At the end of this chapter you should:
• be familiar with the structure and components of various types of paintings;
• understand possible sources of damage for paintings; and
• know how to frame and hang a painting to ensure proper protection from damage.
Early frames were simple affairs. They were usually made from single pieces of wood which were generally either gilded or left plain. They were originally used to protect the fragile edges of panel altarpieces. Then, as paintings became more secular, frames became more decorative and were designed to complement the architecture surrounding them.
So we can see that the frame on a painting serves two purposes:
• it has an aesthetic function—it enhances elements of the painting and unifies the painting with its environment; and
• it also serves as a protective device, providing a physical barrier between the environment and the artwork.
Additional protective components can be added to the frame to:
• protect the back and front of the artwork from knocks and abrasions;
• minimise the effects of vibration and movement;
• enable the work to be hung securely;
• facilitate handling; and
• protect the work from dust and pollution.
Many paintings, however, do not have frames, or they have flimsy and inadequate original frames. Such works are more difficult to protect; but if you
keep the basic principles in mind, you can provide protection for all paintings.
It is important to note that not all frames are protective. While a good-quality, well-constructed frame will provide protection for a painting, a poorly made frame, or one which is not properly fitted to the work, can cause damage.
This section discusses good protective framing practice; it looks at the types of framing systems which are relevant for each type of painting structure and gives general information to help
you prolong the lives of the paintings in your care.
Structure of paintings
In order to discuss the possible damage to paintings and to take steps to reduce that damage, it is important to know something of the structure of paintings and the range of materials which can be used to produce them.
Paintings consist at the very least of two layers:
• the support layer on which the image layer rests—this can be canvas, wooden panelling, or Masonite; and
• the image layer—oil paint, acrylic paint or paint in combination with other materials.
If the support and the image layer are not securely bonded, then any movement in the support will damage the paint layer.
Most paintings are more complex than this and have many more parts in their structure. A traditional painting on canvas will usually have:
• a sized support—in many cases canvas sized with skin glue;
• a priming or ground layer;
• the paint or image layer;
• a varnish layer; and
• an auxiliary support which provides physical support for the support layer.
The term ‘support’ refers to the layer which carries or supports the paint or image layer.
Paintings can be produced on any type of support. Traditionally, most supports have been made from
This painting of the Destitute
Asylum in Adelaide has been
removed from its stretcher for
treatment. The canvas support
can be clearly seen around the
edges of the image.
Photograph courtesy Artlab
Australia, reproduced with
permission of the Historic Trust
of South Australia
linen canvas or wooden panels.
This painting of the Destitute Asylum in Adelaide has been removed from its stretcher for treatment. The canvas support can be clearly seen around the edges of the image.
This icon is painted on a
Mr Kostya Prosylis
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with permission of the Historic Trust of South Australia
This icon is painted on a wooden panel.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with permission of
Mr Kostya Prosylis
In the 20th century, linen canvas has often been replaced by cotton duck, and wooden panels with compressed particle board such as Masonite.
Artists are creative beings and there are a wide range of materials which have been used in the name of art! They include:
• rigid wooden supports such as particle board products like chipboard or Masonite or the traditional wooden panels;
• rigid supports made from a range of other materials such as glass or metal;
• lightweight cottons or Nylon loosely stretched, which some artists use to give a feeling of fluidity;
• paper glued onto canvas;
The priming and ground layers
Priming and ground layers are used to:
• provide a good physical support for the paint layer; and
• provide a surface to mask the texture of the support. If there are no priming and ground layers, it may be possible to see the texture of the support through the paint.
A good ground layer physically keys in the paint layer as it is slightly porous.
The ground layer, however, should not be very absorbent. It must be slightly resistant to the paint, otherwise brushstrokes will not be clear and will sink into the ground.
The support is sized, usually with rabbit-skin glue;
and then the ground layers are applied.
Works on canvas usually have two ground layers, although having one or three is not uncommon.
If the ground layers are not well bonded to the support, then movement of the support may lead to a delamination or cracking of the ground.
In addition, if the ground layers are not properly prepared or do not provide a secure base for the paint layer—they may not be porous enough to hold the paint for example—then problems with the paint layer will occur.
A traditional ground was usually made from lead white or a chalk gesso. Acrylic grounds are now common. While grounds are generally white, some artists, John Constable for instance, favoured coloured grounds.
The layers of size and ground can be very reactive; and if they are wet they will cause severe damage to the paint layers.
The paint layer
The paint layer or image layer can be made up of paint and a number of other materials, including paper or found objects in collage.
Oil paint is the traditional paint medium, however, in more recent times synthetic materials such as acrylics and alkaloid resins are common.
Oil paint dries by evaporation, and then by a chemical crosslinking process. This means that it becomes less flexible as it ages.
The varnish layer
Varnishes are applied on top of the paint layer. They are applied as liquids and dried to produce clear, tough films.
They protect the paint layer—to a degree depending on their composition—from physical damage and chemical attack.
Varnishes also have an aesthetic function: they smooth out the unevenness of the paint surface so preventing light being scattered when it is reflected. This gives the colours in the work a
more saturated appearance—the colours appear darker and have greater depth.
It is important to note that further paint layers and transparent coloured layers known as glazes may be applied over the varnish layer. This technique produces an illusion of depth.
A range of materials have been used as varnishes. Among the most stable are:
• Dammar dissolved in turpentine—this is an example of a traditional varnish made from natural resins dissolved in solvents; and
• acrylic resins dissolved in petroleum spirit.
The corners of the stretcher are adjustable, enabling the dimensions of the stretcher to be enlarged to tighten the canvas. This is done by pushing the keys further into the keyholes, and expanding the corners.
A stretcher—note the keys in the corners.
Photograph courtesy of Artlab Australia
Because inappropriate tightening of the canvas can cause damage, you need to know what you are doing, or be shown by a conservator, before you commence keying out a work.
A strainer is a wooden frame which does not have adjustable corners. Therefore if the canvas becomes loose over time, it cannot be made taut
again without being re-stretched—this is a job for a conservator.
Traditionally, paintings on canvas have been attached to auxiliary supports—usually a stretcher or a strainer—using staples or tacks.
The purpose of the auxiliary support is to secure the canvas and keep it taut. It is important to keep the support as taut as possible—loose supports will undergo far greater dimensional change in response to fluctuations and so are much more vulnerable to damage.
A stretcher differs from a strainer in that the corners of a stretcher can be keyed out, thereby tightening the canvas.
Photograph courtesy of
Photograph courtesy of
Examples of other auxiliary supports include:
• cradles placed on the backs of panel paintings;
• wooden frames used to secure Masonite supports.
What are the most common types and causes of damage?
As with most cultural material, the deterioration of paintings is caused by physical damage and chemical activity—usually in combination.
Physical damage is very obvious and includes: Tears and breaks. For example, many canvas
paintings are damaged when people are working
near the paintings and accidentally put the handle of a broom, a ladder etc. through the canvas. This is not uncommon.
Warping of the stretcher due to extremes and fluctuations in relative humidity, and lack of proper support in storage or display.
This stretcher had been exposed to quite extreme
fluctuations in relative humidity causing it to warp
severely. In time, this resulted in the structural
breakdown of the stretcher with obvious damage to
the canvas support.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
Insect attack, for example, wooden stretchers can be attacked by borers and canvas and cardboard supports can be attacked by silverfish.
This pre-treatment photograph shows severe tears in
the canvas support of a painting.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
This stretcher had been exposed to quite extreme fluctuations in relative humidity causing it to warp severely. In time, this resulted in the structural breakdown of the stretcher with obvious damage to the canvas support.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
This pre-treatment photograph shows severe tears in the canvas support of a painting.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
Cracking of varnish and paint layers because of movement of the support, due to:
• vibration during handling and travel;
• impact when a painting is dropped, knocked or falls off a wall; and
• fluctuations in relative humidity. Both canvas and wood take up and release moisture as the relative humidity fluctuates. This produces dimensional changes which can lead to cracking of the paint and varnish.
Separation of the different layers of the painting structure. This can because by fluctuations in relative humidity and/or to impact.
