Conservation Examination and Treatment of the Mary Huntoon Collection – An Overview

In 2019, the Spencer Research Library and Spencer Museum of Art prioritized the combined collection of works on paper by Mary Huntoon for a condition survey. A conservator examined and documented the current physical condition of each work and proposed any necessary treatments. 

Based on the survey, around 30% of the collection necessitated conservation intervention. The resulting treatments primarily involved removing tape and brush-applied adhesives that were accelerating degradation and causing substantial staining to the paper. Other treatments included the repair of minor to moderate tears and removing discoloration by washing the prints.  

Treatment priorities were determined by consensus among curatorial and conservation staff at both the libraries and museum. Each work was photographed before and after treatment, and an accompanying written report outlined the treatment steps and materials used. All examinations and treatments completed by conservation professionals are saved as permanent records for the object or collection and are available for access and research in the future. 



Conservation Treatment Technique: Gel Poulticing 

Pressure-sensitive tape adhesives, specifically the sticky portion applied to the tape carrier, can sink into the paper support over time and cause staining and weakening of the paper fibers. In order to safely remove the adhesive without disrupting the integrity of the paper, a rigid gel, cast, cut, and infused with solvent, is shaped and placed over the adhesive to remove it.

Pictured: In the Mottl Pension, Prague, 1933.



Conservation Treatment Technique: Stain Removal Under Suction

Stains and adhesives can be removed by sending solvents through the paper support on a device called a suction table. Suction tables are vacuums that pull air through a mesh screen surface. In this image, the print was placed on the thin, white sheet of 100% cotton paper, called blotter. The stained area was isolated with sheets of polyester, the transparent reflective material pictured on top of the print. A small brush delivered the solvents directly into the stain to solubilize it and the vacuum action helped pull the solubilized stain products and residual solvents onto the blotter below. 

Pictured: Approach, 1937, Spencer Museum of Art.   



Conservation Treatment Technique: Tape Removal

Tapes are often used with the best intentions - to keep the object together! Unfortunately, all tapes age poorly over time. Pictured here is a letter written in 1926 from printmaker Stanley William Hayter to Mary Huntoon discussing printmaking techniques. The tape used to mend this very thin paper is discolored and makes reading the text difficult. Using tweezers enabled careful removal of the discolored tape carrier, but the adhesive embedded in the paper support remained because the pen ink and paper are too sensitive to use any solvents to remove it. The final step involved securing the tears with a transparent mending paper with good aging characteristics so that future researchers can continue to use and read the document. 

Pictured: Letter from Stanley William Hayter to Mary Huntoon, Spencer Research Library.




Conservation Treatment Technique: Overall Washing

Long-term light exposure and acidic housing materials are some of the factors that can cause a work on paper to discolor over time. With ample testing of both the paper and the media, sometimes this discoloration can be safely washed out of the paper and improve the longevity of the work. A common washing technique involves humidifying the sheet and then immersing it in a shallow tray filled with pH adjusted deionized water. Alkaline solutions are added to the water to increase the pH which helps to remove acidic degradation products in the paper.   

Pictured: [left] 10th Street, Kansas City, 1929, Spencer Research Library; [right] 8th Street, Kansas City, MO, 1929, Spencer Research Library.