Protecting Paper at the Palmer


Protecting Paper at the Palmer


June 19–September 9, 2012


Of all of the objects in the Palmer Museum of Art’s collection, perhaps the most fragile are its works on paper. Prints, drawings, watercolors, and photographs are all highly susceptible to harm from light, humidity, bugs, stuff in the air—and people. The damage can occur at any time, from frequent or careless handling by the artist while the work is still in the studio, to precipitant mounting by a dealer or framer, unprotected exposure during an exhibition, or improper storage and display by a collector. Often times, the first serious commitment to the care of a work, particularly in the case of historical pieces, occurs only when it is acquired by a museum.

At the Palmer Museum, the safety of its works on paper is secured by limiting the amount of time they are placed on exhibition, and then, when they are not on view, storing them in a dark environment with optimal levels of temperature and humidity. Should a print or drawing arrive, usually by way of gift or transfer from another department, in an impaired state, it will eventually be sent to a paper conservator for treatment. All of the works on display in Protecting Paper at the Palmer have either recently arrived back from conservation, or will be sent to the conservator to mitigate the damage in question soon after the closing of the exhibition.


Palmer Museum of Art and The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, The Pennsylvania State University


These images are posted publicly for non-profit educational uses, excluding printed publication. Other uses are not permitted.

Collection Items

Margot Wearing a Large Bonnet Seated in an Armchair
This charming portrait of Margot Lux, a neighborhood girl whom Cassatt depicted on many occasions beginning around 1895, came to us laid down on an acidic board and mounted in an acidic mat. Although these materials did inflict a significant amount…

Spring Tryout
Not all paper is created equal. This lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton suffered from all of the problems that had once inflicted the drypoint by Mary Cassatt (Palmer Museum of Art, 2004.56), though not by any means with the same severity. It was sent…

Island Hay
Following the exhibition, Island Hay will be sent to conservation for treatment of the somewhat severe burning, but with the expectation that the results will be similar to what was achieved in Spring Tryout (Palmer Museum of Art, 91.80). Like most…

Watts Street
Gerardo Belfiore’s Watts Street was transferred to the Palmer Museum in June 1994 from the College of Engineering, where it likely had been hanging in an office, exposed day in and day out to natural as well as artificial light, for nearly sixty…

The complex burn pattern playing out across the margins of Martiniquaise indicates the etching was rematted on several occasions; unfortunately, in each instance with acidic materials. The paper itself is of fairly high quality, so normally we might…

St. Thais
Insects can be a serious threat to works on paper. For prints such as the Parmigianino St. Thais on view here, the culprits were likely silverfish, which ate their way through a portion of the image to get at the sizing, the natural glue or gelatin…

Study for Communication
This study for a WPA mural, now lost but probably executed somewhere in Michigan (George Fisher was a longtime resident of Detroit), was donated to the Palmer Museum in the condition as it is seen here. The adhesive residue that surrounds—and at one…

Actor in the Role of a Samurai before a Shrine
The principal damage in this study for a woodblock print attributed to Utagawa Kuniyoshi resides in the lower third of the sheet. The stain, typically called a tidemark, resulted from an exposure to moisture, which as it dried deposited a wave of…

Illustration from Americae, Tertia Pars
Float washing may be the solution in reducing the tidemarks on this page from the third volume of Theodor de Bry’s Americae. The ink employed to print the engraving and its accompanying text is certainly insoluble; however, the print’s hand coloring…

Catskill Landscape
This landscape by John Kensett was sent to conservation in 2009 for the treatment of foxing, pale-orange spots and splotches caused in this instance by the growth of mold. While the mold itself had been mitigated if not completely eradicated some…
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