Softening of the varnish layer in high temperatures. The varnish can become sticky and any dust or dirt on the surface may become permanently attached to the painting.
Dust and dirt can distort paintings if allowed to collect between the lower stretcher bar and the canvas. This can lead to distortion of the paint layer. Dust will also take up and hold moisture, thus creating a localised area of high humidity— this can lead to localised dimensional change and overall distortion.
Chemical deterioration can be very damaging and will often mar the appearance of paintings. Chemical damage to paintings includes:
Colour change and fading of pigments when exposed to light and UV radiation. Oil paintings are often considered to be quite stable in light, but some pigments and glazes are particularly susceptible to light damage.
Discolouration of the varnish. This may be due to exposure to light and UV radiation and/or because of the natural ageing of the particular varnish.
This photograph taken during treatment shows clearly
the degree to which varnish can discolour and alter
the appearance of a painting.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with
permission of Mr Paul Fitzgerald
Changes due to the action of atmospheric pollutants, for example:
• colour change in pigments;
• breaking down of structural components leading to loss of strength; and
• alterations in solubility characteristics of paint films and varnishes.
This photograph taken during treatment shows clearly the degree to which varnish can discolour and alter the appearance of a painting.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with permission of Mr Paul Fitzgerald
Deterioration of some components of the painting where poor-quality materials have been used or where the painting has not been properly structured.
Reactions between incompatible components of
the painting. This is more likely to occur when the painting is a complex collage made up of a combination of paint and a number of other materials.
Cracking or movement of paint layers due to the unstable nature of one or more of the components of the painting. Bituminous additives in paint are an example of one of these unstable materials.
The appearance of this painting was marred by patches
of mould growth.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with
permission of B. W. Johns
Mould attack. All components of paintings are susceptible to mould in high-humidity conditions.
The appearance of this painting was marred by patches of mould growth.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia, reproduced with permission of B. W. Johns
The do’s and don’ts of handling paintings
Because paintings are such complex structures, it is important to understand correct handling procedures. Remember, a paint surface may receive a knock and appear to be unharmed. But over time movement in the canvas will cause this weakened area to crack. It can take a decade or longer for a crack to appear after a knock.
Handling stretched paintings and framed works
It is very difficult to properly support and protect paintings if you carry more than one at a time. It is important that you always carry only one painting at a time.
Before moving any painting:
Check that there is no flaking paint and that the work is secure in its frame.
Check that there are no loose pieces on the frame. If there are, consult a conservator.
Make sure you know where you are going with the work, and you have checked your path to make sure it is clear and all doors are open, or that there are people available to assist.
If there is flaking paint on the painting, leave it face-up and consult a conservator. If you have to move it, carry it flat and face-up, so that you don’t lose any paint while you are moving.
Do not touch the canvas or the paint surface directly.
Wearing white, cotton gloves while handling paintings and frames is advisable, particularly
when handling gilded frames. Gilt surfaces can be permanently marked by perspiration and oils from your skin.
If your canvas painting does not have a backboard, check that the stretcher wedges are secured. They can do a lot of damage if they fall between the canvas and the stretcher.
Always hold paintings at points where the frame is strong. Ornate frames are especially vulnerable to damage. Never grip them by any of the ornate
areas of the frame, because they may not be very strong and could break.
Never carry a painting by the top of its frame or stretcher. Carry it with one hand beneath and one hand at the side; or if it is small, one hand on each side. Carrying frames from the top member is dangerous and can cause the mitres to become loose and decorative elements to dislodge.
If the work is unframed, it is better to move it using handling straps or a travelling frame. Both of these allow you to carry paintings without the
attached to the back
of a backing board.
need for you to touch the paint surface. If neither of these are available, then carry unframed, stretched paintings on the outer edges without touching either the front or back of the canvas. Don’t allow your fingers to touch the paint surface.
Handling straps attached to the back of a backing board.
Don’t put your fingers around the stretcher bars, or between the stretcher and the canvas, because you could cause the canvas to bulge and the paint to crack and flake in that area.
Remember to carry wrapped paintings with extra care, because you cannot see what you are touching.
Before putting a painting down on the floor, ensure that there are padded, wooden blocks or foam blocks in place where you wish to place it. These blocks provide a softer surface than the floor and keep paintings up off ground-level.
When you put the painting down, do not set it down on one corner: always set it down along one complete edge.
A large painting must be moved by two people regardless of the weight involved. Never attempt to move a large painting alone. When two people
are working together, make sure you both agree on the way the painting is to be moved.
If you are moving paintings on a trolley, it is wise to have two people to accompany the loaded trolley. With two people, you have one to hold the paintings in place while the other can open doors, etc. If one person tries to do everything at once, accidents are likely to happen.
Trolleys should be padded to prevent damage to frames.
If any damage should occur during the move, carefully collect and save any pieces, no matter how small—even tiny paint flakes—and document the damage.
If you are hanging a painting, check that the hanging devices and the wall on which the
painting is to be hung are secure. Paintings can be very badly damaged if they fall off the wall.
When you are framing or deframing a painting, make sure that you have a clean, padded surface on which to place both the frame and the painting.
Moving framed paintings with glazing
‘Glazing’ usually refers to the glass or Perspex sometimes used in framing systems for paintings.
Glazed artworks should be carried with care:
• acrylic glazing such as Perspex is easily scratched; and
• glass can break if dropped or knocked.
If you are transporting paintings glazed with glass, tape the front of the glass with masking tape. This will hold the pieces of the glass together, should it break, and lessen the risk of damage to the work.
The tape should be on the glass only, and should not extend onto the frame because it can remove paint or other finishes when it is removed.
For small frames, one strip of tape vertically in the centre of the glass, one horizontally and one strip of tape on each diagonal will be sufficient. Larger frames will need more.
Fold the tape back on itself at one end of each strip, to provide yourself with a grip for easier removal of the tape.
Remove the tape as soon as possible after the move. Pull the tape off at a very low angle, so that you don’t make the glass flex too much. This could cause it to break. Remember, pull gently.
It is better not to tape Perspex or Plexiglas as:
• the tape can be very difficult to remove;
• it can leave adhesive residues which cannot be cleaned away; and
• there is, after all, really no need to tape Perspex or Plexiglas because they won’t break and shatter like glass.
Handling unstretched paintings
Not all paintings are stretched and framed. Many paintings are now sold and kept, unstretched. Because the canvas is not kept taut, these paintings are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by movement of the support.
Unstretched paintings can be quite difficult to handle. If they are allowed to flop or move too much, the paint can begin to come away from the surface of the canvas; so it is very important that unstretched paintings are well supported.
If the paintings are small enough to be moved flat, put a rigid support under them so that they can be handled easily without flopping and distorting. A sheet of Foam Cor or a strong mount
board is suitable.
Larger unstretched paintings may need to be rolled to be carried, and transported.
If you are going to roll a painting it is very important that paintings are rolled the right way—painted side out—and that they are properly interleaved and the roller properly padded. If the paint layer is on the inside when the painting is rolled, the paint will become compressed and will develop creases, which will remain in the painting after it has been unrolled.
The roller should be as large as possible in diameter—at least 200mm. For example, a very large acrylic painting which travelled to the USA in the South Australian Museum’s Dreamings exhibition was rolled on a roller more than one metre in diameter. The larger the painting, the larger the diameter of the roller should be.
Rollers should be covered with a layer of padding—either a polyethylene foam such as Plastazote, or Dacron wadding covered with clean white cotton fabric—to compensate for any irregularities in the painting’s thickness.
It is best to roll the painting with an interleaving layer of Tyvek to prevent any transfer of pigment. The Tyvek should be larger in length and width than the painting.
The rolled and wrapped painting should be tied firmly, but not tightly, with cotton tape in several places along the roll.
Rollers can be specially made of lightweight materials, such as:
• Ribloc. Ask the manufacturer to make the roller with the ribs on the inside, if possible; and
• PVC pipe. A 300mm diameter pipe is a good size for most works.
