Monthly Archives: February 2017

How to Write a (Basic) Condition Report

Most often conservators, preservation specialists, collection managers, and art couriers are the staff members who write condition reports for collection materials. The practice of writing a condition report is valuable because it collects information on the state of an item at a certain time, which provides a reference for future degradation or damage. Some condition reports are more extensive than others, though it is useful to have a basic condition report on file for items that are frequently circulated.

Many staff members in the heritage field write short reports on the appearance and condition of objects to record in the database. This may be done upon acquisition, prior to exhibition or loan, or when preparing an item for the vault.

What information is needed on the item to write a basic condition report (for a paper item)?

Description

Title

Artist/Author

Printer/Publisher

Date of Execution

Dimensions (cm)

Media (ink, graphite, etc)

Design

Support/Substrate

Formation (smooth or rough)

Colour

Thickness

Surface (matte or glossy)

Watermarks/Stamps

Labels/Inscriptions

 

Condition

Warping

Handling Dents/Creases

Tears

Cuts

Abrasions

Losses

Holes

Fingerprints

Overall Staining

Local Staining

Adhesive

Fading

 

It is also recommended to take photographs of the items at the time that they are assessed, as additional proof of their condition. Photographs should be taken with a DSLR camera and under good lighting. Use a colour target placed next to the item to provide a colour reference that ensures the colouration and brightness of the photograph is acceptable. This colour target can be used to colour correct the digital file using a Photoshop program if needed.

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What’s In the Mud?

During the June 2013 flooding of the High River region, the Museum of the Highwood’s archival collection was immersed in water for eleven days. After eleven days the archival collection was salvaged and moved into freezers for two years, prior to undergoing conservation treatment through the Flood Advisory Programme. The items underwent conservation treatment, which was performed by Emily Turgeon-Brunet, Lisa Isley, and Jayme Vallieres. The archival collection had been covered in frost, mud, and mould and required cleaning, stabilization, and rehousing.

Since the entire region of High River had been underwater, it left a lot of questions about what exactly the conservators had been cleaning off of the archival collection. What was in the mud?

A sample of High River mud that was removed from the flood damaged collection material was sent to Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Herbert Gus Shurvell, at Queen’s University Department of Art Conservation to undergo FTIR and XRF testing.

FTIR:

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy is most commonly used to collect information on surface properties and functional groups present in organic and polymeric substances. Dr. Shurvell provided a spectrum that compares the mud sample and the references natural sienna and terra cotta.

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FTIR Spectra, Credit: Dr. Herbert Shurvell

XRF:

X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis is used to collect information on the elemental composition, and provide the relative concentration of elements in comparison to one another.

Results:

The FTIR spectra showed peaks typical for the presence of silica-alumina clays. The XRF results showed the strong presence of iron and calcium, with addition to silicon, potassium, titanium, manganese, zinc, rubidium, strontium, and zirconium. Some of these are toxic when encountered at high concentrations, though they are all found naturally in rocks and soil. Radioactive isotopes of some these elements are found naturally in nature, while others are the byproducts of industrial processes.

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