Art Preservation on Campus

As the weather changes and becomes unpredictable, valuable art collections on campus can become vulnerable to wear and damage. When the temperature drops and the air becomes drier, pieces that are not housed or framed properly or not kept in climate controlled environments can become damaged. The most common culprits of damage are poor materials, framing, and storage techniques – most of which are preventable.

Housing & Display

The use of archival materials is an important element to art preservation. Conservators avoid the use of acidic and non-archival materials in the display and framing of pieces. When non-archival materials are used an “acid burn” can occur and damage the art, causing yellow and brown stains. This is due to the acidic content within the framing materials coming in direct contact with the work of art.

For works of art that consist of 100% cotton rag, when these types of papers are placed in an acidic environment (such as cardboard backing), it may start to take on lower acidic pH levels and begin to discolor over time; light strike may exacerbate the situation. When it comes to blocking out environmental factors such as dirt, dust, and harmful UV rays, glazing is the first line of defense. For pastels or charcoal pieces, glass is the best choice.

Mat and mount boards act as an inner frame for artwork and hinges are what actually secure the artwork in place. A hinge is best applied with reversible adhesives; non-archival tapes and irreversible adhesives will damage the piece. Other non-invasive options are photo corners or sink mats because they are easily reversed and do not physically alter the artwork. Backing boards protect the back of the piece and provide support inside the frame. Ensure that unframed pieces have a backing board as a precautionary measure to protect the back of the piece. Additionally, ensure that the frame is sealed do that the natural acidity of the wood frame does not leech into the framing package.

After housing factors have been taken into consideration, ensure that the hardware to hang the piece is adequate. Artwork should be displayed away from direct sunlight, high traffic areas, as well as locations prone to temperature and humidity changes.

Facility Considerations

  • Protecting the building that the artwork is housed in from hazards is just as important as the above considerations. The following are best practices for the physical protection and preservation of fine arts and other valuable collections:
  • Fire resistive building construction (concrete/masonry) is the most desirable, followed by noncombustible (metal). Wood frame or joisted masonry construction is the least desirable.
  • Ensure interior finishes are in accordance with NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Wall finishes that are rated Class A and floor coverings that are rated Class 1 will minimize flame spread and reduce smoke generation during a fire.
  • Ensure the facility is protected throughout by an automatic sprinkler system; sprinklers are the most effective means of controlling and extinguishing fires in facilities.

         -Wet pipe sprinkler systems are preferred, though in some cases, a single interlocked pre-action system may be acceptable.

  • Smoke detectors should be placed throughout the facility and be in working order and tested regularly.
  • If there are concealed combustible spaces in the facility, they should be properly fire-stopped and sprinkled.
  • If plywood is used in gallery walls to support artwork, ensure all new or replacement plywood is fire retardant (listed by a testing laboratory with flame spread of 25 or less).
  • Ensure temperature and humidity is maintained with minimal fluctuation.
  • Cleaning regularly and thoroughly will assist in controlling insects and rodents.
  • Depending where the facility is located, take necessary precautions from catastrophic hazards such as earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes.
Sources

Travelers: “Protecting Museum Collections”

The Conservation Center: “Common Culprits of Damage: Causation and Prevention 101”