If you have to roll more than one painting on a roller, the paintings should be laid out flat and interleaved with Protecta Foam. Once this is done, the paintings should be rolled onto the roller all at the same time. Remember, all the paintings should be paint-side out.
Framing for protection
As already noted, frames are important protective devices. Good framing is as much common sense as anything else but certain principles should be kept in mind.
The painting needs to be protected at the front and back if possible, from damage caused by:
• knocks and abrasions;
• dust and pollution;
• environmental fluctuations; and
• biological pests.
For this reason you should provide a backing board for your paintings, and consider glazing works.
The painting needs to be protected from vibration as much as possible. For this reason the frame needs to hold the work firmly but allow some
• many contemporary artists have very definite ideas on the framing of their work; and
• Fiona MacDonald is an example of a contemporary Australian artist who uses the frame as part of the aesthetic of her work. To replace the frame would be akin to replacing part of the work.
Many frames are important aesthetic statements in their own right and may be valuable historic items. For example, framemakers Robin Hood and Isaac Whitehead were important Australian framemakers. An original frame by these framemakers is likely to be worth a substantial amount of money, certainly in the tens of thousands for a large, ornate frame
in good original condition.
In other instances the artist may have no interest in the frame at all. Works may be sold unframed or the artist may simply have a trade order with a framer.
Decisions about framing and reframing, therefore, need to be made carefully and with a proper understanding of all the issues.
cushioning, so that if the painting is knocked the
frame will take the force of the impact. The
painting will need to be keyed out if the canvas becomes loose. Make sure that the painting does not fit too tightly in the frame.
Other considerations—aesthetics and history
When making any decisions about whether to retain, replace or repair an original frame, it is important to understand the history of the painting and its frame.
Many artists consider the frame to be an important part of the presentation of their work. For some it is even an intrinsic element. Keep in mind that frame styles reflect the period of the artwork and/or the design of the individual artist.
It is important to note that in some instances the frame will have been conceived as part of the original aesthetic of the work. For example:
• the 1889 9’ x 5’ exhibition is perhaps the
most well known Australian example of artists making very specific decisions about their frames;
Backing boards protect the painting by providing a physical barrier between the back of the painting and the external environment.
It is obvious that one of the most important things you can do to protect a painting is to provide it with a snugly fitting backing board. A backing board will help to protect against:
• changes in temperature and humidity;
• the effects of atmospheric pollution;
• lodgement and build-up of dust;
• insect and mould attack.
Various types of material can be used for backing boards. It is important to choose a material which is lightweight, but still strong enough to take knocks and to provide a physical barrier. Two materials which have been used widely in recent times are:
• Foam Cor—a composite consisting of outer layers of paper and an inner layer of polystyrene; and
• Corflute—a synthetic corrugate.
pH-buffered, corrugated archival cardboard and other stable materials can also be used. The abovementioned materials are considered to be more chemically stable than timber or Masonite.
If you retain a timber or Masonite backing, introduce a barrier between it and the painting. The barrier could be acid-free paper or board.
Sometimes a work will have an original backing board with inscriptions and labels. If this is the case you will probably want to retain this information. If the labels are in poor condition, you should consult a conservator regarding their preservation. All labels and inscriptions provide
potentially valuable information about the work. It is important to transcribe this information into
any records you keep about the painting, including condition reports.
Sometimes a backing board may hide information on the canvas.
In some instances a conservator will transcribe this information onto the backing board, noting that the original exists on the canvas.
Back of framed painting showing Corflute backing
board screwed to the frame.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
If the back of the work has a large amount of information or you want the information to be visible, a sheet of Perspex can be used as the backing board. In this way, the work is protected while still allowing the back of the work to be viewed.
Backing boards are screwed into the back of the frame and should fit well enough to make a dust seal. They provide more protection from impact if they are attached to the frame—because the frame, rather than the painting, will absorb most of the shock.
It is important to note that backing boards should not be attached to the stretcher or strainer, because this weakens the structure and may necessitate putting holes in the canvas, which could lead to tearing.
Glazing is a generic term and usually refers to glass or Perspex.
When glazing, you should be ensure that:
• there is sufficient space between the glass or Perspex and the surface of the work, so that the paint surface will not touch the glazing. Slips and spacers should be used to provide this space. Slips are visible and can be a decorative element in the frame. Spacers are not seen;
• Perspex is not used where there is any danger of the paint or image layers being affected by static electricity, for example, where there is flaking paint or where there is mixed medium such as in collage; and
• you do not use glazing when framing works which have been recently varnished, because the varnish will not be able to dry properly and may develop a white bloom.
There are a number of different types of glass on the market, including very expensive, water-clear bullet-proof glass. If you want to use this glass, you should check with your State art gallery to see if they have a local supplier, as this glass is not readily available.
Back of framed painting showing Corflute backing board screwed to the frame.
Photograph courtesy Artlab Australia
Putting the painting in the frame
Frame section (member)
Panel paintings should be held in place by two mirror plates placed at either side of the painting in line with the grain of the wood. This means that, if necessary, there is some freedom of movement of the wood. Remember that if a panel is unable to move it will crack.
The following diagram shows how a stretched canvas painting should be fitted in a frame to provide a protected environment for the painting.
Hanging system screwed to profile
Slip Paint and canvas Stretcher
Felted mirror plate screwed to profile
Backing board screwed to profile
You will find that many works are held in the frame with nails. Hammering nails into place causes severe vibration which can lead to damage. Nails can also be difficult to remove without damaging the tacking edge and the stretcher. If the nails pass through the stretcher, then the painting cannot be keyed out. When reframing these paintings, remove the nails and do not replace them. Instead, use metal plates or mirror
The back of the frame is built up with a profile
section screwed to the frame. This increases the depth of the rebate, and provides the recessed space for the mirror clips and backing board.
The slip is necessary to ensure that the paint surface does not contact the glass.
The slip, rebate and mirror plates—that is all surfaces contacting the painting—need to be felted with either a polyester felt or an inert cushioning material such as Cellair.
If the painting fits loosely in the frame, spacers should be used to bulk out the rebate. Rag board, pH-buffered cardboard, balsa wood, cork and Foam Cor are suitable materials. These spacers should be glued to the rebate to prevent them slipping out
of place and so to reduce the risk of damage to the painting.
Felted mirror plates are used to hold the painting in the frame. These can be bent slightly to hold the painting and are screwed into the profile.
plates which can be screwed into place.
Hanging paintings securely
For safe hanging, paintings need to be secure in their frames and each frame needs to be securely hung from two points in the wall, with a hanging device attached to two points on the frame.
Paintings of different size and weight may require different hanging systems, but if you think sensibly about the problems that may arise when you are hanging a particular work, most problems can be averted.
There are two main principles to keep in mind when hanging a painting:
• the work should be properly supported for its weight; and
• there should be no stresses on any part of the hanging system or the painting.
Photograph courtesy of Artlab Australia
Some basic principles to keep in mind are:
Use materials which will not rust. For
example, you should use nickel-plated screws, brass or nickel-plated screw eyes or D-rings, and non-rusting multi-strand wire if you are using wire. If you use materials which rust, they will lose strength when they rust and your paintings will be at risk.
Ensure that the wall into which the hanging system is secured is stable and structurally sound. If possible hang works from a well secured picture rail. If this is not available, make sure that you attach the plugs or secure hooks with toggle bolts into the studs in the wall structure.
Ensure that stresses are evenly distributed across the work. If the work is large, use a shelf to take the weight.
Do not hang the painting from one point, because this will create stress across the back of the frame, weakening corners and opening mitres. On an ornate frame this may result in loss of decoration.
For a light- to medium-sized framed painting:
• the work should be hung from two separate points on the wall, with the hanging device attached to two points on the back of the frame;
• the hanging devices should be strong enough to take the weight of the work without becoming stressed or warped; and
• if you are using hanging wire, ensure that it is not crimped as this will be a weak point.
For hanging a heavy work:
• use a shelf to evenly distribute the weight along the bottom of the work, and use the hanging devices to secure the work against the wall; and
• if necessary provide four or more hanging devices, such as mirror plates screwed to the frame and then into secure sections of the wall.
