Friday, August 3, 2012

A Look Behind the Scenes : Paintings

Ever wonder what we do behind the scenes at the Benton County Museum?  The collection has artifacts of all kinds, ranging from cannonballs to fence posts to violins to an erector set shaped into a Ferris wheel.  Trying to care for such a range of objects can be difficult, as each item might require a specialized project to ensure its long term preservation. An example of that would be installing backing boards on paintings, a process that several volunteers are currently working on in the Collections Care Facility.  We begin by selecting a canvas on a stretcher, like this 1934 WPA print by Louis Bunce entitled "The Stock Show".

The painting is removed from the art racks in the collections storage room, put onto a cart, and gently wheeled to the workroom, where it is placed on art blocks.  The condition is cataloged, along with a description, measurements, and a photo. Photos are also take of notable sections, like the artists signature or any damage like scratches or tears.  This painting has some identifying information on the canvas, so a photo was taken as a record before it was covered with the backing board.

 The frame is dusted, and then turned canvas side down on painting blocks to measure for backing boards.  The general rule is that backing board should be 2-4 cm inside the stretcher, so our measurements are always from 3 cm inside each side of the stretcher. The measurements on this painting were height 72 cm, width 64 cm, and so the gray 4-ply matboard and white coroplast was measured and cut to those exact sizes. Backing boards are used to stabilize the environment closest to the canvas, sealing out moisture and heat, and limiting air flow that pushes on the canvas when the paintings are moved on racks.

Here is Jim, following the old adage to measure twice, cut once.

Once the 4-ply matboard is cut, foam is attached. The foam provides a tigher seal against humidity and fluctuating temperatures.

 This painting also presents a problem in the placement of nails used to hold the stretcher to the frame. To avoid damaging the paintings when the backing board is installed, these were removed and replaced with glaziers points.

The backing board is then aligned with the stretcher, and pencil marks are placed 8 cm from the corner, and then every 15 cm to denote where screws should be installed.  An awl is used to punch a starter hole through the backer board layers, and then brass screws are tightened to hold the backer board in place.  Once all of the screws are installed, the painting is placed back on a cart, and returned to its permanent hanging place on the art racks in the collections archives.  The next painting is then placed on the cart to return to the workroom, and the process starts all over again! 

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