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Saturday, May 31 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Book and Paper Session) Indian Coloured Drawings: Modern Repair Techniques for an Album of 19th Century Paintings on Mica

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Like many uniquely composed albums found in library collections, the two volume Indian Coloured Drawings from The New York Public Library (NYPL) prompted a multifaceted treatment plan to safely stabilize and preserve complex materials. Composed from different unknown early 19th century sources, the first volume contains 135 paintings executed in opaque watercolors on mica while the second volume has 44 prints and watercolors on paper. The brittle materials and handling of the library-bound album structures contributed to physical damage and catastrophic media loss, particularly with the attachment methods of the fragile mica paintings. This presentation will describe the application of treatment techniques and materials more commonly used in other conservation specialties, the establishment of handling protocols to safeguard future access to these unique objects, and the complexities of changing formats from grouped albums to individual housings.

Indian Coloured Drawings depict traditional Indian costumes, religious ceremonies, and historical scenes. A hybrid of traditional Mughal and Western styles, paintings on mica were produced in India during the East India Company era (ca. 1780-1858) by unknown local artists for Western patrons as exotic novelties. Few contextual clues regarding their creation, age, arrangement, or manner of entry into the NYPL collections exist. The current two-volume album set, previously unlinked bibliographically in the NYPL catalog, was created by the NYPL bindery during the 1920s or 1930s. Cyclical humidity fluctuations during storage and physical stresses during handling have caused extensive damage and loss to the paint layers, lining adhesive, mica, and paper supports within volume one. Volume two also exhibited damaging attachment methods and brittle paper. Though the contents of both volumes are visually stunning and have high research value, these condition issues prevented safe access without assuring further catastrophic damage and loss.

The prints and watercolors on primary paper supports in the second volume were successfully treated using traditional paper conservation methods. However, conventional paper repair materials lacked the necessary refractive index, solubility, and adhesive properties appropriate for treating the mica paintings in volume one. After extensive research, materials such as Aquazol [poly (2-ethyl-2-oxazoline)], Paraloid B-72, and BEVA 371 film which are more commonly used in other conservation specialties were selected to ensure that pigment color, saturation, and transparency remained unaltered while paint-mica adhesion and mica-mica cohesion were reinforced. These materials are not only compatible with the original materials but also easily reactivated enabling future conservation intervention or exhibition preparation.

Conservation treatment has physically stabilized the watercolors on paper and mica to remove disruptive linings of paper and paste that were symptomatic of early 20th century binding and institutional fashion. Customized individual polyester encapsulations for the paper items and window mats for the mica paintings now protect the fragile media surfaces and allow for safe access by researchers. Though their physical formats have changed, the two volumes have been digitized and are now conceptually reunified in the NYPL catalog and web-based Digital Gallery.

avatar for Sarah Reidell-[Fellow]

Sarah Reidell-[Fellow]

Margy E. Meyerson Head of Conservation, University of Pennsylvania
Sarah is the Margy E. Meyerson Head of Conservation at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. A Fellow of AIC, she is the AIC Publications Committee Chair (2014-current) with a specialization in the conservation... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 11:30am - 12:00pm PDT
Grand Ballroom A