Moving To A New Space!

8 12 2011

I’m pleased to announce that in mid-January I will be moving the paper conservation lab to the wonderful space above Western Center for Conservation of Fine Art (WCCFA) on Santa Fe Drive in Denver, in the Santa Fe Art District.  For those following the history of conservation in Denver, that’s Eileen Clancy’s old space.

I’m looking forward to working in the same building with the paintings conservators and staff of such a well-respected organization –  fun and interesting folks to boot!  The large sink, fume exhaust system and other features will allow me to work much more efficiently, providing a broader level of care for your works of art on paper and historic documents.    I’ll look forward to seeing you there – although please keep in mind that due to security measures, you’ll need to call ahead to set an appointment.  My new phone number is 720-295-2384 or you can email me at bethlhell at gmail dot com.





Zen and the Art of Backing Removal

25 05 2010

Click on the image to see more photos

Peeling an acidic window mat away from the front of a very fragile watercolor may not sound like a fun way to spend a few hours to most people. To me, once I get beyond the fear of doing damage, it is extremely satisfying meditation.

At first, I pry about with different tools, feeling my way to find which scalpel, which knife will work the best with the very particular nature of the paper to be removed. Some move down to the artwork’s surface too quickly for safety. Others are not sharp enough, or are too sharp, or have to be held at the wrong angle. As I work, though, I find the combination and sequence of tools, the right angle, the best direction. I begin to feel as though I understand the way the fibers lay and how to move the tools to lift them with less effort. I enter a bit of a trance, a zone. There is trial and error and a narrowing of attention to the minute level of micron-thick layers of paper that become my world.

I have to remind myself not to get too comfortable – there is always a fragment of something stuck in the paper to block the way, a clump of glue that trips the knife and brings it close to piercing the soft paper of the artwork below, but a sense of right movement develops. It is akin to any other kind of sustained focus, like writing well, or the kind of running that is fast and light and free. I want to go forever. I become mind-less in the best zen sense.

My hand starts to cramp and my neck strained from keeping it at such an odd tilt, but I want to keep going, unwilling to let the learning go, knowing I’ll have to relearn the paper and the flow of the knife the next time I sit down to work on this project. I stop, clean up, and realize I am much calmer than when I first sat down – the reward of silent focus and one of the best parts of this job.





Sometimes The Paper Talks To You

27 03 2010

I  like the meditation of working silently focused on a document, finding the right texture of paper for a fill, fiddling around with acrylic paints to tone it the right color, creating a tiny beveled edge and pasting the mend in so it fits just so.  Often, I am looking and thinking so much about the paper fibers, the way the pigment is laid onto the weave, the way the tear is broken, that I don’t really notice what the art portrays, or what the document says.

Sometimes, the work is going smoothly and I allow my mind to wander a bit.  Today was such a day, and when I found myself remembering a bunch of Yiddish words, turning them over in my mind, I was a bit puzzled. I haven’t heard Yiddish spoken since I was a teenager.  No one in my life now speaks Yiddish, but there they were: “Hey, schmendrick, what are you doing?  Are you meshugana?  What’s this mishegas?”  (Translation: Hey, moron…are you nuts?  What’s this craziness? – I’m not sure why my inner Yid is so insulting…)

Then I realized.  I am working on a Ketuba.  A Jewish marriage certificate.  Aha! The subject matter creeps in, even when you think you aren’t paying attention.  I spend a few minutes thinking about family long gone, and turn back to the mending.





Go To Dallas

11 04 2008

Happy Conservators

Originally uploaded by tapescraper

If you find yourself in or near Texas on May 25th, you should check out Shannon Phillips’ and Tish Brewers’ Paper Works By Paper Nerds cyanotype workshop. They are both graduates of the Kilgarlin Center and they’ve set up a paper conservation studio in Dallas.  I visited the shop in March, on my de-texing tour, and it’s a happy, creative place in an up-and-coming art district.  I would check it out if I were you.  Which I’m not, and I did already.





Improvisation

11 01 2008

One of the things I love most about any job I’ve ever had is the opportunity to make things up as I go, make do with what I’ve got, and come up with something new.

