Caring For Art & Antiquities
Antiquities by defininition have been around much longer than those of us who are currently priviledged to own them. This however does not mean they are not subject to various types of damage. They can in fact be quite fragile. Here we provide some basic guidelines for the care of antiquities and other art objects. We all have a responsibility to preserve these precious pieces of human history. With proper care they should still be around far into the future providing wonder, joy and knowledge of our past to those who come after.
Most antiquities which have survived to the present have done so in fairly stable and benevolent environments. The basic rule for care is to provide a stable and protected environment against the factors which may cause damage. The major factors which can lead to damage are temperature changes, humidity changes, strong light (especially direct sunlight), chemical exposure, and physical stresses.
STORAGE: For most situations a glass enclosed display cabinet out of direct sunlight will provide a great deal of protection tending to minimize sudden temperature and humidity changes. Cabinet lights should not be left on. We also suggest that display cabinets should be kept locked to avoid accidental damage by children and curious visitors. Smaller objects may be kept in smaller containers such as plastic boxes or glass front cases with proper padding. If objects must be kept in the open make sure they are where children and pets cannot accidentally damage them.
HANDLING: Always hold or carry an antiquity with both hands, one hand under the object supporting its weight, the other firmly gripping the body of the piece for stability. Never pick up an object by the handle or the rim. Examine fragile objects low over cushioned surfaces.
CLEANING: For household dust, the best strategy is not to let it accumulate in the first place. Again a display cabinet or other enclosed space will keep dust and dirt to a minimum. It is recommended that any dust be removed gently with a feather duster while supporting (not lifting) the object with the other hand. Vacuum cleaners should never be used. Examine objects for cracks, repairs, fragile surfaces or other weaknesses before handling, then handle in a way that minimizes stress on the weakness.
PROTECTION FROM EXPOSURE TO CHEMICAL FUMES: The level of damaging chemical fumes in the air and in the typical home can be significant. Storage and display cases provide some protection but their materials should also be chosen to minimize emission of fumes which may be trapped inside the case. A general though not infallible rule is the stronger it smells, the more likehood of damage. Household cleaners and other household chemicals can release high concentrations of chlorine, ammonia, and other damaging fumes. Minimize exposure by opening windows and keeping display cases closed when using.
STRONG LIGHT CAN DAMAGE ART
Light is obviously necessary to view art but at the same time can damage many of the materials found in paintings and works of art on paper. Light can fade pigments and cause paper and textiles to become brittle.
Light levels in museums are controlled to minimize the deterioration that light causes. In our homes, however, light levels are generally much higher than in museums. Light levels are measured in lux. Recommended levels in museums are 50 lux for works of art on paper and 150 lux for paintings. A work of art hanging in your home in direct sunlight could typically be subject to 10,000 lux - 200 times the recommended level.
In addition to keeping the light levels low in a museum, we also eliminate the ultraviolet (UV) portion from any light source. We have all become aware in recent years of the potential damage to our skin from high levels of UV in sunlight. The UV portion of the spectrum is also the most damaging to works of art. Fortunately it is not part of visible light and is easily removed.
When hanging works of art in your home, there are many things that you can do to minimize the damage caused by light.
1. Fit windows with blinds or curtains that are kept closed when the room is not in use.
2. Locate your pictures so that they will not be exposed to direct light. For instance, the wall opposite a window will get direct light, while the wall beside a window will not.
3. Do not use 'picture lights' designed to attach to frames. In addition to over-lighting, these cause local heating that is also damaging to works of art.
4. Use incandescent light, which has no UV component, to light works of art. Select low wattage bulbs and use a dimmer switch to set the lighting at the minimum level, which allows you viewing comfort.
5. If fluorescent lights are used, UV filtering should be incorporated either as sleeves or lenses over the source of the light, or by using UV absorbing Plexiglas to glaze the works.
6. Works of art on paper with colored media (i.e. watercolor) and poor quality paper such as newsprint are particularly vulnerable and quickly damaged and should not be displayed on a permanent basis.