make it look like new but it had become discoloured over time and it had become dirty basically from handling.  So this photo is the first process, the first washing process.  Now when I talk about my work people are sometimes a bit horrified because I do put some objects, works of art, in a sink of water.  Obviously there’s a lot of testing done beforehand, all inks or pigments are tested and you know everything is checked to see whether it’s safe to do so.  This is a very, very gentle washing process and the best way to describe it really is it’s almost like washing your clothes in the washing machine, that the dirt comes out but what’s meant to stay on the paper stays on it, so the print remained.

So what’s happening here is the Proclamation is placed on a damp acid free blotter and then there’s another blotter underneath which is dry, actually two blotters, and basically the damp blotter pulls the dirt out of the Proclamation, the paper, onto the damp blotter and pulls it down to the dry blotter so it’s very, very gentle but it does work.  So you can see here, this is the damp blotter underneath and that’s the dirt coming from the paper onto the blotter and then every few hours the blotters are changed to clean blotters and you basically leave it sitting on the damp blotter and the dirt gradually soaks out through the blotters.  So this is done several times and when I saw that the Proclamation, the paper, was strong enough to take this I moved on to a slightly more interventive method of washing, so more discolouration could come out.  So this is float washing it, so this was the next washing process.  So basically this is in a sink of water and it’s sitting on a mesh tray so the water is literally just coming up to underneath the Proclamation so it’s able to soak through the paper and then the discolouration in the paper washes out into the water.  The Proclamation is then taken out and left to dry on blotters and again as it’s drying a bit more discolouration comes out and this was done again several times.  It’s a very gradual process but I could see that the staining was reducing and the discolouration was washing out of the paper so it was very successful. And then the last wash that I do is an alkaline wash so I add calcium hydroxide to the water which basically makes the water alkaline and what this does is it reduces any damaging acids in the paper and it actually makes the paper stronger so there are bonds in the paper which are broken when paper becomes acidic but if you add an alkaline buffer the bonds actually strengthen up.  So it’s preserving it and it’s making the paper less prone to tearing in the future and making it stronger.  So that was the last wash was an alkaline wash, just to try and reduce any acids that were in the paper.

So this was it after washing, still looking a little bit the worse for wear but that’s the nature of it, but brighter.  So it’s not back to the brightness it would have been originally but any dirt has been taken out of it and any damaging acids that would cause it to degrade further have been taken out of it.  I was very happy with how the dirt was reduced and the discolouration was reduced.  Again, you can still see the staining is slightly there but it was definitely reduced and not as visible.

So I spoke about the tears that you could see once the Sellotape had been taken off, so this is the repairing of the tears on the reverse of the paper.  So what I was doing here was any weak areas, any torn areas, I repaired them with a conservation technique.  Again, it’s all reversible and it’s all stable, so unlike Sellotape it’s not going to be damaged further in the future by these repairs, these are going to hold it together in a stable way and what I use is Japanese paper and that’s adhered with a wheat starch paste which I make up myself and a lot of techniques that paper conservators use come from Japan because they started ... obviously they invented paper but they started paper conservation so we use a lot of their techniques, so a lot of Japanese techniques are used.  So you can see obviously the white pieces are the Japanese paper.  You can see the damaged corner up on the right corner of the image, so that was strengthened with a bit of extra Japanese paper and then on the front of it there was another piece of Japanese paper placed in to replace that old tear, so that missing area was in-filled.  But it was toned in to look similar to the paper but I didn’t want to tone it in completely because I wanted you to see that I had done a repair there.  Again, part of the conservation process.  I wasn’t trying to hide the work that I did on it or kind of create a fake corner as such so that people wouldn’t know it’s there.  We just spoke about the Japanese techniques that we use, so these are some of the tools and materials that I use – a lot of Japanese brushes, a Japanese spray, a Japanese paste and it’s just to give you an idea of the type of tools and brushes that I worked with to conserve this Proclamation.

So this was afterwards and apologies for my photography it’s not great (laughs).  So the tape had been removed.  The discolouration had been reduced.  It had been made stronger by reducing the acids in the paper and introducing an alkali and the tears had been repaired and the corner, you can see the corner on the left of the screen, I’m not sure if you can see it properly but it’s slightly lighter but it stabilised the paper so that it could be handled when framing or handled in future if it was taken out of the frame.  But you could see that that corner had been replaced but it was still strong and stable and not too obvious but still left there so that it’s visible that it had been conserved and in this image it’s about to be framed so it’s placed against ... sorry it had also been pressed after all those treatments just to reduce any creasing.  You can still see the folds down the centre but again that’s the nature of the paper and that’s okay but it had been pressed to reduce any other creasing that didn’t need to be there.

So in this image it’s placed against an acid free board.  It’s not stuck, it’s hinged just at the top two corners, no part of it is stuck to the board because again if you wanted to take it out of the frame in the future this would cause issues and you may damage the Proclamation further.  It’s placed against museum quality acid free board which will help preserve it and as I mentioned acids are really the enemy of paper so it had been placed against an acidic backing board which again was causing further damage.  This will help preserve it.  And then this is the before on the left, after on the right.  So I think it retains its character but it’s in a much more stable condition and as it was due to be placed in its frame I organised the framing along with Mary Clark and a conservation framer that I use.  The frame was specially made, all acid free museum quality materials.  The frame consists of acid free backing boards.  The rebate of the frame was covered in acid free linen tape and as you can see the difference between this and the original frame is there’s a space around the edge so the paper has a little bit of freedom of movement.  Paper is a hygroscopic material so it can absorb moisture or release moisture and it changes its dimensions very, very slightly depending on the moisture in the air.  So we deliberately left a slight gap around the edges so that it’s not under too much tension and it has room to breathe.  The glass in the frame is also ultraviolet glazing.  So there’s ultraviolet rays in daylight, in these type of lights, they cause damage to paper and again over time they can cause it to degrade so this glazing is a special museum quality glazing that would protect it from ultraviolet rays and the damage that they can cause to it.  So essentially once it had been conserved and preserved it was then placed very carefully in what is its own little micro climate which will also help preserve it and on display downstairs again the environment is being monitored and they are ensuring here that it’s kept in a stable environment which will also help preserve it.

So there’s no reason to think now why it shouldn’t be preserved really for generations to come.  The condition it had been in, unfortunately with the tape and in the frame that it was slightly too tight, it probably would have degraded further over time so hopefully this will stop the degradation and it is preserved now for generations to come and as long as it’s kept in a stable environment, in good conditions, it should last hopefully forever.

Well thank you very much. (Applause)

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