Thursday November 23, 2017

As Flood Waters Recede, Salvaging Art and Artifacts

Help from conservators for artists, organizations, and museums

Yoan Capote, Isla (in memoriam), 2007

Courtesy The Farber Collection

The hurricanes have moved on, the flood waters are receding, and the hard work of recovery has begun. For many artists, organizations, museums, and collectors, that includes salvaging and restoring the artworks in their care.

In Miami, PAMM survived the storm well and will reopen tomorrow, September 14. While we await more updates from the island, South Florida, and our colleagues in Houston, here are a few resources for getting started on restoring flood-damaged art and artifacts.

The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)

Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy ArchDaily.com

The professional conservators of the National Heritage Responders and American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) have organized a 24-hour hotline for questions about how to salvage objects and artworks.

According to an article that appeared last week in Artnet News, the hotline is staffed by a hundred conservators, archivists, and other collections professionals, including experts specializing in areas like photographs, books, and textiles.

The hotline number listed on the AIC website is (202) 661-8068.

For hands-on help from an AIC professional, call (202) 452-9545, or use the AIC website’s Find a Conservator search tool.

The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative has “Response and Recovery Resources,” an online page of useful links and references, from “What To Do If Collections Get Wet,” from the Library of Congress, to “Disaster Recovery for Films in Flooded Areas,” from the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

Courtesy conservation-us.org

First on the Smithsonian’s list is the AIC Foundation’s ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage app, with practical tips on salvaging nine different types of objects, including books, documents, photographs, and paintings, among others. The app is available for free downloading on iPhone and on Android.

The information is also available in print, in the form of the Emergency Response & Salvage Wheel. Available in English and in Spanish, it’s a cardboard tool that outlines the critical steps in disaster response and salvage steps for the same nine categories as the app covers.

The wheels are $10 each, available by mail from the AIC.

Courtesy conservation-us.org

The AIC produced an 11-minute video that reviews the basics of recovering and salvaging a variety of objects, including photographs and artworks.

For artists and others working on a smaller scale, we include a video by Cerf+ and the Artists Safety Net, produced in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, on simple do-it-yourself salvage techniques.

(We weren’t able to find a video in Spanish on this topic. If you know of one, please send us the URL.)

Some of the methods recommended in the videos may not be practical under post-hurricane conditions—for instance, without electricity, it’s not possible to freeze books and papers to slow the spread of mold. But the basic information may be helpful for recovery efforts in general as well as for the art.

A frame from the video by Cerf+ and Artists Safety Net

Courtesy YouTube

From the videos, here are a few simple pointers on getting started. For more tips, see the Artnet News article and this story in the Houston Chronicle, which includes information on salvaging furniture, flooring, and decorative objects.

·      Before you enter the site, be sure it has been checked for downed power lines and officially cleared for re-entry, and that the gas and electricity have been turned off.

·      Assume that the flood water is toxic. Wear protective clothing and gear, including long-sleeved shirt, long pants, safety goggles, and a hard hat if needed, and put on rubber gloves before handling any objects.

·      Photograph and make notes of the salvaging process, both for insurance purposes and for consulting with conservation professionals.

Here’s the Cerf+ and the Artists Safety Net video, with art conservator MJ Davis demonstrating simple procedures to stop or prevent mold outbreaks on paper, canvas, textiles, and wood. It’s followed by “Water Segment,” a more detailed video by the AIC covering a broader variety of objects. They might not break records at the box office, but they might help save some art.