By Mary Elizabeth O’Toole
Do you have special documents that have been passed down through generations but are in need of some attention to preserve? According to The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC), more Canadians are turning to professional conservators to enhance and preserve their collections.
The Eastern Shore is home to one of the few private practice paper conservators in Atlantic Canada, Julia Landry, whose business, The Paper Lady, is located near Jeddore.
Landry first became interested in conservation when she participated in workshops offered by the former chief Conservator of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, "Prior to that, I knew about art restorers but didn’t really know conservators existed,” Landry said. “I was fascinated.``
She soon decided to pursue a Masters in Paper Conservation at Camberwell College of Art, an affiliate of the London University, followed by an Internship in the British Library. Upon her return to Canada, she worked for the Council of Nova Scotia Archives for 4 years before moving to private practice in 1997.
In her practice, Landry focuses on archival paper conservation. “When I was at Camberwell, they had two streams,” Landry explained, “art on paper or Library and Archives. I had already been working in library and wanted to build on that experience. I found that I prefer working with documents, maps and ephemera because they are treasured for their information as well as appearance.”
Landry notes, “Paper conservation is not quite as glamourous as fine art conservation. People bring old, discoloured paintings and the conservator cleans them, removes old varnish to reveal newly vibrant colours, coats with conservation-grade varnish and returns paintings that have come alive.”
She adds “I can’t do that because of different media. I can wash, repair and stabilize but a 100-year-old paper will rarely look like new. To discourage the wholesale use of Scotch tape I tell people that it can cost up to $75 an inch to remove, and often the discolouration will be permanently embedded in the paper fibres.”
Most of her practice is one-off projects for clients with one or two cherished pieces that they want treated. In most cases, items have more sentimental than historical or monetary value.
Landry described one project that demonstrates the value of conservation: “Through a colleague, I met two Titanic enthusiasts who had a collection of items related to the recovery of victims of the Titanic in the days following the sinking. The prize piece was a scrapbook of telegrams between the White Star office in New York and their agents working in Halifax. It was in really poor shape with pages so brittle that it could not be read.”
“Careful remedial treatment revealed many new details. Facsimiles were made that allowed the communications to be digitized and studied. Many of the telegrams included a code and this book provided the first instances of the code used along with deciphered text, making the restored communications a “Rosetta stone” decoder that could be used to decipher other related documents.”
Many institutions housing public collections used to have full time conservators and conservation labs. But cost-cutting measures have meant a shift from conservation to preservation strategies like acid free housing and environmental monitoring. Funding is typically limited unless there is a special exhibit. Consequently, the role of private conservator like Landry becomes more crucial. If you are looking for a conservator, check CAPC (https://capc-acrp.ca/en/) for accredited practitioners in different disciplines.
Read more about the processes Landry uses next month in Archival Conservation in Action: A.F.Church map.
Julia Landry is CAPC accredited in Archival Materials. She also works with Michelle Gallinger, The Art Gal, who specializes in fine art, on certain conservation projects. Contact her at [email protected]