Hanging devices need to be strong and rust-proof. D-rings are preferable to screw eyes because they are less likely to snap and are not weakened by the screwing process.
Photograph courtesy of Artlab Australia
Mirror plates are another secure method of hanging paintings.
Photograph courtesy of
OZ Clips are useful for large works with thin frames, particularly those which are kept in travelling frames.
Photograph courtesy of
There is also a range of security screws which can be used when a painting requires protection against theft.
Ideal conditions for the storage and display of paintings
As we have seen, paintings are made up of a number of different materials. Each of these materials has its own particular sensitivity to the surrounding environmental conditions. However, unless you are able to identify the exact materials you will not know their exact sensitivity. To assist museums, galleries and libraries in looking after
their collections, guidelines for the ideal storage and display environments have been developed.
Ideally, paintings should be stored in an environment where:
Temperature is constant and moderate—in the range 18–20ºC.
If temperatures are generally outside this range in your area, try to ensure that fluctuations are not rapid and are kept to a minimum.
Relative humidity is in the range 45-55%.
This is important for paintings, because most of their components are moisture-sensitive and extremes of relative humidity can lead to physical damage.
Fluctuations in relative humidity should be kept to a minimum and should not be rapid. Fluctuations
in relative humidity can lead to severe distortion and to separation of the paint from underlying layers of the painting structure.
Light is kept to the minimum necessary for the activity.
If possible, store paintings in the dark. If light is not required for viewing while the works are being stored, then there is no need for them to be illuminated. This will reduce the risk of fading and discolouration of particularly sensitive components of the painting.
For display it is necessary to have light; but the brightness of the light should be less than 250 lux.
The UV content of the light should be no greater than 75µw/lm and preferably below 30µw/lm.
Steps are taken to protect paintings from dust and pollutants.
For more information
For more information about temperature, relative humidity, light and UV, please see Damage and Decay.
General storage and display guidelines
Careful consideration should be given to the storage site and the storage system. In situations where you are able to achieve the ideal conditions, a good storage system in an appropriate storage site will give added protection to your collection.
If the available facilities or the local climate make it difficult for you to achieve the ideal conditions, the selection of the storage site and the maintenance of a good storage system will become even more critical in preventing damage to the collections.
Wherever possible the storage and display sites should be in a central area of the building, where they are buffered from the extremes of climatic fluctuations which can be experienced near external walls or in basements and attics. Basements should also be avoided because of the risk of flooding.
The storage site should not contain any water, drain or steam pipes, particularly at ceiling level. If these pipes were to leak, extensive damage could result.
The storage and display sites should be reasonably well ventilated. This will help reduce the risk of insect and mould infestation.
Inspect and clean storage and display areas regularly. Thorough and regular cleaning and vigilance will also greatly assist in the control of insects and mould.
Do not store paintings in sheds or directly on the floor.
Cover stored paintings with a Tyvek cover. These are easy to make for individual works, using a domestic sewing machine. They will protect the paintings and their frames from dust and insects. These covers will also help to protect the works from fluctuations in environmental conditions.
Always give paintings adequate support and try to reduce the physical stresses which can cause damage.
If you have a number of paintings which are to be stored for considerable periods, consider designing a specific storage area so the paintings can be
hung securely for storage. A heavy-gauge wire gri d can be used for this purpose. If considering building such a system, consult a conservator for further details.
If paintings are to be stored against walls, ensure that they are placed on padded blocks to tak e them off the floor level; and ensure that they are
not near heavy traffic areas, because they could be damaged as people walk past them or if people drop things on them.
Design your display lighting so that the heat produced by the lights does not affect the paintings.
Heat associated with light can cause localised and differential environmental changes, and
subsequent dimensional changes across the painting.
Always avoid direct sunlight on your paintings.
Storing unstretched paintings
Ideally, unstretched paintings should be stored flat. But many larger paintings are too large for flat storage in standard storage furniture. For the full protection of these larger paintings, rolled storage is recommended.
It is important to note that for the flat storage of unstretched paintings, the paintings should be kept on wide, flat shelves or in large flat drawers such as plan chest drawers.
The shelves or drawers should be larger than the paintings. This prevents distortion of the edges of the canvas.
Paintings can be stacked one on top of another, but paintings can be quite heavy and the ones on the bottom have to carry the weight of those on top. So be sure to limit the number of paintings per stack.
Stacked paintings should be interleaved with thin Protecta Foam sandwiched between acid-free tissue.
If possible place the paintings in a large storage box, 100–150mm deep.
When rolling paintings for storage, it is importan t to note that:
• paintings must be rolled painted side out, otherwise permanent damage which mars the appearance of the work can result;
• paintings should be properly interleaved and the roller properly padded;
• the roller should be as large as possible in diameter—at least 200mm.
Rollers can be specially made of lightweight materials, such as:
• Ribloc, with the ribs on the inside;
• PVC pipe. A 300mm diameter pipe is a good size for most works;
• if you are using a cardboard tube to roll a painting, pad it out to as large a diameter as possible.
Rollers should be covered with a layer of padding- either polyethylene foam such as Plastazote or Dacron wadding covered with clean, white cotton fabric-to compensate for any irregularities in the painting’s thickness.
It is best to roll the painting with an interleaving layer of Tyvek, to prevent any transfer of pigment. The Tyvek should be larger in length and width than the painting. When rolled, the painting should be tied firmly, but not tightly, with cotton tape in several places along the roll.
If more than one painting is to be rolled on a roller, the paintings should be laid out flat and interleaved with Protecta Foam, as for flat storage. Once this is done, the paintings should be rolled onto the roller, all at the same time. Remember, all the paintings should be paint side out.
Summary of conditions for storage and display
Brightness of the Light
Dark storage preferred, but if light is present it should not be higher than 250 lux.
Should not be higher than 250 lux.
UV Content of Light
Dark storage is preferred but if light is present, UV content should be and no greater than 75 µW/lm and preferably below 30 µW/lm.
No greater than 75 µW/lm, preferably below 30µW/lm.
Paintings in Australia’s climatic zones
The climatic zones outlined below are broad categories. Conditions may vary within these categories, depending on the state of repair of your building and whether the building is air conditioned or not.
Remember that the variations in environmental condition across Australia are extreme. Therefore, you should be careful if you are transporting paintings from one climatic zone to another—for example, transporting works from a warm moist tropical environment to an air-conditioned gallery. If works are travelling, ensure there is enough time to acclimatise them on their arrival and return.
This climate is generally very dry, however in arid areas it is often very hot during the day and very cold at night. This wide fluctuation in temperature is matched by wide fluctuations in relative humidity, for example from 75%–20% in a day.
When caring for paintings in an arid climate it is important to note:
• Many of the materials that make up paintings will tend to give out the water they contain—this can lead to components of the paintings becoming dry and brittle;
• The composite nature of paintings means that they are particularly susceptible to damage from fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. As the different materials release moisture at different rates, warping, dimensional change and delamination of layers of the painting structure can result;
• Remember that even arid areas can have periods of higher relative humidity—even though the periods may only be very short. High humidities will cause swelling of some materials, and will increase the likelihood of insect and mould attack;
• Dust can be a major problem for paintings in an arid climate. It is important that paintings are glazed if dust is a problem; and
• For particularly sensitive, reactive works you may consider placing RH buffered fabric or silica gel cells into the framing structure. You will need to discuss this with a conservator.
Note: If your collections of paintings have been kept in an arid environment for a considerable period and they are stable—do not try to alter the environment to meet the recommended ideal conditions. This could do more harm than good. The emphasis should be on long term stability.
A temperature climate is considered a moderate climate, however, temperate climates tend to have a greater range of temperatures than tropical climates and may include extreme climatic variations.
• If you redecorating or designing storage and display areas, consider using materials that will help to buffer these areas against rapid fluctuations and extremes or relative humidity and temperature. This will help to reduce the risk of damage due to the fluctuations and extremes that occur in temperate environments.
• Remember that many of Australia’s main cities and major regional centre are in temperate regions.
