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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: John Ruthven’s Flying Quail

by Cecile Mear, Conservator of Works on Paper


CAMConservation , John Ruthven , paper conservation

Paper conservation often involves undoing repairs by others who don’t have the knowledge or materials needed to best preserve the art. I recently examined a drawing by Cincinnati artist John Ruthven (1924–2020), titled Flying Quail, with a long tear that had been mended with pressure sensitive tape, often referred to as “Scotch tape.” 

The drawing was originally attached to a pad of paper and has glue residues along the top edge where the sheets in the pad were joined. The long tear could have occurred when the artist pulled the drawing from the pad. Ruthven probably mended the tear himself. The tape, quickly and easily applied to the five-inch-long tear, made it possible to handle the drawing without risk of tearing the paper further.

The drawing was made around 1988, and the tape could be as old as the drawing. The tape had not begun to degrade, and the adhesive was still tacky, but a shadow of the tape in a large area of blank paper was visible from the front. If the tape was left on the paper, the adhesive would eventually saturate the paper and create a stain that would require major intervention to remove.

I decided to remove the tape and adhesive before it caused more problems. First, I lifted the plastic tape carrier with a scalpel. After softening the adhesive, I was able to remove it from the paper and then repair the tear with thin Japanese kozo paper and starch paste. The new mend will last indefinitely without the risk of future damage to the drawing. By doing this minimal intervention now, future major intervention is avoided.