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CURRENT COLUMN

Structural
Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural
Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Digital
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Photos
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

Butterfly
A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events


Conservation Corner Back

Conservation Treatment of a Chewed Papier-Mâché Sculpture

by Rebecca Pavitt
www.fineartconserve.com

Chewed foot before treatment

Chewed foot before treatment

Ah, sweet pets. Faithful companions and goofy entertainers, they add spice to our lives and their mark on our possessions. Think of vases shattered by tail wags, textiles and paper personalized with body fluids, chair legs used as scratching posts, painted canvasses turned into agility hoops.

I had recent cause to be grateful for a particular pet mishap because it brought a William McElcheran Businessman sculpture my way, one of a series by the artist. Most of these are cast in bronze, so a full-colour papier-mâché example is of special interest. McElcheran’s overcoated and trilby-wearing businessmen are presented in a number of situations ranging from the expected (checking the time, running for the bus, in conversation with other businessmen) to the startling (riding a horse or standing in a one-legged kung fu pose). Art critics identify McElcheran as a humanist, with the figures in this series representing the Everyman, and I have been a fan since my first sighting several years ago.

The smaller-than-life-size businessman that made its way to my lab assumes one of the expected poses: he is seated on a marble plinth reading a scaled-down and collaged Vancouver Sun newspaper. Its headlines chronicle the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Meech Lake Accord, cross-border shopping, and “A Dog Gone Good Deal” at Eaton’s.

William McElcheran, Businessman, before treatment

William McElcheran, Businessman, before treatment



Our sculpture’s problem? Dog had chewed away the tips of his shoes, exposing his internal anatomy. Businessman also showed signs of general wear and tear (abrasions on plinth corners and edges, and back crushing) for which the hound could not be blamed.

From the areas visible for examination, Businessman appeared to be made of a cardboard armature. This was fleshed out with a variety of materials, including lightly compressed paper, densely compressed paper, and green fabric covered with a skim coat of plaster. The whole thing had then been painted and coated with a varnish, probably an acrylic medium.

The first step of my treatment was to rebuild the tips of the feet. The bottom foot had the greatest loss, and I rebuilt its armature using cardboard (in keeping with the original), cut to shape and attached with thick methylcellulose adhesive. I then covered the foot tips with strips of rayon paper using methylcellulose, a modern twist on the newspaper-and-flour paste mâché familiar to schoolchildren. When these fills were dry, I covered them with a skim coat of Polyfilla cellulose and gave them a final shape with scalpel and sandpaper.

Deepish areas of abrasion I also covered with rayon paper and Polyfilla, reinforcing areas of the crushed back using the same materials. I inpainted all fills and areas of paint loss with watercolour, dry pigment and pastel ground in water, and coated them with acrylic medium to match the original varnish.

Being a paper conservator, I work mostly on two-dimensional art and documents. Businessman gave me an interesting 3-D project and a welcome opportunity to meet this oh so charming sculpture.

After treatment

After treatment

Previously: New Methods of Conservation Cleaning
Next issue: Graffiti and Public Art

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 Sun, Apr 6, 2014