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An amazing transformation took place this summer in the Paper Lab. Our paper conservation intern, Colleen Watkins, selected this embossed print as one of her projects. Unlike many works in the collection, there is no medium on this work. Instead, the design was created with blind embossing, meaning the handmade paper was run through a press not to transfer ink from a printing plate, but to transfer an impression in relief from a 3-dimensional plate. The artist, Étienne Hajdú, was a sculptor who experimented with various metals; his embossed prints relate to his abstract metal relief sculptures.
The paper had been attached in several spots with animal glue to a back mat. It had subsequently been exposed both to acids within the frame and to excessive exposure to light. The back of the thick paper had been protected from the light and therefore was less discolored, retaining a light cream color close to the original paper tone. Appreciation of the design is dependent on the even color of the paper, so the uneven brown stains had to be reduced. Our summer intern bathed the print in several baths of neutral and alkaline water to remove all water-soluble degradation products. The appearance was improved after washing, but the front of the sheet was still uneven in color and darker than the back, so we decided that light bleaching was necessary.
The controlled exposure to light with the print in a water bath was a safe way to slowly reduce the remaining stains and even out the color of the paper. The next challenge was to “flatten” the paper without losing the embossing. Blotter paper was cut to fit within each embossed shape, and the print was dried between hard, smooth mat board on one side and soft felts on the other. This successfully removed unwanted distortions that formed during washing while retaining the embossed design, the texture and the original edge ripples of the handmade paper.