These areas tend to be heavily polluted and this should be taken into account.
• Salt laden winds and dust can be problems in many urban and rural areas in temperate zones.
Note: If your collections of paintings have been kept in a temperate environment for a considerable period and they are stable—do not try to alter the environment to meet the recommended ideal conditions. This could do more harm than good. The emphasis should be on long term stability.
These climates are characterised by heavy rainfall, high humidity and high temperatures. When caring for paintings in tropical climates it is important to note that:
• insects and moulds thrive and reproduce readily;
• chemical deterioration reactions generally proceed faster at higher temperatures;
• materials that have been in a tropical environment for some time will have a high moisture content If they are suddenly moved into a drier environment they are likely to suffer shrinkage and warping of the support and stretcher;
• many of the materials which make up paintings are very reactive to changes in relative humidity. For example the animal skin glue used as the size will soften; a wooden stretcher may warp, etc.; and
• composite works such as collage will be particularly vulnerable. Controlling moisture is important in a tropical environment.
Condensation may be a problem for glazed works and you may need to consider providing air holes in the backing board to allow adequate air flow. Cover these air holes with gauze to prevent insect entry.
Ensure that your storage and display spaces have good air flow.
For particularly moisture sensitive works you may consider placing RH buffered fabric or silica gel cells within the frame. You will need to discuss this with a conservator.
Note: If your collections of paintings have been kept in a tropical environment for a considerable period and they are stable—do not try to alter the environment to meet the recommended ideal conditions. This could do more harm than good. The emphasis should be on long term stability.
MORE ABOUT PAINTINGS
There are a number of problems which can arise when a work is keyed out. For this reason you should never attempt to key out a work unless you have been trained to do this properly by a conservator and you are aware of potential problems.
Older canvases can be extremely brittle and may tear at the corners, or elsewhere along the rollover or tacking edge.
Some paintings which have been distorted over a period of time may have a very strong plastic memory in their canvas or paint layers and keying them out may cause severe stress with cracking and even cleavage and flaking in the stressed areas.
You should carefully consider the strength of the adhesion on mixed-media works such as collage, which may delaminate with movement of the canvas.
What can go wrong with a stretcher and what you can do
As the purpose of the stretcher is to ensure that the canvas is kept taut, it is obvious that a stretcher which can no longer be keyed out is not performing its function properly.
One of the most common reasons for a stretcher to fail is that the keys become damaged-with the protruding end breaking off and the remainder of the key becoming lodged in the keyhole. The removal of the remnants of the key is usually a job for a conservator, because it involves separating the two stretcher members.
In some cases, a stretcher will not remain keyed out and keeps pulling back. If the reason for this is not clear—such as material caught in the key holes—you should consult a conservator.
Sometimes stretchers warp and the temptation is
to replace them. If, however, the canvas has taken on the plastic memory of the warped stretcher shape, then replacing the warped member with a straight one may cause more problems than it solves. If in doubt, consult a conservator.
When the work has no frame, handling straps made of synthetic webbing can be screwed onto the
backs of frames or stretchers. These materials are available at marine or mountaineering suppliers. Handling straps provide added support for carrying when the frame is too weak or insubstantial to be used for carrying, or when there is no frame, or the work is particularly large and additional support is required.
Labels and inscriptions
The types of labels and inscriptions commonly found on backing boards include framemakers’ labels, chalk marks from auctioneers’ rooms, names and addresses, and other ancillary material. All this material should be noted on the accessioning documentation and
the condition report as it can be critical when trying to determine provenance, examine authenticity or simply undertake historical studies.
If you have a problem related to the care, framing or hanging of paintings contact a conservator. Conservators can offer advice and practical solutions.
For further reading
Clifford, T. 1983, The Historical Approach to the Display of Paintings, Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, Vol. 1 (2), Butterworth Scientific Ltd, Guildford, UK, pp
Editorial 1987, Journal of Museum Management and
Curatorship, Frames and Framing in Museums,
vol. 4, 1985, pp 115–117; Vol 6, Butterworth
Scientific Ltd, Guildford, UK, pp. 227-228.
Hackney, Stephen 1990, ‘Framing for Conservation
at the Tate Gallery’, The Conservator, Number 14,
The United Kingdom Institute for Conservation, London, pp44–52.
Hasluck, Paul N. 1912, Mounting and Framing
Pictures, Cassell and Company Ltd, London.
Keck, Caroline K. 1965 reprinted 1980, A Handbook on the Care of Paintings, American Association for State and Local History, Nashville.
McTaggart, Peter and Ann 1984, Practical Gilding,
Mac & Me Ltd, Welwyn, UK.
Payne, John and Chaloupka, Peter, 1986, ‘Framing the 9 x 5s’, Bulletin of the Society of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Society of The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, pp
Seager, Christopher; Hillary, Sarah L.; Weik, Sabine
1986, Art Care. The Care of Art and Museum
Collections in New Zealand, Northern Regional
Conservation Service, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, N.Z.
National Gallery of Art 1991, Art in Transit: Studies in the Transport of Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
The support layer of a painting is:
a) the layer put on the back of the frame to support it;
b) the framework that supports the canvas;
c) the rigid board used to support unstretched paintings when they are being carried; or
d) the layer which carries or supports the image or paint layer.
Which of the following statements are true?
a) Traditionally paintings were produced on stretched canvasses or wooden panels.
b) There is no difference between a stretcher and a strainer.
c) The varnish layer serves only to make the painting look glossy.
d) A stretcher differs from a strainer in that the corners of a stretcher can be keyed out to tighten the canvas.
e) Paintings can be produced on a range of supports.
Fluctuations in relative humidity can damage paintings by:
a) producing dimensional changes in the support, which can lead to separation of the image layer from the support;
b) producing dimensional changes in the support, which can lead to cracking of the paint and varnish layers;
c) warping the stretcher, which in turn produces distortion of the canvas support;
d) increasing the risk of mould attack when the relative humidity is high; or
e) All of the above.
Which of the following statements are false? When handling paintings you should:
a) Be sure the painting and frame are secure and safe to move.
b) Put your hand around the stretcher bar with your fingers between the stretcher and the canvas. This allows you to get a good grip.
c) Check your route and make sure it is clear.
Also make sure all doors are open and that there are people available to assist if you need them.
d) Carry more than one painting at a time. e) Carry wrapped paintings with extra care,
because you cannot see what you are touching.
A good protective framing system will:
a) Protect a painting from knocks, because the frame will take the force of the impact.
b) Include a backing board, to protect the back of the painting from impact damage and to significantly reduce the risk of insect attack and dust build-up.
c) Be designed with protection, the history of the painting and aesthetics all taken into account.
d) Have a slip or a spacer to keep the glazing away from he paint surface.
e) All of the above.
When putting a painting into its frame, you should:
a) Use hammer and nails to fix the painting in place as this is difficult for people to undo and will ensure that it won’t come loose.
b) Ensure that all surfaces contacting the painting eg. the slip, the rebate, the fixings etc are cushioned with an inert cushionin g material.
c) Use spacers between the painting and the frame, if the painting fits loosely in the frame.
d) Build up the back of the frame with a stepped profile section to accommodate the backing board, the painting and the glazing and slip, if the frame includes glazing.
Which of the following statements are true?
a) Paintings should be hung securely because they can be badly damaged if they fall off the wall.
b) Paintings should be hung from two points on the wall.
c) The hanging devices should be strong enough to take the weight of the work without becoming stressed or warped.
d) The hanging device should be attached to two points on the frame.
e) If the work is exceptionally heavy, additional support can be given by resting the base of the frame on a shelf.
What are the ideal conditions for storing and displaying paintings?
a) 18-22°C, 55–70% RH, brightness of the light at 550 lux and the UV content of the light no greater than 75µW/lm and preferably below
b) 20-30°C, 45–55% RH, brightness of the light at no more than 250 lux and the UV content of the light no greater than 200µW/lm and preferably below 100µW/lm.
c) 18-22°C, 45–55% RH, brightness of the light at no more than 250 lux and the UV content of the light no greater than 75µW/lm and preferably below 30µW/lm.
d) None of the above.
