Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Fixing the Fray

by conservation

2/1/2018

behind the scenes , conservation , prints , printmaking , Blanche Dillaye

Next month a group of etchings by American women printmakers will go on display in G213.  Among these will be a small print by Blanche Dillaye, Chinatown, Monterrey, from 1886, shown here before conservation.  At first glance, this looks like any other print from the period, but the frayed edges are not typical of an etching on paper.  Dillaye printed this picture on satin, and the smooth, glossy surface of the fabric imparts a subtle luminosity to the scene.  Our paper conservator needed to remove the old hinges that stiffened and slightly distorted the satin, and to reduce the brown tone of acid degradation.  The hinges peeled away easily after the adhesives were moistened. 

Fortunately, the print could then be gently washed on the suction table without disturbing the ink or the plate mark (the impression in the satin around the image made from the etched copper plate as it passed through the printing press).  Now that water soluble discoloration has been removed, it appears that some of the brown in the margins was actually plate tone, a thin layer of ink left on the plate before printing.  Although the appearance of the print was only minimally changed by treatment, by removing the acidic degradation products, the satin will be better preserved.