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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Reflection by Raphael Soyer

by Cecile Mear, Conservator of Works on Paper


Raphael Soyer , prints , paper conservation , CAMConservation

In 2019 and 2020 the museum received three prints by American artist Raphael Soyer (1899–1987), the first of his prints to enter the museum’s collection.

Reflection, a portrait of the artist’s daughter Mary from 1962, had been put in a dry mount press to attach a thin, wood pulp, cardboard backing, possibly to keep the print flat before putting it in a mat. The work also has a stain from a previously attached acidic window mat as well as uneven yellow stains from exposure to light.

Despite that, the print is in good condition and does not need the additional support provided by the cardboard. Kay Horak, paper conservation intern, began removing the cardboard by thinning it with a scalpel, cutting the board away from the dry mount tissue used to adhere the board to the print. With the cardboard gone, the dry mount tissue could then be lifted off.

Both sides of the mounting tissue are coated with a waxy adhesive that is easily softened with heat. Using a piece of silicone-coated film as a barrier, I gently moved a warm tacking iron across the tissue to soften the adhesive enough that it could be detached with a scalpel. Even though dry mounting the print was unnecessary and created work to undo, the dry mount tissue protected the print from acids in the cardboard backing.

After the dry mount tissue was completely removed from the print, the next steps involve reducing the adhesive from the back and the stains from the front. The adhesive is not water soluble and so impedes aqueous treatment—as much as possible will be removed before moving forward with stain reduction using water-based solutions.