You may be forgiven for thinking that a conservator of paper would be pre-occupied with paper as a material. As I found out, although there is a whole world of paper geeks out there, this line of work leads to obsessions with some unlikely objects and materials*.
Charlotte at PapberBack Conservation has introduced me to several of these. One is cake (not so strange – in fact an essential part of paper conservation). Another is brush rests. However, my favourite odd but practical tool of the trade is a glass object – to be specific, the flat-topped glass decanter stopper.
Yes, that is right. I have become an obsessive collector of flat-topped glass decanter stoppers, which besides being a bit of a mouthful to say, is not as odd as it may first seem. At the thriving Bridport Market you may spot Charlotte rootling through the stalls for a new little gem. I always have my eye out on my travels around Dorset, Somerset and Bristol, which are my usual stomping grounds.
Glass is a chemically inert material. It will not react with any other substance used in the conservation studio. It will not rust, or wear away, or leave marks on surfaces, and it is smooth. At the same time, it is strong and heavy. All of these factors make it the perfect material for working with paper. Much paper conservation work is done on a glass-topped surface. As for those decanter stoppers …
Charlotte taught me to use decanter stoppers as weights, both to hold paper repairs in place and to help position a picture within the mount window when framing it. The stopper part becomes a perfect little handle and the flat glass top or surface of the decanter stopper will hold the paper in place with no risk of damaging the image. A rounded or shaped decanter stopper is scorned by the paper conservator (unless it is being used as a stopper for our magic potions) but those flat topped beauties are excellent tools.
I have a small collection now – but as you can imagine, I find it hard to turn my nose up at a good example. As every collector will tell you, it turns out you can never have quite enough of your object of choice.
Now I collect prints, drawings and other works of art on paper, and small glass objects. It doesn’t stop at stoppers. I was thrilled with my purchase of an ugly glass swan. Brush holder, paper weight and small-amount-of-liquid receptacle that I can carry on a finger. So pleasing! The perfect little object for a paper conservator.
Or how about this pair of knife rests or mouse dumbbells (a gift) – which I use as brush rests when working on re-touching or paper repairs. The opportunities to re-purpose random objects never ceases to amaze me.
Charlotte has got a bit of a thing about brush rests (check out her Pinterest). It is an affliction shared by many paper conservators. I have not succumbed to this one yet, but as I look to the future it seems likely that I will not be breaking my collecting habits any time soon. Thank goodness that at least the pictures find new homes.
* Charlotte has two wonderful talks on the history of paper and conserving works of art on paper. For those of you who would like to know more about paper geekery you can find out more and book her to give a talk to your group through her website.