F’rinstance, here’s a photo of Lisa Simpson demonstrating a prototype of a collapsible sewing frame I was trying to invent when I was at BACC, a place with everything you’d ever need for paper conservation, and not much for books:

collapsible sewing frame prototype

And here’s one of a sewing frame made of a wire shelf:

wire rack sewing frame

Now, what I want from you? Photos and/or descriptions of the preservation or conservation doodads you’ve come up with under duress. Send me a link or send me a file and I’ll post them all later.

Is this fun or what? Yeah, I’m some sort of geek. First one who sends me something steampunked wins a Tape Is Evil magnet.





Tag – We Are Not It

26 12 2007

I’ve been searching for other paper conservation blogs. I’ve Googled and Asked. I’ve looked on Technorati, Digg, Del.icio.us. I’ve varied my search terms. I’ve decided…Houston, we have a problem.

“Paper conservation” brings us mostly to discussions about saving trees, and a very interesting blog about a conservation experience in the Antarctic. “Paper conservator” might get you here, and to a nicely-done British book conservator blog-he tells me he is now at the Huntington- Broken Books, or Mr. Paper’s look into the paper industry in it’s many permutations, including a bunch of stuff on paper dresses, and to a blog by a newly hired paper conservator in Australia. “Art conservation” – not much except conservator’s private practice websites, training programs, the Distlist and other publications, and vendors – no blogs that I’ve yet found. “Preservation” is mostly buildings, unless you add the word “Library”. “Book conservation” brings you to the ubiquitous Future of the Book. Frustratingly, many feed search results provide articles about political conservatives instead of conservators. “Art restoration” is mostly articles written by non-conservators.

Bottom line is that any combination of search terms only yields a handful of relevant results, and anyone looking for a blog talking about our profession has to rummage like the most persistent flea-market hound. We’ve got to do better than this.

So, shall we revisit the ever-evolving conversation about what is that we should be called? What search terms, keywords and tags should we be promoting? How can we make sure that we get found?

My question to you: how do you describe your profession to a stranger, when you have about 5 seconds to get it across? Do you say “I’m a conservator”? The response to that, it seems, is “…like you save the environment?” I tend to say “I fix art and historic documents”, and leave the word “conservator for later in the conversation. That don’t seem right, PR-wise, but it communicates the essentials quickly. It does leave something to be desired in expressing the intricacy, extensive training and education, the professionalism required.

Ideas, anyone?





Water Conservation in Paper Labs

14 12 2007

I spent a good part of this week wrist-deep in tubs of water. Just my wrists and hands, mind you, although when the water was warm I was tempted to climb in with the print I was attempting to remove from it’s backing board. Bending over a tub while removing mat fragments from the surface of another print, I had time to think about water.

It’s a topic I come to often – one with a hefty portion of guilt attached. I’m one of those people who makes sure to turn off the tap while I brush my teeth. If I leave a glass of water sitting overnight, I toss it on a plant instead of down the drain. I’m careful about our water-using appliances at home. I have a garden made up of agave, sage, and yucca, and I water my veggies sparingly – poor things. I pay attention to the dwindling resources and water fights in this country and others. I feel pretty sure the next world war, or our very own civil war, won’t be over oil, but potable water.

So when it comes time to pour gallons of water down the drain every work week just to make pieces of paper a bit more flexible, a bit less brown, I flinch. And I wonder how to reconcile the actions of my career with the needs of the global community, just as I do at home.

I don’t have any answers yet, but I plan to talk about this fairly often on this blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Eventually, I’d like to form some sort of discussion group, but if all that happens is that I get some people thinking, that’ll be good too. There’s a lot to discuss. I have ideas…

Here are some:

  • Re-examine paper washing research through the lens of water efficiency. For example, is blotter washing effective enough, even when the media could handle immersion? Would the water savings offset the water needed to rinse or recycle blotter? (And how much paper/blotter recycling happens in paper labs, anyways?). What about shallow, frequently changed baths vs. deeper, longer ones?
  • Start measuring exactly how much water is used during the course of treatment, to increase water use awareness.
  • Measure the environmental impact of what we pour down the drain
  • Explore the possibility of instituting gray water recycling and installation of water-saving devices, especially in all those new green-built facilities.

So, please, let me know your ideas!








%d bloggers like this: