Cross-Campus Conservation Collaboration!

by Adrienne Gendron

Professional conservators generally specialize by material type. All the conservators at the Penn Museum specialize in objects, which includes a wide variety of materials from stone and ceramics to leather and wood. However, occasionally materials come across our desks that fall outside our areas of expertise. The Penn Museum recently acquired twelve Indian paintings on paper which need to be hinged so they can be safely handled by researchers. Because paper is a separate sub-specialty of conservation, we called on our friends at the Steven Miller Conservation Lab at the Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts to help us with this task. This is not the first time we have taken advantage of our book and paper conservation colleagues right here on campus – follow this link to read about a recent treatment carried out in their labs on a parchment scroll.

In the case of the hinging project, our Penn Libraries conservation colleagues came to us – a couple weeks ago, Elizabeth McDermott, Tessa Gadomski, and Sarah Reidell visited our lab to provide a workshop on how to properly hinge paper objects for display.

Penn Museum conservators and interns listening to Liz and Tessa give instruction.

Hinging is a process in which small strips of paper are carefully adhered to the back of a work of art on paper in order to secure it within a window mat. It results in a strong and secure housing solution that ensures the safety of the object for storage and display.

One of the twelve works on paper that needs to be hinged (2017-22-13).

The most common and secure method of hinging is called a T hinge, which is composed of two strips of Japanese tissue paper. First, a strip of paper is carefully cut to size and a small amount of reversible adhesive is applied. Then, the strip is applied to the back of the top edge of the work and allowed to dry under weights.

The first strips in place along the top edge of a sample object.

Next, the work is flipped face-up and positioned on its backing mat. This is the trickiest part of the process, as the work must be perfectly positioned so that when the window mat is closed, it appears centered. Then, a second strip is adhered over the first strip and onto the backing board to secure the work in place.

The second strips applied over the first strips and onto the backing board, securing the work in place.

Because conservation is a small field, people often call on colleagues to for advice when it comes to different areas of expertise. We’re excited to apply our new skill to the twelve Indian paintings to ensure their long-term safety and preservation. Hinging can be a tricky business, but after our workshop we’re up for the challenge!

The first Indian work on paper we successfully hinged using techniques from the workshop (2017-22-20). When executed properly, hinges can allow a work to be flipped up so the back can be viewed.