Prue McKay, National Archives of Australia

Workshop: Conservation of Transparent Paper

Organised by Restauratoren Nederland, 6-9 October 2014

As soon as I saw this symposium and workshop advertised on the Cons Dist List, I knew ‘somebody’ from work had to go, so I put my hand up to do a presentation at the Symposium and applied for one of the eight places in the workshop – and was accepted for both!

The Symposium was held across two venues in The Hague: the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library) and the Nationaal Archief (National Archives). The first day, at the KB, was taken up with a variety of interesting talks by conservators, curators and others involved with the preservation and care of technical drawings in all their iterations. Particularly interesting (I thought) were the presentations by Lois Olcott Price, Director of Conservation, Winterthur Museum, Delaware (and author of Line, Shade and Shadow: the fabrication and preservation of architectural drawings), on the history of reprographic processes for technical drawings; Jacques Bréjoux, Papermaker, Moulin du Verger, Angoulême, detailing his own long experience of trial and error making transparent papers; Eleanore Kissel, Head of Preservation at Musee du Quai Branly, Paris (and author of Architectural Photoreproductions : A Manual for Identification and Care), who discussed methods for surveying very large collections; and Hildegard Homburger, Private Conservator at Papierrestaurierung Homburger, Berlin, who talked about the fabrication and properties of transparent papers through the ages.

The second day we were at the NA, where the morning was taken up with three training classes on identification: examining samples of many different reprographic processes under magnification; using XRF to identify processes; and making our own diazotypes as well as using the flowchart in the presenters’ excellent book Paper – Line – Light:  The Preservation of Architectural Drawings and Photoreproductions from the Hans Scharoun Archive to identify processes.

In the afternoon there were more talks, including one by Rita Udina, Private Conservator, Barcelona, about removing and replacing varnishes and oils in impregnated papers, and a call from independent UK scholar Paul Stillitoe for sample kits of reprographic processes to be made available (easier said than done, we all thought!). My own paper was a review of the conservation in the late 1980s/early 1990s of the Griffins’ drawings for their Canberra design, and of the 2012 project to conserve the “lost” Griffin work (documented at

Directly after day two had finished, I caught a train along with two other English-only-speakers (Penley Knipe from Harvard Art Museums, and Sarah Cox from the Architecture Library at the University of Auckland) and our dear host, Willemien Jansen, to Willemien’s home town of Nijmegen in the east of the Netherlands, where the next morning at Regionaal Archief Nijmegen (Regional Archives Nijmegen) we joined four other Dutch colleagues to undertake Hildegard Homburger’s two day workshop on the conservation of transparent paper. Hildegard covered in more detail the information she had shared in brief at the Symposium, talking about the history of these papers, what makes them transparent (the lack of air in the sheet – so obvious once you know!), how they are made, and the effects of water during manufacture and in conservation treatment.

As well as theory sessions, we did a lot of practical work, watching Hildegard demonstrate techniques and then attempting to follow her instruction ourselves…with varied results! For example, Hildegard favours the use of isinglass, with or without reinforcing strips, as an adhesive for mending transparent papers, which is not an adhesive I have used at all, and getting a feel for its working properties would be important, I think, in achieving a good result because with only an afternoon to play with it, my mends were less than attractive. We also took turns toning sheets of mending tissue with  anionic direct dyes, a revelation to me, at least, as they give extremely even colouration with a tiny amount of dye, without the settling out you get with acrylics dispersed in water, or the brush marks when applying paints by hand. Other practical sessions included wet mending using paper pulp; drying and flattening; lining; and using synthetic adhesives.

I urged Hildegard to come out to Australia, assuring her that she would get MANY information-hungry paper conservators lining up to do her workshops (she also does one about Water and Paper) and she said she will think about it. If you are interested in her coming here, please send her an email (website below) letting her know, and maybe we can convince her to make the long-haul out here some time soon. You will not be disappointed!

The four days of symposium + workshop taught me a lot about a topic I was reasonably ignorant of, despite the fact that I have dealt with many technical drawings and the like over the course of my work. I was particularly interesting in finding out about tracing and translucent papers and how to work with them as they are quite idiosyncratic in the way they behave towards treatments – particularly aqueous – that we might apply to ‘normal’ papers, and of course they have the added issue of being see-through, so you work can’t be hidden, even if it’s on the back!

It is always a pleasure to meet a new group of people in your own profession and find out what they work on and how they do it ­– not to mention what they have for morning tea and lunch (lots of milk, it turns out). Restauratoren Nederland are to be commended for organising these sessions on a subject that is a large part of an archives conservators working life, but which is often neglected as a research topic due to the ubiquitous nature and huge volume of the materials. As the group attending both the symposium and the workshop were mostly archives conservators, it was a more specialised and focused week than even a paper or photograph conference normally is, and we were able to get into great detail about many topics without worrying about losing the non-archives people among us.

Some related websites and books that I can recommend:

  • (only in Dutch, sorry)
  • (blog of Rita Udina)
  • (website of Hildegard Homburger)
  • Gluck, E, et al (eds). 2013. Paper – Line – Light:  The Preservation of Architectural Drawings and Photoreproductions from the Hans Scharoun Archive. Berlin: Akademie Der Kunste.
  • Price, Lois Olcott. 2010. Line, Shade and Shadow: the fabrication and preservation of architectural drawings. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press.
  • Kissel, E and E Vigneau. 2009. Architectural Photoreproductions : A Manual for Identification and Care. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press.