Conservation news from the lab

Earlier this year, Sabine Cotte came to work in the Libraries Tasmania conservation lab on a very special project.

The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts has a beautiful late nineteenth century English painted leather screen which has been on display in the Bedroom Museum Bay.

A few years ago, we noticed that there was old damage that was possibly getting worse, so we removed the screen from display and planned conservation treatment, using Allport conservation bequest funds.

Sabine Cotte is a painting conservator with extensive experience in France, working for UNESCO on the conservation of Himalayan paintings. She also has a PhD from the University of Melbourne.

Sabine came to Hobart to work on the screen for six days and, in that time, partly dismantled the screen from its wooden frame to access the torn panels and repaired and retouched the damaged areas. (A summary of the treatment follows.)

Painted folding screen before treatment.

Sabine carefully examined the screen, noting the nature of the materials and the condition, which included tight tension of the leather causing tearing, a thick varnish layer adding to a lack of flexibility and corroded tacks holding the leather edging and hinges.

Detail of damage before treatment.
Facing applied to tear before treatment.

Lifting frame away from leather (left) and (right) we devised a way of supporting the frame with the separated leather panel flat on the table surface. Sabine had to work inside the tiny gap between the two panels!

The treatment involved facing the tears on the front during treatment to protect the surface, removal of the upholstery tacks, then gentle, partial lifting of the leather from the frame to allow repair.

Stabilising the tear from the back (left) and (right) tacking heat-set adhesive.

The tears were humidified and pressed, then small strips of Reemay and Plextol B500 adhesive supported the tear, followed by Bondina and Beva 371 adhesive film to line the tears.

We were on standby to assist with turning and supporting the screen for Sabine to move between the three panels (left) and (right) new upholstery tacks fitted.

The leather panels were remounted on the frame with new brass upholstery tacks in a way that reduced the tension on the panels.

Removing the protective facing.

Finally, the surface was cleaned with deionised water, the tears were infilled and in-painted followed with a light protective retouching varnish.

Returning the screen to the Bedroom Museum Bay in the Allport.
The restored screen in the Bedroom Museum Bay.

There will be a second stage to the treatment of the screen where the yellowed varnish will be removed.  For this we will need to send the screen to Melbourne in future.