Category Archives: Leather conservation

Stabilization and repair of deteriorated leather

After stabilization

I just realized I’ve neglected to post some after treatment images of the first panel, which was completed quite a while ago. We are now finishing up the third of four panels. Here is panel 1.

For comparison purposes, here are a couple “Before” views of the lower part.

Although the quality of these images is not great,  I’m happy to say that we’ve since upgraded to a DSLR camera and improved the photography setup (following the AIC Guide to Digial Photography and Conservation Documentation, 2nd edition), so future images should be much better!

The next post will be about an entirely different project, a ceramic tile mural…

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Back on track

It’s been a while since the last post. We have been busy with multiple  projects and there’s been little time to pause and reflect on the treatment of the leather panels.  In the meantime, some progress has certainly been made. Consolidation and reinforcement of the trim is complete, and we have now turned our attention to the main structural damage, namely the large tears near the bottom of the panel. All that stabilization was essential before we could safely turn the panel face down to begin the next phase of treatment.

As I mentioned earlier, the area of damage was consolidated with Pliantex solution from the reverse. (Due to both the limited budget and to minimize the extent of damage, the old paper backing was removed locally around the tears/splits, rather than overall.) For additional strength–so that the leather is sound enough to withstand having something adhered to it–we also applied a dilute solution of BEVA 371 in the areas immediately surrounding the tears to be mended.  The repair will consist of lining the tears and areas of separation with narrow strips of Hollytex/BEVA film on the reverse. Then the old canvas backing we temporarily removed to gain access will be reattached to maintain uniformity in the structure of the layers.

From the front, the losses and gaps will be filled with BEVA Gesso mixed with powdered pigments to more closely resemble the color of the leather,  plus glass microballons to make the fill lighter/ less dense. Some final toning of the fills as well as the Goldbeather’s skin used for reinforcing the edges may also be necessary to reintegrate the surface appearance. Then we will add a rigid backing made of several layers of acid-free corrugated board laminated cross-wise, over a cushioning layer of dense polyester batting. This backing is the most important measure in protecting the panel from future damage. But that’s not quite the end…we will move on to the other three panels in the group. Undoubtedly, this will be a year-long project at the very least.

Somehow, I would really like this blog thing much more if it were a dialogue wherein ideas could be shared. I am very open to other ways of thinking and approaching the conservation of leather, so I would love to hear what techniques and adhesives others are using. Do you consolidate to strengthen the surfaces prior to mending? What are your preferred adhesives and loss compensation materials (other than BEVA)? Any comments or feedback you’re willing to share would certainly be appreciated!

(After treatment photos coming soon!)


Filed under Leather conservation

More than meets the eye: fun with a nifty gadget

Fine Arts Conservation recently acquired a wonderful new tool for use both in our studio and in the field: a portable digital microscope camera that connects to a laptop’s USB port and takes fairly good quality images. It’s a Dino-Lite Pro model AM413T with 1.3 M (1280 x 1024) resolution, and it’s surprisingly affordable at less than $400, software included. Many other models are available, but it seemed this one with a magnification range of 10x – 220x would be most useful for documentation purposes. We are loving it so much that I just had to share some images we captured of various things in the studio. The first is of the old familiar deteriorated leather panel we’ve been discussing.

an area showing leather deterioration from the painted leather panel we're working on; this is what red rot looks like (untreated) at 200x magnification.

Below are some fibers from another object we treated recently:

probably silk or silk/cotton blend fibers surrounding a leather cord on a hackamore at 50x magnification

same fibers at 150x

Just for fun, I did a comparison of my own hair with that from a horse’s mane. I forgot to note the magnification, so they may not both be exactly the same (horsehair is at 200x).

not wires, but the hair on my head

vs. horsehair

Next are some images of a lacquer object with mother-of-pearl inlay at two different magnifications…


200x - you can see the animal glue used to adhere the m-o-p inlay

…and now a painted paper-based object depicting a pop culture TV hero that little kids looked up to in the 50’s – 60’s (of course you can’t tell that from the image, and you’re probably left wondering just who this superstar might be. Sorry, TBD in a future post).

a cracked area of a painted 6-ply paper board object, 200x

Here are some silver glass beads from a costume my colleague Cara Varnell and our mutual summer intern Allison King are working on…

A string of glass beads, 50x

The microscope has another great function–it can be used to take measurements in various units, including millimeters and micrometers. In the example below, Allison was just playing around with the measurement tool in the Dino Capture 2.0 software, trying to measure the thickness of the glass; because we didn’t record the exact magnification, it may not be entirely accurate (but probably fairly close)…

the edge of a broken glass bead with thickness measurements noted, ~200x

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Filed under Leather conservation, more than meets the eye