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Monday, September 4, 2017

Protecting art damaged by Hurricane Harvey

Yesterday I received a note from a reader in La Porte, Texas, one of the areas hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. “Any tips on taking care of a wet oil painting? It is on a wood frame and is lying flat. We took it out of the large external wooden frame and it seems to be drying. There is not a backing on the canvas.”
Surf on Saco Bay, by Carol L. Douglas
I turned to Lauren R. Lewis of Lewis Conservation Services in S. Thomaston, ME, for an answer. Here is her advice:

As the flood waters recede and people return to what remains of their possessions, many difficult decisions need to be made and challenges will need to be addressed. While the first impulse would probably be to contact professionals to deal with your artwork, books, photographs and other keepsakes, local conservators will likely be overwhelmed with the amount that needs to be done.

Perhaps next you would turn to the internet, but I would encourage caution when reading advice on how to deal with your priceless possessions. There is much information on the web that might actually cause further damage. Where, then, should you turn for advice? I am attaching some articles, links, and practical advice that I hope will be helpful in your salvage efforts.

Take care of yourself first. Mold growth and toxins in the flood waters risk your health, so please use safety gear (gloves, respirator, etc.). This cannot be stressed enough.

Link to keeping yourself safe after a flood:
https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/cleanup-home.html

The most important first aid that can be given to flood damaged items is to remove any water and to dry them. Lay things flat, preferably on a moisture-wicking surface like blotter paper or even on a platform made of screening, so that air can reach top and bottom of the item. Use fans to move the air, but make sure there is no loose paint that might be lifted by air movement. The goal is slow, even drying. Don't use hairdryers. Don't try to flatten photographs before they are dry as the surfaces will be easily damaged when wet. Keep paintings on stretchers if possible so they dry with even tension.

Once the items are dry they can be reviewed by a conservator for further treatment.

National Heritage Responders is a group of conservators trained to deal with disasters. An article in Museum of Modern Art blog deals with contemporary paintings damaged in flood.

Stay safe and please share with anyone that could use this information!

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