Contributions to the 5th AICCM Book, Paper and Photographic Materials Symposium. Editors: Prue McKay and Alana Treasure. Canberra, ACT: AICCM (Inc.), 2008.


One afternoon in Adelaide, in the middle years of World War II, Australian artist Jeffrey Smart rushed out to the hardware shop to buy some sandpaper in order to make an unplanned pastel drawing of one of his students. The finished portrait, laid down onto a millboard, was presented to the student’s mother, who kept it, unframed and unprotected, until her death in 1994, when the drawing was passed back to the sitter who was by then aged 66. A few years later he asked his daughter, a conservator at the National Gallery of Australia, to treat it. The sandpaper support for the early pastel presented a mystery. Close examination of the surface revealed the tooth material to be unlike any standard abrasive paper material. It did not resemble sand, glass, ground mineral, pigment, marble dust or any other expected provider of texture. An investigative trail which began with the history of abrasives found, along the way, an all-purpose substitution material used in wartime Britain called woodflour, American sandpaper paintings and handmade flocked art papers. Microscopy, chemical spot testing and library research were employed to identify the paper support. The damaged drawing required treatment to stabilise the object, followed by extensive retouching to restore visual coherence.


Download The case of the mysterious sandpaper [Adobe Acrobat PDF – 1.03 MB]

5th Book, Paper & Photograph Symposium, 2008
Paper author:
Roberts, Sheridan