Notes from the Conservation Lab: preserving a one-of-a-kind silk scarf

Guest post by Scott Reinke, Preservation Administrator

Encapsulated print of José Martí, Cuban Print Collection, Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida.Encapsulated print of José Martí, Cuban Print Collection, Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida. Click image to enlarge.

I am amazed at the variety of unique materials that are housed in the Cuban Heritage Collection. We recently treated a one-of-a-kind silk scarf decorated with a portrait of José Martí. At first glance, the white silk scarf appeared to have an intricate drawing on it, but upon closer observation, the portrait was actually stitched into the delicate fabric using fine silk threads. The level of skill required to execute this work of art truly astounded me.

The scarf first arrived in the conservation lab stored folded in an archival file folder with creases in the fabric. Conservation Assistant Duvy Argandoña and I discussed our course of action before she began the treatment process. We are not textile conservators and so, for example, would not be able to address the visible brown spots on the fabric, known as foxing. But we did want to complete a conservation treatment that would allow for improved storage and accessibility of this beautiful scarf over the long term.

Using deionized water in the humidification dome, we slightly humidified and pressed the scarf between blotters under light pressure to reduce the creases. We then encapsulated it using an ultrasonic welder. This tool is used to create a sealed envelop out of polyester film that in turn protects the delicate fabric during storage and handling. This step is completely reversible so additional treatments can be undertaken in the future. After completing the treatment process, we used the conservation lab’s low magnification stereo-microscope with a 5 megapixel camera attachment to capture close-up images of stitching. Below, you can see the microscope and some of the detailed images it recorded.

After completing the treatment process, we used the conservation lab’s low magnification stereo-microscope with a 5 megapixel camera attachment to capture close-up images of stitching. Below, you can see the microscope and some of the detailed images it captured.

Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Notes from the Conservation Lab: preserving Bacardí family documents found in the Cuban Museum collection

We recently digitized a group of late 19th and early 20th century manuscripts, letters, and other documents of the Bacardí family (including four letters from José Martí) that are part of the collection of the former Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture. In 1974, the Museum began collecting and displaying works of art by Cuban artists, both living in Cuba and abroad, and by Cuban Americans. While it focused primarily on visual arts, the Museum also added historical documents and related materials to its holdings. From 1982 to 1991, the Museum had a home in Little Havana and was renamed the Cuban Museum of the Americas in the 1990s. When it closed in 1999, the Museum’s collection came to the University of Miami, with its works of arts added to the Lowe Art Museum and its historical and administrative records transferred to the Cuban Heritage Collection.

The Bacardí family materials found in Cuban Museum collection required conservation treatment, principally due to paper decay caused by iron gall ink. Duvy Argandoña, Conservation Assistant, has been treating some of these materials over the past month. Take a sneak peek below at how it all comes together.

Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Notes from the Conservation Lab: The Antonio Fernandez Reboiro Collection

Duvy Argandoña, Conservation Assistant, holds up the silkscreen poster after receiving preservation treatment.

Guest post by Scott Reinke, Preservation Administrator

EDITOR’S NOTE: Antonio Fernández Reboiro (b. 1935) is a renowned Cuban graphic artist best known for the film posters he designed for ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, or Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry).  Created in 1959, ICAIC was charged with producing posters for all films made in Cuba and for foreign films shown in Cuba.

Reboiro, as he is best known, was born the son of Spanish immigrants in Nuevitas, Cuba in 1935.  He studied architecture and design at the University of Havana and from 1964 worked as a poster designer for ICAIC.  In 1975, he won the Grand Prix at the Poster Expo at the Cannes International Film Festival.  Since 1982 he has lived in Spain, where he continues to work as a graphic artist in various media.

In 2004, we received from Dr. Samuel Yelin of Miami Beach a generous donation of 91 silkscreen posters, 91 offset posters, three giclée prints, and magazines, pamphlets, and other works designed by Reboiro.  Dr. Yelin gave these posters in memory of Saúl Yelin, who established ICAIC’s Film Poster section in 1964.

The 91 silkscreen posters are of special interest as they represent the bulk of Reboiro’s production for ICAIC and include one poster by Eduardo Muñoz Bachs (1937-2001).  They also presented us with the largest preservation challenge.  When our Library established a preservation laboratory in 2010, we brought the Reboiro posters to the attention of our colleagues Scott Reinke, Preservation Administrator, and Duvy Argandoña, Conservation Assistant.  What follows is a description of the work they undertook to repair and better preserve this beautiful and engaging collection of posters.

CHC’s collection of Reboiro posters was selected as the first major project for the new conservation lab after it was noted that damage was likely to occur to this important collection.

The materials were transferred to the conservation lab. The Conservation Assistant, Duvy Argandoña sorted the posters according to the type of damage that was present. This created two work flows: 1) 70 posters that were not damaged were deacidified and encapsulated; 2) the 21 posters that were damaged went through the process outlined in this posting.

The posters were printed on low quality bagasse, a sugar cane based paper that has become acidic with age. The thick layer of pigment from the silk screening process increased the brittleness and this resulted in tears and loses to some of the posters. Previous intervention using tape saved some of the pieces, but added another layer of difficulty to the treatment.

Each damaged poster was reviewed by Ms. Argandoña and decisions were made about the course of treatment. Tape carriers were removed using a heated Teflon spatula and stainless steel spatula. The remaining adhesive was removed using an adhesive pickup square originally used for rubber cement, but is useful for the mechanical removal of many adhesives. This produced excellent results and no solvents were needed.

Once the tape was removed, the tears were mended using wheat starch paste. Overlapping tears were carefully aligned and paste was applied directly to the tears. These mends were re-enforced with toned Kizukishi Japanese paper applied to the back of the poster. Pieces that were detached from the poster when the tape was removed, or were found in the original storage folders, were re-attached using the same method of mending. After paste is applied, the mends are weighted using Hollytex and blotter until the mend dries.

After the mending is completed, the posters were deacidified using the Book Keeper Spray System. This system uses compressed air to spray magnesium oxide in a non-aqueous suspension. The magnesium oxide neutralizes the acid in the paper and raises the pH to help neutralize future acids. Testing has shown that the useable life of a piece of paper can be extended 3 to 4 times through this process. The reason acid builds up in paper is more technical, but it is basically the result of residual chemicals from the papermaking process and/or pollution in the air reacting with water to damage the cellulose matrix of the paper. Only the back of the posters were sprayed to ensure penetration into the paper.

Using the ultrasonic welder produced by Bill Minter, each of the posters was encapsulated. Encapsulation joins two sheets of polyester film around the perimeter of an item. Ultrasonic welding is a safe way to bond the polyester since it uses high frequency waves, 40,000 cycles per second, to join the sheets and produces almost no heat during the process. This structure offers support and protection for the item when it is being removed from storage or is handled by a patron. Like many of the treatments performed in conservation, this is a reversible process, and the welds can be cut and the item removed unaltered. Before the final weld is made a slip of buffered paper is placed inside indicating the collection, whether the item inside was deacidified or not, and when the encapsulation was performed. This provides future conservators with some information about the item.

The final step in the process is trimming off the excess polyester film using a board shear and rounding the corners with a corner rounder. This step provides a finished and consistent look to the items before they are returned to storage and future patron use.

Click thumbnails to enlarge.