The Wilson Conservation Studio

One of the highlights of my second week of placement at the University of Birmingham was getting to learn more about paper conservation at the Wilson Conservation Studio within the Cadbury Research Library. Even though I study conservation, I have not had a lot of experience dealing with paper, as my specialisation is objects. I had previously used some paper conservation techniques to treat a wooden object. I had experience toning Japanese tissue, making starch paste and using the tissue to repair the wooden object, but not using these techniques on paper objects. I also have experience working with artworks and paper objects through my work as a picture framer.

I was so fortunate to be able to learn some new skills from a highly experience and knowledgeable paper conservator, Marie Sviergula. Marie showed the process of washing paper to remove brown stains, as can be seen in the images below. We worked on some lithographic prints from a book titles ‘The Drunkards Children’, by George Cruishank. I initially cleaned the surface of the paper using a smoke sponge. I then humidified the paper with a finely sprayed mist. The paper was then placed in a large sink of warm water and this slowly penetrated into the paper fibres. I was told that the washing process will take around 3 days, with the water being changed regularly. As I will not be able to see the final clean in person, I have asked to be emailed some photos of the prints once they are clean.

Marie also taught me how to repair tears in paper using Japanese tissue paper. I worked on some old play bills that had tears along the edges. I initially scored the Japanese tissue using a bone folder to create a thin strip approximately 0.5cm wide. I then folded along the scored edge and applied water to the fold using a water pen. This made it easier to tear the strip away from the main piece of paper, whilst retaining long fibres on the edges on the strip. I used wheat starch paste to adhere small strips of the Japanese tissue paper to the areas that required repair.  I used very fine point tweezers to maneuver the tissue into place. I then smoothed the tissue down using remay and a bone folder, and weighted it to dry between sheets of blotting paper and remay with a glass sheet and weights on top.

Marie also showed me the supplies that they have available to them within the studio as well as tolls and equipment that are useful in paper conservation. She demonstrated a number of archival ways to hinge artworks or paper objects into mounts for framing or storage. This is something I have wanted to learn more about for quite some time, so it was really great to be taught these new techniques for mounting.

I am very thankful for the experience to get to learn more about paper conservation and to develop some practical skills. Whilst my specialty is objects, it is wonderful to have been able to develop these new skills and I am sure that I will be able to use them on a number of objects in the future. I would like to thank Marie Sviergula and Sarah Kilroy for welcoming me into the Wilson Conservation Studio and sharing their time, knowledge and expertise.

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