Personal Effects, April 14

Published 6:40 am Saturday, April 14, 2018

Question: Dear Mr. Sampson, I’m sending you this email to see if you can help me understand something. My children and I are downsizing my home after my wife died three years ago. I just don’t want this much house to take care of anymore.
My wife and I collected Paul Sawyier prints since the 1980s. We always looked forward to buying a new print and having it mated and framed and on display in our home. I swear we never noticed any changes. 
I noticed a few months ago in my doctor’s office that he had the same print I did. But it was colored and bright. My print the greens are yellow and the blues are gray. We always spent a lot to have these framed. One so they would be attractive and two to protect our investment. We never had them in strong sunlight.
What happened and is there anything I can do? I trust your judgment and enjoy your articles.
Answer: Let there be light! Holy light. Good, yellow ball up in the sky light, not so good. Light can be one of the most destructive elements to affect works on paper. Even if you didn’t hang art in full sunlight, it still finds its way to it.
I suspect that you have more light on them than you think you do. Light will attack just about anything, furniture finishes and wood, rugs and textiles, all paper items and even plastic.
There are a couple of things at work here. Let’s tackle this one first. Paper. Today, things are better in the world of paper. Not perfect but better. Without spending a long time in trying to explain, most mass produced art works, printed on paper, are not museum quality. This was especially evident in the 1970s through most of the 90s. Let’s just say it— the paper may have been pretty and white or with fancy stamps and such, but it was cheap.
Hundreds of years ago, paper was made from fiber, mostly linen and cotton fibers and it lasted and will continue to last. About the 1890s or so, they began to use wood pulp for paper material. It was cheap, readily available and the labor cost was much lower.Wood contains acids that over time discolor and cause the paper to break down.
Now, your Sawyiers aren’t that bad, but I promise, there is some acid in the paper and that’s one of the reasons you have discolored paper.
Today, we are much more sensitive to the affects of acid. You’ll see things like 100 percent rag content, museum / archival quality or 100 percent acid free on many paper products today.
The second thing we need to tackle is framing. Much like cheap paper, if your framing supplies aren’t up to snuff, they can and will effect the very paper you’re trying to protect. Even the expensive frame shops years ago used cardboard, acidic tape and non archival matts to mount items. In addition, cheap glass offers no UV protection from light.
So I’m sorry to say, you’ve been hit with a trifecta of when bad things happen to framed modern prints. Result? There is not a thing you can do with faded, acid damaged prints. It’s too costly to have the acid removed from mass produced things. Faded items are just that — faded, forever.
If it’s any consolation at all, your prints weren’t of great value, even if they hadn’t been damaged. You can live with them as they are or just give them away. I’m sorry for the bad news but I thank you for a great question.

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