When storing paintings, you should:
a) Ensure that they have adequate support.
b) Place them on padded blocks on the floor, in an area where people are likely to walk past them often so that they can check their
c) Protect them from dust and fluctuations in relative humidity.
d) Roll large, unstretched paintings if you do not have storage furniture which can accommodate them flat.
Answer: a), d) and e) are true. b) is false. There is a difference between a stretcher and a strainer. A stretcher can be keyed out to tighten the canvas, whereas a strainer cannot. c) is false. The varnish layer protects the paint layer and gives the paint colours a richer appearance.
Answer: a), c) and d). b) is not correct. If paintings are to be stored against walls, you should ensure that they are placed on padded blocks to take them off the floor level, and ensure that they are not near heavy traffic areas, because they could be damaged as people walk past them or if people drop things on them.
Answer: b) and d) are false.
Answer: b), c) and d) are correct. a) is incorrect. Nails should not be used to fix paintings into a frame, because hammering them in causes
vibration which could lead to considerable damage.
Answer: a), b), c), d) and e) are all true.
Electronic Information and Media
Objectives page 133
Introduction page 133
Considerations for preserving
information in electronic format page 133
Magnetic recording—a brief history page 134
Magnetic recording technology page 134
How long will audio and video recordings last? page 135
Preserving audio and video recordings on tape page 136
Copying page 138
For further reading page 138
Self-evaluation quiz page 140
Answers to self-evaluation quiz page 141
At the end of this chapter you should be able to:
• describe why electronic information and media don’t last;
• describe what can be done to make electronic information and media last longer;
• choose from the available options; and
• set up a preservation program for electronic information and media.
Increasingly, museums, galleries and libraries are using electronic media to improve access to their collections, to enhance their documentary collections, as publishing options and as exhibits. As the interest in, and use of, electronic media increases, people are becoming more concerned about preserving these formats.
The main carriers, or media, for electronic
information are hard disks, floppy disks, audio tapes, video tapes and CD-ROMs. Preserving electronic information and media is about being able to use them for as long as you want to. However,
preserving electronic media is not straightforward. There are two main issues to consider:
• the preservation of the actual item, that is, the CD-ROM or the audio tape; and
• preserving the information.
When it comes to preserving electronic information and media, conservators tend to believe that preserving the information is more important than preserving the media. There are many reasons for this. One of the main ones is the recognition that technology is advancing at such a rate that many of the media used today may be obsolete in the near future. Think about how quickly compact discs— CDs—replaced the once familiar vinyl LP record.
Obviously, if you have invested in a certain technology you will want to protect your investment and be able to use your electronic media for as long as possible. This will require that the carrier and the machine needed to access the information are in good condition. This section gives basic information on caring for electronic
media—with an emphasis on video and audio recordings.
Electronic information is inherently short-lived and at some stage the information will need to be transferred from its present carrier to a new carrier, before the present medium deteriorates or your equipment stops working. This may be in a few years or a decade, but you must plan for this transfer to take place.
In the meantime, this section will help you to care for your electronic media. If you are particularly interested in preserving electronic media, it is strongly recommended that you keep in touch
with the latest developments—the library network can help you with this.
Considerations for preserving information in electronic format
Some of the information in archives, libraries and museums is already in electronic format. Most of this information is in analogue format, including audio recordings and video recordings on magnetic tape. Digital magnetic media such as floppy disks, hard disks and magnetic data tape are also being used. This will change as digital recording becomes more widely used.
Preserving electronic information and media is about:
• recognising that electronic preservation raises challenges that are fundamentally different than those encountered in preserving traditional-format materials such as paper and books;
• understanding why access to all magnetic information is going to be short-term;
• setting priorities by choosing what information to keep, and discarding the rest;
• using commonsense techniques to try and make electronic information and media last longer; and
• applying this knowledge systematically.
Electronic Information and Media 133
a brief history
The basic principles of magnetic recording were first discovered in the 1890s. Not much was done with the discovery because the necessary electronics hadn’t been invented.
Audio recordings on tape were invented in the
early 1930s and introduced to the domestic market in the late 1940s.
Several companies tried to develop a videotape recorder in the early 1950s, but Ampex was the first to succeed in April 1956.
The first on-air broadcast of videotaped material occurred on 30 November 1956, with the CBS Douglas Edwards evening news broadcast.
In 1968, Sony introduced the first videotape recorder that was small enough and cheap enough for use in education. It was replaced by the Sony U-Matic cassette recorder in 1971 which was still in use 25 years later.
The videotape recorder was not cheap enough for the consumer until Sony introduced the BetaMax in
1975. In 1976, JVC introduced the VHS VCR, and the battle of the formats began. In 1989, Sony introduced the Hi8 camcorder.
Digital videotape recording started in 1987 when the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers established the D1 standard. Digital has a major advantage over the previous analogue- based recorders, because there is no degradation when tapes are copied.
Since the introduction of the D1 format, at least four others have been launched. None of them dominates the market and D1 itself is now virtually obsolete.
Magnetic recording technology
All magnetic tape media consist of three components:
• ferromagnetic recording material, capable of being magnetised when placed in a magnetic field;
• substrate or base material, on which the recording material is coated; and
• a binder which functions as a carrier for the recording material, and bonds it to the substrate.
The magnetic materials used in audio recordings and video recordings are properly described as ferromagnetic. They are characterised by strong, easily detectable, spontaneous and permanent magnetisation—even without an external magnetic field.
Audio information, for example, speech or music, is recorded in the magnetic layer as a continuously varying analogue sound signal. The magnetic
signal is made by an electromagnet, which conveys variations in electrical strength from the output of a microphone to the recording medium. On playback, the original sound is reproduced by reversing the process and replacing the microphone with a loudspeaker.
Video information, for example, the moving images filmed at weddings or on holidays, is recorded in the magnetic layer as a continuously varying analogue signal. Sound information on videos is recorded in the same way, but only in narrow
tracks along the edges of videos.
The magnetic signal is made by a magnetic field. It can be erased deliberately when a new recording is made. But it can also be altered accidentally by a magnetic field that gets close enough to the recorded signal to alter it.
If magnetised material gets hot enough, the magnetism disappears. The point at which this occurs varies with the recording material. For example, with iron alloys it is 770ºC.
The International Electrotechnical Commission— IEM—classify audio tapes into three types: Types I, II and III. A tape’s classification is determined by the recording material used.
The gamma form of ferric oxide, iron rust, is the most widely used recording material. It is the recording material for audio cassettes designated as Type I. They are typically described as normal bias tapes.
134 Electronic Information and Media
Chromium dioxide was introduced in the late 1960s as a magnetic material suitable for high-density recording. These are known as IEC Type II—high bias—audio cassettes.
Pure iron particles, the recording material used by so-called metal media, are used in IEC Type III audio cassettes and digital audio tape—DAT— cassettes. They support recording densities approximately three times stronger than gamma ferric oxide particles.
With magnetic tapes, the substrate is typically plastic film.
The base materials of early magnetic tapes, some of which may be stored in libraries and archives, were composed of cellulose triacetate or polyvinyl chloride—PVC.
Substrates of newer magnetic tape invariably consist of polyethylene teraphthalate—PET—which is often identified by one of its trade names, such as Du Pont’s Mylar or Eastman Kodak’s Estar and is known in the film industry as polyester. Compared with earlier substrate materials, PET films are stronger and more resistant to high temperatures and humidity.
Early magnetic tapes featured polyvinyl chloride— PVC—binders. Today, polyethylene binders are commonly used. These binders don’t stand up well to high humidity which softens the binder. If the binder has softened to the extent that the particles either move or come right off the base, permanent damage will have been done to the
recording. In a dry environment, it is possible that the binder may be re-hardened by reverse
hydrolysis to get the sound back.
How long will audio and video recordings last?
The life of a recording is difficult to predict, and opinions vary.
The oldest audio recordings stored in archives are still playable after 40-50 years; and the oldest
video recordings stored in archives are still playable after 30 years.
This potential lifespan is reduced considerably if recordings are not made, stored or used with preservation in mind.
