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Conserving a Civil War Print

The IHS Conservation Lab has been experimenting with a new technique to treat loss compensation for printed works on paper. In early 2016, our intern, Lindsey Zachman, took on the challenge of treating a Civil War-era print of the 70th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers at Camp Burgess in Bowling Green, Kentucky, dated approximately 1862 to 1865.

The print had originally been lined with a contemporary printed advertisement for reinforcement, but this lining caused more damage instead. The lining was performed using a thick adhesive, unevenly applied between both pieces of paper. This caused numerous distortions and wrinkles which interfered with the images.

To improve the handling and visibility of the image of Camp Burgess, both prints needed to be separated. After cleaning the surface dirt from the prints, Lindsey and conservator Kathy Lechuga attempted to separate them in a water bath, a treatment paper conservators frequently perform. However, the adhesive proved to be extremely tenacious, and the prints could not be separated using this method.

After trying several more unsuccessful separation techniques, we determined the best approach would be to separate the prints while they were dry by painstakingly picking off the adhesive between them. Once Lindsey separated them, each was lined with wheat starch paste and Japanese long-fibered paper using a technique that helped pull the wrinkles and surface distortions out of the paper so a very flat appearance would be produced.

After both prints dried, Lindsey could address the various losses visible throughout the image areas. Some discoloration and staining remained after washing, so the new Japanese paper for the fills needed to be colored in a variety of shades to match the surrounding original paper.

The losses in both prints spanned image and text areas. To reproduce these very particular textures, we used a new technique incorporating screen printing methods. First, we purchased inexpensive screen printing screens coated with a photosensitive emulsion on one side that we could use for creating a stencil to print the texture and text onto the new paper fills.

We took images of similarly textured areas and of matching text letters, then printed in black-and-white on a transparency. We placed the transparent images against the photosensitive screen and developed them in the sun for about one minute. We then washed the screen in a cold water bath. Once dry, it can be used for printing. The final result produced a very satisfying loss compensation that isn’t distracting and completes the images.