Many of our historical artifacts are absolutely irreplaceable. While the language and information contained in documents can be transcribed, and artwork can be photographed or reproduced, the originals are one-of-a-kind links to our past.
It's a sad fact that many of these artifacts have been mistreated over time, or that some of them are simply made from materials that are naturally prone to deterioration. Conservationists work to discover the best ways to treat damage and to prevent future harm to historical artifacts by careful handling, housing and storage. Innovative products like Artcare™ matboards and mount boards helping them with this work. The MicroChamber® technology used in Artcare™ framing materials actively protects documents and artwork by absorbing airborne pollutants and trapping such pollutants inside the mount board or matting, preventing them from ever touching – or corrupting – the framed artifact.
Artcare™ framing materials are used by internationally respected organizations as part of ongoing efforts to protect priceless artifacts. To demonstrate how Artcare™ helps protect artwork, documents, and other framed materials, here are a few stories about how Artcare™ has been used in the conservation of some of our national historical treasures.
The Wright Brothers Collection
When Orville Wright passed away in 1948 – 36 years after the death of his brother Wilbur – he deeded the brothers' collection of aviation-related documents and materials to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Augmented by donations from others, the full collection contains approximately 300 artifacts related to the earliest history of flight research, including approximately 120 paper-based artifacts.
With the approach of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famous first powered flight, the Institute undertook the job of reviewing the collection for conservation needs. Some initial conservation efforts were made in 1978, but modern conservation technology is more advanced than what was possible at the time. Each document in the collection was individually reviewed for any cleaning and repair needs, and all of the artifacts were rehoused in special hinged portfolios constructed of mat board.
The conservators for the project chose to use a 4-ply Artcare™ Alpharag to construct the new housings, primarily because of Artcare's use of absorbent zeolites as a buffer. In the words of one of the lead conservators on the project, zeolites act as "molecular sieves," filtering gaseous pollutants out of the air and also absorbing any pollutants created by the deterioration of the paper artifacts themselves. With the help of Artcare™ Alpharag mat board and the diligent work of conservators, the Wright brothers' historical aviation documents will continue to be available for future generations to view and be inspired by.
Original Audubon Prints
John James Audubon was a naturalist and painter best known for his massive color-plate book "The Birds of America," which contained 435 beautiful and highly detailed prints showing North American birds in natural habitats. One of the remaining full sets of prints belongs to the Maryland State Law Library, which enlisted the help of conservators to clean and rehouse the prints so they could be displayed in a new exhibit.
The original prints were each backed with linen, and the adhesive used to attach the linen was starting to stain the prints. The prints were also contaminated with surface dirt, page edges were damaged from repeated turning, and some prints suffered from creases, tears, or loss of paper or ink. Conservation of the prints required several steps, including removing the linen backing, cleaning the prints, making repairs to stabilize the prints and minimize the appearance of any damaged sections, and then rehousing the prints.
Similar to the Wright brothers' collection, the conservators chose to use Artcare™ Alpharag mat board for the new housings because of Artcare’s 100 percent cotton construction as well as Artcare’s protective zeolites, which absorb pollutants. The prints were each hinged to a supporting back mat with a window mat overlay to conceal damaged edges. Conservators also included a top cover that can be folded back for display, but that covers each print to provide protection when stored and to help maintain the integrity of each print.
George Washington's Will
Constructing a new display housing for George Washington's will presented a unique challenge for the conservators involved. The will comprises 22 pages of handwritten script on both sides of the paper, meaning the document could not be traditionally framed. The document has also suffered previous damage from handling and poor storage and needed to be supported and protected to prevent further decay.
One of the conservators’ main concerns was the iron gall ink used by Washington to write the will because that type of ink tends to degrade and emit damaging gasses over time. To protect the document from "self-inflicted" damage by the iron gall ink, as well as damage from modern pollutants, conservators chose Artcare™ Alpharag for the mat board’s outstanding absorbent properties. Special two-sided housings were constructed from Artcare™ mat board to support the document pages, opening to lay flat so either side of the pages can be viewed and covering the entire document when stored to protect this irreplaceable historical artifact from any further deterioration.