In extreme humidity, deterioration can occur in a few years.
Remember that, even when tapes remain playable, the equipment to play them on may no longer exist.
For more information
For more information on the adverse effects of fluctuations in and extremes of relative humidity and temperature, please see Damage and Decay.
Keeping tapes playable
One way to keep tapes playable is gentle use on well-maintained equipment.
• helps avoid changes in the magnetic signal known as print-through;
• re-tensions—but does not over-tension—
• gives early warning of physical and chemical deterioration; and
• checks whether recordings and equipment are still working together.
Why don’t audio and video recordings last forever?
Recordings are short-lived because of:
• damage from inherent media instabilities;
• damage from various external conditions and events;
• inadvertent erasure;
• print-through effects, that is, changes in the magnetic signal, and wear that can render recorded signals unusable;
• physical damage from careless handling or improperly adjusted equipment;
Electronic Information and Media 135
• contaminants which can cause signal drop- outs;
• inappropriate storage environments, which cause significant chemical damage through hydrolytic degradation of binder materials; and
• equipment obsolescence because the usability of recordings on tape is dependent on
Preserving audio and video recordings on tape
Preserving audio recordings and video recordings on tape in archival conditions is not yet fully understood—not as well understood as the archival preservation of paper.
Preserving recordings depends on:
• making a long-lasting recording at the beginning;
• looking after the magnetic signal;
• looking after the binder layer and the carrier layer;
• looking after the equipment used in recording and playing recordings during storage and
• careful and systematic management.
Making recordings with preservation in mind
A good place to start preserving audio recordings and video recordings on tape is with the selection of long-lasting media before a recording is made.
When making recordings, use new tape, and use the highest quality recording media that you can afford. Major brand-name tapes from audio and VCR equipment manufacturers or magnetic products manufacturers are generally of a consistently good quality.
For important recordings, make two copies on tapes drawn from different manufacturing batches.
Comply fully with specifications established by the manufacturer on which the media will be recorded or played.
If you are in the north of Australia in summer or the south of Australia in winter, allow time—about one hour—for your video camera and video tapes
to warm up or cool down before use. A rapid change from an air-conditioned room to tropical heat and humidity in the northern summer, or from a heated room to the cold and damp of a southern winter environment, can clog video heads and jam video cassettes.
Looking after the magnetic signal
Magnetic recordings on tape are made and destroyed by strong magnetic fields—such as the permanent magnets in headphones and loudspeakers. The situations and equipment to watch out for are:
• high-voltage power lines;
• lightning arresters in large buildings;
• magnetic flashlights;
• fridge magnets;
• small headphones; and
• speaker cabinets.
You will usually not have to worry about damage from normal household wiring and security scanners and X-ray equipment.
Follow the guidelines below and copy old, fragile or extremely valuable recordings if you listen to them frequently. Copying is known as dubbing.
Before copying, carefully rewind two or three times any tape which has not been used for several
years. Careful rewinding relieves any tension in the tape, and reduces the effect of print-through.
Consider using electronic filtering when older recordings are being dubbed onto a new copy. Filtering can sometimes be effective in removing unwanted noise and the effects of wear or damage. Clearly label the original recordings and the copies.
Throw out all damaged tapes after copying them. A damaged tape can damage your equipment and this can damage the rest of your tapes.
136 Electronic Information and Media
Storing and maintaining tapes so they will last
Heat and high humidity are the two greatest enemies of audio and video tapes in storage.
Ideally, store video tapes in an environment where temperature is constant and in the range 18-24°C and where relative humidity is constant and in the range 35-45%.
For more information
For more information about the steps you can take to control relative humidity and temperature, please see Damage and Decay.
Achieving these conditions can be difficult, but the following steps will protect your tapes, even when the conditions are not ideal.
Store tapes in an environment that is slightly cooler and drier than is comfortable for humans, in a clean atmosphere and in polythene bags.
Fast-forward and rewind the tapes before storage—
make sure that the tapes are correctly wound inside the cassette.
Protect tapes from rapid fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature.
Keep tapes out of direct sunlight and away from local heat sources.
Shelve tapes upright in sturdy shelves with dividing supports every 100mm-150mm. Vertical storage is preferred to horizontal storage, because storing the containers this way helps prevent damage to the edge of the tape.
If several containers are stacked horizontally on top of each other, the plastic cassettes can warp and the player may not accept the tape.
Play tapes to the end, leaving the tape wound smoothly, with only leader or unrecorded tape exposed.
Play tapes through every few years to check their condition and to minimise any tendency for layers to stick together or to print through magnetically.
For reel-to-reel tapes, the hubs used for storing tapes should be smooth and rigid; and tapes should have their ends fastened.
Label cassettes correctly.
Make sure the tape recorder or VCR works before you insert a tape.
CAUTION: Avoid storing your tapes:
• directly on concrete floors because they are
susceptible to spills and water damage, and high humidity;
• in attics or cellars where it is often very hot and the relative humidity is high;
• near bathrooms and laundries or other steamy, damp areas; and
• next to the VCR in an enclosed cabinet because it can get very hot.
Handling tapes to avoid damage
Audio recordings and video recordings need to be handled carefully, to avoid physical damage and contamination. Even when your hands appear clean, traces of sweat and oil are present, which can attract dust or promote mould growth when deposited on a recording.
Handle magnetic media carefully, avoiding skin contact with magnetic surfaces—handle the cassette only.
Prohibit eating, drinking and smoking in all areas where magnetic media are used or stored.
Carry reel-to-reel tapes by the hub or centre. Don’t carry your video camera or video tapes in a
bag with liquids or food that could damage the
If the materials are being used outside of the archive, library or museum, provide staff and users with specific instructions.
For more information
For more information on the adverse effects of dust and mould, please see Damage and Decay.
Looking after equipment
Clean and adjust all recording and playback equipment regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions, making sure that the recordings themselves are clean.
Electronic Information and Media 137
Clean heads and guides, rollers and other components in the tape path with a swab of isopropanol—rubbing alcohol.
Use cleaning tapes only as a last resort. Some types can cause premature head-wear or damage. Two types of cleaning tape are
available. It is preferable to use the wet type rather than the dry, abrasive type.
Copying audio and video recordings on tape is an essential routine aimed at:
• preventing damage to originals through handling and playing;
• providing security copies, in case the originals are damaged or stolen; and
• ensuring the permanent preservation of recordings as the original carriers deteriorate.
Transfer important recordings to the latest available mainstream technology every five years or so—one source states every two or three years—to check the playability of the recording and to make sure it can be played on easily available equipment.
Make one recording per tape. Choose good-quality, polyester-based, ferric oxide-coated, standard-play, magnetic tape. Record in analogue mode.
Develop a standard procedure and make a written record of each tape copied—so that all copies will have uniform and predictable characteristics.
Do not use spliced tapes.
Leave the first two metres of each copy tape blank.
Precede each audio recording on a copy tape with a spoken announcement, giving the reference of the original, the numerical reference of the copy and a brief description of the item.
If you have a problem related to the care of electronic media, contact a conservator. Conservators can offer advice and practical solutions.
For further reading
Preserving audio recordings
Brandis, Leanne 9 December 1993, Magnetic tape deterioration, Conservation DistList, URL http://www.palimpsest.stanford.edu/.
National Film & Sound Archive c 1990, How to care for your audio collection, National Film & Sound Archive, Canberra, Australia.
Nishimura, Douglas 13 December 1993, Magnetic tape deterioration, Conservation DistList, URL http://www.palimpsest.stanford.edu/
Stielow, Frederick J. 1986, The management of oral history sound archives, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.
Ward, Alan 1990, A manual of sound archive administration, Gower Press, Aldershot, UK and Brookfield, Vermont, U.S.A.
Smith, Leslie E. 1991, Factors governing the long- term stability of polyester-based recording media, Restaurator, Vol. 12 (4), Munkgaard International Publishers Ltd, Copenhagen, pp
Preserving video recordings
Association for Moving Image Archivists—AMIA-L List server. To subscribe send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following text as your message:
“subscribe AMIA-L first-name family-name”. For example: ‘subscribe AIMA-L Alan Howell’ Important: Do not put any other text in the subject or cc message boxes.
