Fellow Snowbirds, It’s Time For Your Art Collection Checkup
By Gordon Lewis
Good to be back in Florida for the winter season; summer was great in Maine/France/Cleveland/Hamptons or wherever you chose to vacation. Art is coming out of summer storage and now is the perfect time to have an annual checkup before it goes back up on the wall, on the pedestal or out on the lawn. You, as the owner, should take the first look at it to see if you note any problems but then call in a conservator to examine it carefully. There are many subtle telltale signs which the conservator may pick up on but would be lost to an untrained eye. The value of this annual checkup is to stop problems before they can become serious.
At one point or another, conservation programs and universities decided they should follow the model of medical schools and have conservators specialize in a single discipline, such as paintings, works on paper, sculpture, etc. The truth is that most conservators can master more than one discipline, but at this point in time, it is unfortunate that they are not trained to do so. Of course, for the collector, this means going to several conservators specializing in several arenas. Be that as it may, the collector will need conservators who specialize in the materials they collect.
Since a full inventory of the items which a conservator will check is massive, we will illustrate with just a few: paper and paintings, but don’t forget that these evaluations are equally true on nearly every type of collectible and every media:
On paper, the conservator will look for:
1. Media condition (ink/pencil/crayon/etc.)
2. Support condition (paper/parchment/etc.)
3. Mount condition (if the art is attached to a backing)
4. Condition of the frame and its impact upon the art, among other issues
Some of the issues the conservator will look for on paintings include:
1. Strainer or stretcher condition (infestation/mildew/deformation)
2. Support condition (canvas/board/paper/etc.)
3. Ground layer and/or paint layer condition (tears/abrasions/delamination/cleavage/loose paint/paint losses/etc.)
4. Protective coating condition if varnished (discoloration/blanching crackling/grime/etc.)
5. Frame condition (breaks/disjointed/structural problems/insect attack/warping/etc.)
Importance of a Conservator’s Baseline for Your Collection
The first time a collection is surveyed, the conservator should use this not only to assess problems in the collection, but also as a baseline for future evaluations. In fact, one of his most valuable contributions is the baseline. This will let the conservator know if problems begin to develop in the future where there was no problem in the past. It is extremely important that the collector has a full copy of all of these documents. If there is ever a problem between the collector and the conservator, or if the collector or conservator moves, then the collector needs to be in full possession of these documents for the next time the collection is evaluated.
A Note About Storage
A number of insurance companies feel that a collection should be “sheltered in place” within the collector’s home if the home is substantial enough to withstand a hurricane. I have had extensive experience with this and enough experience to know that while ev-erything may come through the hurricane in good shape, it is after the hurricane that massive problems and damage can and do occur. One collector kept his collection of 38 pieces through the storm and the electric went out for nearly 6 weeks afterward. Massive humidity built within the house and every piece was attacked by mold because, although he had a generator, he ran out of fuel and he could not acquire surplus fuel because the roads were closed. In Palm Beach – one of the wealthiest towns on the face of the earth! – I’ve seen this scenario many times. We have worked with several clients where we have built museum quality, waterproof storage boxes for their collection in advance and stored the crates for them. When a storm threatened, we put their collection into the cases and put them into category five storage until the event had passed, electricity was up and running, and they could safely be returned. Another advantage of the cases is that, in several instances, our clients moved to another residence; the cases were right there to protect the art
during the move.
Please feel free to call us if you have any questions regarding this or other issues where we may be able to help you: The Fine Arts Conservancy, LLC, 561-684-6133.