Friday, April 29, 2011

Gold leafing

Richard Kornemann, conservator at the Museum Shop, Ltd, uses 23K gold leaf for many things: picture frames he's restoring, for architectural elements, on furniture (such as a baptismal font), and signs. To see an example, look at the Museum Shop, Ltd's own sign, which has been out in the elements for 20 years. Note that the gold letters are still bright; they haven't browned at all. This is one of the best reasons to go to the expense of using real 23K gold leaf, which can save money in the long run; it doesn't turn brown, the way gold paint does, and therefore does not need replacement or repair. The gold doesn't need sealing, either, to last a lifetime.
This is a greatly simplified description of the process used to restore an antique frame. First we clean it well to remove dirt, dust and any loose pieces. If areas are missing, we can duplicate them in one of two ways: by making a mold of existing parts which are identical, then pouring and attaching the replacement piece to the frame; or by using a sort of carving putty and hand-carving an identical piece.
A very expensive rust-colored clay, the consistency of butter, is then painted onto the entire frame. The purpose is to smooth minor imperfections, and several coats may be required.
A special adhesive called "sizing" is then painted onto a small portion of the frame, which is allowed to dry for 1-1/2 to 3 hours (depending on room temperature and humidity), until it is tacky. Care must be taken to only apply sizing to an area that can be gold leafed before the sizing dries. Then the 23K gold leaf is applied. When it goes onto a plain, flat part of a frame it often goes on unbroken. You may notice, in such an area, that there are visible lines in the gold every 3" or so; those indicate the individual sheets of gold leaf and are actually considered the mark of a fine, real gold frame. (If you examine average-priced gold frames, you will see that they do not have such lines because they are painted.)
When applying leaf to carved, ornate parts of frames, the gold crumbles into little bits, often almost a powder, and these areas may require many layers of leaf, requiring a lot of time and a lot of gold leaf.
A sealer is not required. The results are spectacular! Real gold has a patina like nothing else.
The traditional method of making gold leaf is by gold being hammered by hand until it is thinner than tissue paper. It is trimmed into 3-3/8" sheets and will blow in the slightest breeze, so requires great skill to handle. Special tissue paper is placed between each sheet of gold so it may be handled by the tissue.
Gold leaf is priced the same as gold on the world markets and it is necessary to check the price daily.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Japanese woodcut show

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Restoring family photographs and documents

We all have old family photographs from several generations as well as old documents such as letters, paperwork from Ellis Island, etc. Doing the easy thing--throwing them into cardboard boxes--is NOT the way to treat them, especially if you want to pass them on to your children or grandchildren.
Documents need to be deacidified to neutalize the acid in them (See our blog of 4-29-10, Paper Restoration), then they should be stored in acid-free archival boxes, which we stock at the Museum Shop, Ltd. Please call us for more details.
To restore damaged family photographs, the first step is to photograph them and work with the copy, not the original. The original should be stored in an acid-free archival box. With the copy, we can eliminate holes, tears, loss areas, etc. When finished, Museum Shop, Ltd. will produce a new photo, fully restored, which can be printed in color, black-and-white, or sepia. The first photo is the one you can display. For much less money, we can make duplicates of the photo; you may wish to give them to relatives (What a wonderful gift!)
Another option for a piece that is literally falling apart is to have us deacidify it, then encapsulate it in mylar. This will make the piece much less brittle and it can then be handled without fear of damaging it because it is encapsulated.
Don't let your family's memorabilia be destroyed. Come, bring in your old photos and documents and we'll discuss them. Our Conservator is usually in the gallery Fridays and Saturdays 11:30-5:00, and Sundays12:30-5:00

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Art Theft

We've all heard about priceless paintings being stolen from major museums. You may not know that there is a register for lost or stolen art and that museums have their own network to help retrieve missing art. If interested, see
One use for this register is to record the more than 20,000 art objects stolen by the Nazis during WWII from the Jews in Belgium and France. Over half of the objects have not been returned to their original owners. There is a new listing--searching by item, artist, owner, and whether the art has been returned to families who owned them pre-WWII. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is providing technical support to the project of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Opinions of value