Bogart, John W. C. 1995, Magnetic tape storage and handling: a guide for archives and libraries, Washington, D.C.: Commission on Preservation and Access and St. Paul, MI: National Media Laboratory. All Commission on Preservation and Access
138 Electronic Information and Media
publications are available from the Commission at
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740, Washington, D.C.
20036-2217. Phone +1 202 939 3400, Fax +1 202 939 3407.
Botte, David 1992, A basic guide to colour TV and VCRs: An Electronics Australia publicati o,nFederal Publishing Company, Alexandria, NSW.
Boyle, Deirdre 1993, Video preservation: securing the future of the past, Media Alliance, New York.
Boyle, Deirdre 1996, Forgetting tomorrow: preserving the present and the past for the futur,e The Helix, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Vic, pp
National Film & Sound Archive c1990, How to care for your video s, National Film & Sound Archive, Canberra, Australia.
Saffady, William 1991, Stability, care and handling of microforms, magnetic media and optical disks, part two, magnetic media, Library Technology Report s, Vol 20 (1), American Library Association, Chicago.
Smith, Leslie E. 1991, Factors governing the long- term stability of polyester- based recording med,ia Restaurator, Vol 12, Munkgaard International Publishers, Copenhagen, pp 201–218.
Swartzburg, Susan G. 1995, Image and sound: the care and preservation of motion pictures, sound recordings and videotape, Preserving library materials: a manual, The Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, New Jersey & London.
Vidipax, the magnetic media restoration company World Wide Web home page and resources, URL http://www.panix.com/~vidipax/.
Waters, Edgar 1995, Guidelines for audio and audiovisual recording in the South Pacifi,cNational Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT.
Wheeler, Jim, 6 March 1996, The Current State of American Television and Video Preservati o,n Statement by Jim Wheeler before the Library of Congress Panel, Listserv AMIA-L@UKCC.uky.edu, Thu, 7 Mar 1996.
Preserving digital information
The Commission on Preservation and Access WWW home-page contains several reports on preserving digital information. Their URL is http://www- cpa.stanford.edu/cpa.html
Conservation Online WWW home-page http://www.palimpsest.stanford.edu/
Dollar, Charles 1994, Issues for archivists, records managers and IT managers: provenance, obsolescence, standards and preservation, A window to the future, School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London, London: International Study Centre for Records Management; Sydney, NSW: Educational Film Services Australia, pp 25–38.
Elkington, Nancy E., ed. 1994, Digital Imaging Technology for Preservatio n, Proceedings from an R.L.G. Symposium held March 1994, RLG, Cornell University, Ithica, New York.
Freedman, Alan 1994, The computer glossary: the complete illustrated dictionary, 7th ed., American Management Association, New York, N.Y.
Howell, Alan A workshop on the use of digital imaging technology for preservation and acces, s LASIE, vol. 27, no. 1, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, pp 26–41.
Kenney, Anne & Chapman, Stephen 1995, Digital resolution requirements for replacing text- based material: Methods for benchmarking image quali t,y tutorial, The Commission on Preservation an d Access, Washington D.C.
Mohlhenrich, Janice, ed. 1993, Preservation of electronic formats and electronic formats for preservatio n, Highsmith Press, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.
Nader, Jonar C. 1995, Prentice Hall’s illustrated dictionary of computing,2nd ed., Prentice Hall, Sydney, NSW.
Pilgrim, Aubrey 1995, Upgrade or repair your PC, McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y.
Robinson, Peter 1993, The digitization of primary textural sources, Office for Humanities Communication Publications Number 4, Office for Humanities Communication, Oxford.
Electronic Information and Media 139
Rothenberg, Jeff, 1995, Ensuring the longevity of digital documents, Scientific American, vol. 272, (1), Scientific American Inc., New York, pp 24–29.
Schuller Dietrich, Chairman 1995, Recommendations of the Memory of the World Programme International Advisory Committee, Sub- committee on Technology, UNESCO, Paris.
The Commission on Preservation and Access & the Research Libraries Group 1995, Preserving digital information, Draft report of the task force on archiving of digital information, Version 1.0. URL http://www.rlg.stanford.edu.
Which of the following issues must be taken into account when considering the preservation of electronic media?
a) The preservation of the actual item, that is, the CD-ROM or the audio tape versus the preservation of the information.
b) Recognising that electronic preservation
raises fundamentally different challenges than the problems encountered in preserving traditional-format materials such as paper
c) The fact that technological advances will make the media obsolete.
d) Binders and substrates are adversely affected by high humidity conditions.
e) All of the above.
Which of the following statements are true?
a) The life span of a recording is difficult to predict.
b) The potential lifespan is reduced considerably if recordings are not made, stored or used with preservation in mind.
c) Video and audio recordings are best kept in conditions of high humidity.
d) Gentle use re-tensions, but does not over- tension, tapes.
When making recordings with preservation in mind:
a) use whatever tapes you can, to ensure that costs are kept low;
b) make two copies on tapes drawn from
different manufacturing batches for important recordings;
c) comply fully with specifications established by the manufacturer on which the media will be recorded or played;
d) use new tape.
Which of the following statements are false?
a) Heat and high humidity are the two greatest enemies of audio tapes and video tapes.
b) The recommended storage conditions for
video tapes are: temperature in the range 24-
28°C and relative humidity in the range 35-
c) It is recommended that you fast-forward and rewind the tapes before storage, ensuring that the tape is correctly wound inside the cassette.
d) Vertical storage is preferred to horizontal storage, because storing the containers this way helps prevent damage to the edge of the tape.
140 Electronic Information and Media
Answer: a), b) and d) are true. c) is not true. In extreme humidity the lifespan of recordings is reduced significantly—deterioration can occur in a few years.
Answer: b), c) and d) are correct. a) is wrong. You should use the highest—quality recording media that you can afford.
Answer: b) is false The recommended storage conditions for video tapes are temperature in the range 18–24°C and relative humidity constant and in the range 35–45%RH.
Electronic Information and Media 141
Collection Management and Conservation Working Party of the Heritage Collections Council
Margaret Anderson (Chair) Ian Cook (Deputy Chair) Karen Coote
Jan Lyall Chris Tassell Ian MacLeod Phil Gordon
Robyn Sloggett John Stanton Viv Szekeres
Karen Coote James Dexter Keith Fernandez David Gilroy Rosie Freemantle Ian Godfrey Alan Howell Vicki Humphrey
Georgia Koronis Tamara Lavrencic
Ian MacLeod Joy Noble
Sarah-Jane Rennie Marion Roubos-Bennet
Robyn Sloggett Michell Smith Geoff Speirs Greg Wallace Helen Weidenhofer Margie West
Phil Alderslade Marie Boland Peter Cahalan Glenn Cole Sarah Feijen Fred Francisco
Helen Halley Charlotte Jenkin Gillian Leahy Sophie Lussier Holly McGowan-Jackson Elizabeth Murphy Kristin Phillips Alex Roach Jennifer Ross Sue Valis
Kimba and Gawler Ranges Historical Society
National Motor Museum
South Australian Telstra Historical Collection
Stuart Anderson Simone Cordeauz Sandra Flischer Michelle Koford Jacki Kossatz Linda Marlin Simon Prince Carly Romiero Slade Smith Robyn Thomas
Di Virgil Guthrie Watson
Prototype Development Consortium
Conservation Training Australia
History Trust of South Australia
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
State Library of New South Wales
University of Melbourne Conservation Service
Western Australian Museum
Project Manager: Keith Fernandez
Technical Editor: Vicki Humphrey
Field Trial Participants
Bob Alford Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna
Denise Davis Luan Dunaan Christine Ewings Jude Fraser Ann Gibson Ken Hodge
Jean Johnson Narayan Khadekar
Lindsay Knowles Heather Kriesl
Nicole Livermore Zoe McKenzie-Smith
John Reid Pauline Ross
Sunshine and District Historical Society