Preparation for the highly anticipated exhibit, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, has been underway in several of the museum’s departments, including conservation. Our role in an exhibit such as this is huge: we assess artifacts selected for display, make necessary repairs, and monitor the items during the exhibition for exposure to light as well as fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Items selected for treatment are repaired to minimize future damage and to visually unify the artifact.
Our copy of Cotton Mather’s The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches Lately Executed in New-England (1693) will be on display this October. The title page of the pamphlet is damaged and had been repaired with a Japanese paper mend in the past. This allowed researchers to handle the pamphlet without causing further damage. However, since this item was selected for exhibition, aesthetic compensation is needed to focus viewers’ attention on the artifact, rather than the damage. This can be achieved by simply overlaying a toned paper fill on top of the previous repair.
The first step in creating a suitable fill is the selection of an appropriate paper. We consider the thickness and texture of the original paper when selecting repair materials. The Wonders of the Invisible World is printed on a handmade laid paper with a characteristic chain and laid lines texture. We have selected medium thick Uda Gampi paper for this project.
Next, the repair paper is toned with acrylic paint to match the color of the original paper.
The paint mix is diluted with deionized water and the repair paper is dipped to achieve a uniform coating. Getting a good color match is tricky. It takes several tries before we achieve an acceptable color.
Matching old and discolored paper is difficult because the color is not uniform throughout. Additional surface effects such as rubbed surface and embedded dirt make it difficult to decide what base color we should aim for. The goal of the fill is to minimize distraction for the viewer rather than replicate exactly what was there.
Once the Gampi paper is toned and dry, it is ready to be applied over existing white paper mends. This process begins with tracing of the loss on a transparent plastic sheet- mylar- with a sharpie. This shape is then transferred to the toned repair paper. The edges of the fill are softened with water and the shape is torn out. This creates a soft, feathered edge that blends into the original paper once adhered.
The completed fill is applied in several smaller pieces for ease of handling in a three-step process:
- The finished paper fills are laid over the areas of loss one last time to ensure they will fit properly.
- Conservation grade adhesive is applied to the fills which are adhered to the object.
- The fills are dried between non-woven polyester fabric, blotters, and under light weights.
The Wonders of the Invisible World is now exhibition ready. The toned paper fill is not immediately noticeable, but different enough from the original to allow a trained eye to distinguish between old and new materials. It unifies the design of the title page and lets viewers’ focus on the artifact, rather than the damage.
This post is by Katarzyna Bator, Andrew W. Mellon Library and Archives Conservation Fellow.