Museum Shop, Ltd. will give you an opinion as to the value of your art, assuming it has a legible signature. We use proprietary web sites to look up information about the artist and on recent sales of his work. We have contacts at the world's major auction houses who can refer us to the leading authority on an artist, who can authenticate an art piece, most often for a fee of several hundred dollars or more. Without this authentication, the art will not be considered genuine and would be difficult to sell.
Our process and information sources are the same that a Certified Apraiser uses. Appraisers, however, often charge between $150-200 an hour. Museum Shop, Ltd. charges $100 an hour for the first hour and $80 for each hour thereafter.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Utraviolet Light in Oil Painting Restoration

One procedure we use to analyse the condition of an oil painting is examination under ultraviolet light, which can yield much information.
Museum Shop, Ltd. has found hidden signatures which were not visible under normal light. We have found second, presumably original, signatures. Details not visible to the naked eye can be apparent under ultraviolet light.
This is a close-up of part of a painting from the 1700s brought to us for restoration. When the owner purchased the painting, she was assured that it had never been restored. Our ultraviolet examination, however, clearly showed the tell-tale spots of previous retouching, (the dark spots) which was extensive. The owner was shocked!
Today's standard of practice in art restoration are to retouch a painting as little as possbile. The more a conservator adds to a painting, the less it becomes the work of the original artist.
Additionally, all work done by a conservator should be fully reversible.

How is an Etching Made?

Before cameras were commonplace, there was no way to save the images of places visited, loved ones, events, etc.......unless you were an artist. Doing an oil painting was fine, but it only produced one. Enter etching, which was (partially) portable and could produce many copies.

Artists such as James McNiell Whistler and Joseph Pennell carried etching plates (more later) with them, especially when travelling, and could stop and scratch the image into the plate with a diamond point etching needle, recording what they were seeing. When they returned to their studios, they did the second half of the process, the printing.

An etching is made on a copper (more expensive but softer) or zinc etching plate, which is simply a sheet of metal the size of the finished etching, with a polished surface. Several could easily fit in a saddlebag or suitcase. On location, the artist uses a diamond-point etching needle to scratch (etch) the image into the etching plate. Back in the studio, he applies ink to the plate, puts a piece of paper on top, sandwiches these between two thick felt blankets, and puts them through his etching press, a finished "dry point" etching. Because the lines in the plate are relatively shallow and they get "mashed" each time the plate is put through the press, the plate may not be able to produce many good prints. Drypoint etchings are almost always printed with black or sepia ink.
The more complicated process is usually simply called an etching. Before etching the image into the plate, the artist coats it evenly with wax , or ground. He etches the image into the plate and submerges it in a large tray of nitric acid. The acid eats away the artist's lines, or image, which is where the ground has been removed. The remaining wax protects the areas where the ground remains. The longer the plate is in the acid, the deeper and wider the lines become. An eagle feather may be gently stroked across the plate to remove oxygen bubbles. Most artists will judge if the lines have become wide enough by not only examining the plate, but also feeling the lines with their fingers. When he is satisfied, the plate is removed from the acid, the ground is removed with turpentine, and a print,(an artist's proof), is made. The artist, if he approves of the result, then prints as many etchings as he wishes. If he is not satisfied with the result, he may cover the plate with ground again and deepen the image with his etching needle or add more detail, then put it into the acid again. Several artist's proofs may have to be made and they all get the notation in pencil at the bottom, "AP" or, in French, "EA". Because the lines are wider and deeper than with dry point etchings, it's possible to print more etchings this way, before the plate breaks down.
Whistler printed his own etchings, and because of the time and physical work required, his editions were small, often around 25 prints. Most ethical artists today print editions of 100-300. When editions are much larger, it may mean that the artist is very commercial. Artists who are especially prolific may create the etched plate themselves, then turn the printing, the manual labor, over to someone who specializes in doing it.