Question on sealing the surface of a collage

Occasionally we receive questions from the general public or the libraries we serve about some aspect of preservation or general treatment that the person who is asking the question hopes we can assist with.  We’ll be posting some of these and our response in this forum.  Here is our first Q&A post:

The Question:

Hello, I am a collage artist in Brooklyn, NY. I am writing to ask for your opinion concerning the conservation of my work. I construct collages on flat wooden surfaces, usually plywood or a higher quality grain, which I paint with gesso and sand. I repeat the gesso and sanding process three or four times. Onto the surface I glue magazine clippings as flatly as I can, in layers until I achieve the desired subject. In order to get a flat bond with the wood, I use acid-free craft glue sticks or industrial grade sticks. The problem is with the finished collage’s exposure to light, humidity, and other various changes in climate. The magazine has a tendency to warp and “bubble” with age. Is there any substance you could recommend to seal the surface of the collage? Any advice would be greatly appreciated – I have experimented with different substances over the last few years and have yet to discover one that has a lasting and professional effect, ! without warping or distorting the magazine. Even lamination has crossed my mind.

Our Response:

We had a sort of similar question last year from an IU student who was using collaged magazine clippings in her artwork.  Magazine paper is very difficult to work with, from the start.  It is groundwood pulp and very short fibered which makes it very reactive to water, dimensionally speaking.  On top of that, you’ve got the printing inks and varnishes to cause problems.

For a start, I’d get away from using the glue sticks- they’re often starch and vegetable gum- based adhesives which can cause difficulties.

Try using PVA glues (elmers, or a number of higher quality ones used in the conservation field, such as Jade or Elvace) or else Beva adhesive. These can all be found at Talas in NYC, among other suppliers. BEVA can be mixed with alcohol and other solvents, which may be the way you need to go as the magazine paper might react better to non-aqueous adhesives (as long as the ink won’t solubilize)

Also with glue, less is often more- you can apply it with a foam roller to get a thin, even layer.  I’d try not to dilute it though (don’t want to introduce more water).

A better quality adhesive will go a long way to improving the quality of your artwork over time and you may find no need for a sealer or ‘varnish’ over the top.  Try acryloid (a.k.a. paraloid) B72 if you still want something.  Of course it’ll change the surface reflective qualities quite a bit, and will saturate the colors.

The gesso might be creating a little bit of adhesion problem (just a guess), especially if you’re using modern, acrylic gesso rather than old-fashioned chalk and animal glue mixtures.  You say you’re sanding it though which may give it the tooth you need for adhesion by the magazine clips.

Treatment of water-damaged books from Kinsey Institute Library

When books wrinkle due to being wet, there is no guarantee that they will ever be less wrinkled. When inks and dyes bleed and run and when coated paper sticks together, that is irreversible. Freeze-drying will limit and often even eliminate these problems but will not reverse them if they have occurred before the materials are frozen.

When large numbers of books are water-damaged and mass replacement is not a feasible option, the objective becomes returning the books to a usable state. Such was the case with many of the books from the water incident at Kinsey Institute Library which were treated by the General Collections Conservation unit.

After freeze-drying, books are re-humidified under controlled conditions, then placed in a standing press. The actual labor of the flattening process requires relatively little time, but it takes rather a lot of time overall, due to two factors. First, our capacity for doing the work is small, re-humidification chamber space and press space both being quite limited. Second, the books must remain in the presses for 24 hours or more. So, the job takes considerably more time by the calendar than by the clock.

A few examples are shown above in before and after condition. These books were soaked the same as if they had been submerged, so their reaction was pretty extreme. For instance, the first book pictured isn’t fanned open; it wouldn’t close any further. As you can see in the after image, the books are not restored to as-new condition. They still have wrinkles and tide lines. But they are at least book-shaped and functional.

Statistical Report – Craig Lab – 1st Quarter 2009

Preservation Lab

1st Quarter 2009 – Report

This report covers the period January 1, 2009 – March 31, 2009.

Attended ALA midwinter where I chaired the meeting of the CIC Preservation Officers group.  I also convened a CIC-PO conference call in March.  At also I took part in the LITA PARS meetings on Friday and Saturday.

Serve on the IUL Assessment Committee and have recently been added as a member of the AIP Steering Committee

Attended the Librarians Coffee and Conversation get-togethers, Customer Service Training, Librarian Faculty meeting with the Dean, Teaching with Web 2.0 and the PA Performance Evaluation meeting.

Met with the librarian at the Lakeview Elementary School to review her plans for remodeling that school library.

Garry Harrison and the staff from General Conservation accomplished the following:

  • Responded to two nearly identical water incidents at Geology Library in January and March. Source of both was the machine room above library. Draped stacks with plastic. Damage to collections was minor; about 100-150 books, edge-wet only. Fanned books on tables to air-dry on-site, left air movers.
  • Responded to water incident at Education Library. Source was a roof leak, rain while construction in progress. Appeared to have started in an area not over collections, prompting someone to drape nearby stacks with plastic. They wanted us to check under the plastic sheeting for wet books, which we did using moisture detector. We found none.
  • Met with Charla Lancaster to discuss rebuilding the Preservation database in the current version of Access. It had become non-functional with the upgrade. We are trying to find someone who can write a program to import data from WorkFlows as we enter materials.
  • Pending the upgrade of the Preservation database, as an interim step, we began performing circulation functions to allow us to better organize the intake and return of materials. The process shows us when the book was received, what level of treatment it is here for, and which shelf it is on. After the treatment has been performed, books are discharged and put into transit.
  • After a lengthy search for a competent service tech, the hydraulic guillotine was finally repaired and is back to full operational vigor.
  • Constructed clamshell boxes for 13 oversize books from Fine Arts Library’s special collections. Most were double-wall with stepped joints. The procedure for constructing this enclosure was documented and added to the online manual.
  • Constructed a built-up clamshell box for a ceremonial peace pipe from Archives.
  • Photo-/text-documented book vacuuming unit for Ramona Duncan-Huse, conservator at Indiana Historical Society.
  • Hosted tour of department by Peggy Houston and students.
  • Hired three new student bench technicians.

Conservation Treatment Statistics


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Doug Sanders and his assistant performed the following treatments:

Lilly- 6 jobs- mending, fabrication of housings. Also, the 2-year newspaper project is nearly finished (2Q09 target)

Geology- 15 map encapsulations

Fine Arts- non-aqueous deacidification of 144 arts newspapers

I also gave a talk (with Nicole’s assistance) to a SLIS Rare Book Cataloging class on the topic of paper and parchment cataloging terms.

Peggy Houston and her two student hourly assistants processed the following:

January 14th shipment total:    288 items    (214 serials) (impact of Christmas break)

February 11th shipment total:  813 items   (651 serials)

March 11th shipment total:    1,200 items   (1108) serials)

Total: 2,301 items

Herb McBride constructed 1,548 enclosures.  Of these, 833 were Lilly Library, 279 were Lilly Lab (i.e., items brought to Preservation for treatment), 149 from the Lilly puzzle collection, 94 were Lilly puzzle corrugated enclosures, 12 for the Music Library and 181 were from the general collections.

Mary Graham Uthuppuru with her hourly staff, working for the Lilly Library, constructed 78 phase boxes, 2 clamshell enclosures, 5 built-up phase boxes and encapsulated 40 items.  They also performed regular treatment to 26 items.  They were also involved in working on seven major exhibitions including the installation of the Abraham Lincoln exhibit and the Rubik’s Cube Exhibit in Lilly and the Islamic Book Art exhibit at the IU Art Museum.