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Conservation Notes: Piecing together the past

November 25th, 2014

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Picture this: you’re in your grandfather’s ancestral home. Under a stack of dusty photo albums you discover a small book-like box with a tiny metal clasp. You open it and find a photograph of a man with familiar features sitting stiffly before a painted landscape. It dawns upon you that it must be some distant relative, perhaps your great, great grandfather. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the image is in fact printed on a sheet of glass and that glass is cracked in two. What do you do?

As the AGO’s conservator of photographs, I’ve spent the past 10 years facing very similar situations. I have conducted research and taught workshops on a much neglected part of photography: the conservation of photographs on glass. This includes ambrotypes, opaltypes, wet plate Collodion, gelatine silver on glass and a host of other processes, many of which are represented in the AGO’s photography collection.
One of the pressing concerns in photograph conservation is how to deal with broken photographs on glass. Should they be repaired? Can they be repaired? In trying to answer these questions, a conservator must consider a host of factors, including: when the photograph was produced, the nature of the glass used, what photographic process was used and the value (monetary, sentimental or cultural) of the piece.

Imagine you needed to repair a sheet of glass that had broken in two. The logical way to do it would be to lay the two fragments on a flat surface, butt them against each other and glue their edges. However, it’s often not that simple.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Due to the glass-making processes prior to 1950, the sheets of glass used in photographic processes were not truly flat. This “non-planar” glass poses problems for conservators. Figure 1 is a comparison of modern glass, on the left, and pre-1950 historic glass, on the right. A bank of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights is reflected in their surfaces. The reflection on the modern glass is undistorted because the glass is flat and the reflection on the historic glass is distorted because the glass is slightly wavy. You may have seen windows of old houses that look wavy and noticed how distorted any reflections look; that effect occurs because the glass is non-planar (Figure 2). This poses problems when repairing broken photographs on glass because when laid flat, the shards cannot be aligned properly. With this in mind, an innovative solution had to be found to accomplish the reassembly of broken historic photographs. The whole point of most photographs is to be decipherable, and if a photograph on glass is not in one piece, it loses its meaning and its full impact on the viewer.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

The solution I determined, in association with the George Eastman House and the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, is an adaptation of a method created by Stephen Koob of the Corning Museum. It is the “vertical assembly” method, wherein the broken photograph on glass is assembled vertically, rather than horizontally. In this method, it is essential that the main shard is positioned perfectly aligned with gravity (Figure 3). Because glass is so brittle, it breaks very sharply. This results in a clean break, a shattering effect or a combination of the two. Vertical alignment ensures that the constant of gravity will pull the shards into position. This method of shard assembly is a completely new concept in photograph conservation.

There are many nuances to the repair of broken historic photographs on glass, and it takes a lot of experience and practice to master. If you have a broken photograph on glass it is best to contact the AGO conservation department for a referral to a conservator.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Take Our #KidstoWork Day: An exhibition of AGO careers

November 10th, 2014

By Brittany Reynolds, assistant, Recruitment, Training and Volunteer Programs

On Nov. 5, 2014, eight of our employees’ Grade 9 relatives joined us for the day and had the chance to see the variety of career opportunities here at the AGO.

The day kicked off with a tour of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2014 Exhibition by project assistant Danielle St-Amour, where the students learned more about different styles of photography and the importance of the Prize at the AGO.

Then they met with marketing manager Angela Olano to discuss more about promoting AGO exhibitions, and they were tasked with creating a plan to advertise the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize to their high school peers.

To end the morning, executive sous chef Renee Bellefeuille taught the students how to prepare profiteroles to make their very own chocolate éclairs. Students also had the chance to create their own menu that would include a starter and main course before their chocolate éclair dessert.

The afternoon’s activities included a vault tour by registrar Cindy Brouse and a tour of the conservation lab by sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis.

Last but certainly not least, the manager of our artist-in-residence and adult programs, Paola Poletto, spoke to students about the upcoming Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition and the group brainstormed what types of youth programs would be appealing to students in their high schools.

Thank you to all who participated in the AGO’s Take Our Kids to Work Program! This year marked the 20th anniversary of the program, which was started by The Learning Partnership in 1994 and gives Grade 9 students a headstart on their future by helping them explore career options and connecting them directly with the world of work.

Search the hashtag #KidsToWork on Twitter and Instagram to see what happened at other workplaces this year.

Howard and Cindy Rachofsky: Collecting art, building a community, leaving a legacy

October 29th, 2014

How do you build community through art collecting? Ask Howard and Cindy Rachofsky. Together they have helped make Dallas a major centre for contemporary art, architecture and philanthropy. As the powerful agents behind the revitalization of the Dallas Museum of Art in 2012, the Rachofskys co-founded The Warehouse, turning what had been an abandoned industrial building into a world class art centre, complete with classrooms, a library and over 18,000 square feet of exhibition space. Over the years, their Richard Meier–designed home has become a community hub and a venue that embraces and promotes contemporary art throughout the city. It is also where the Rachofskys annually host TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art, an event that has raised more than $45 million for AIDS research and for contemporary art acquisitions at the Dallas Museum of Art. In the video above, they discuss their approach to collecting and their contributions to the DMA. Says Howard: “In making the gift, along with our friends, to the museum, gave us the additional responsibility of being curatorially smart and trying, while developing our own collection and responsibilities, recognizing that there are works of art that will ultimately be in a wonderful public institution and that will be in the company of other works in the museum. And therefore it’s the goal to make the museum’s collection as good as it can possibly be and as informative as it can be.”

On Nov. 6, the Rachofksys will share their passion for art and discuss the intersections between collecting, philanthropy and civic change in a Brown Bag Lunch & Talk at the AGO. Tickets are on sale now.

Join us for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner announcement

October 27th, 2014

The crowd at last year's Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner announcement, Nov. 7, 2013.

The crowd at last year’s Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner announcement, Nov. 7, 2013.

This Wednesday, October 29, join the AGO, Aimia, the Walrus Foundation and host Garvia Bailey for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner announcement. The public voting period, which began in August, ends at 11:59 p.m. tonight, and one of the Prize’s four shortlisted artists will be awarded $50,000 at the private event. Watch the livestream starting at 7 p.m. watch the livestream on the Aimia | Photography Prize homepage or The Walrus‘s website.

And, if you haven’t yet, cast your vote!


Image via Twitter.

Image via Twitter.


About Garvia Bailey
Garvia Bailey has been a broadcast journalist for more than 10 years and currently hosts Good Morning Toronto on JAZZ.FM91. She spent 10 years with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She got her start in the world of independent film with the start up production company Channel Zero – telling stories of social unrest around the world and with the CBC, she served as the host of Canada Live and Radio 2 Top 20 on CBC Radio 2, Backstage Pass on CBC-TV, Big City Small World and was a contributor at cbcmusic.ca. Throughout her career in broadcasting she has turned the spotlight on emerging talent from across the GTA and has interviewed many celebrated international artists including Jimmy Cliff, Maestro Fresh Wes, Russell Peters, Melanie Fiona and M.I.A.

Follow Garvia on Twitter

Conservation Notes: A return to Betty Goodwin’s studio

October 27th, 2014


This is the third post in a series on the preservation and storage of Betty Goodwin’s notebooks. See the previous posts here and here.


Marianne Williams, Digital Special Collections Assistant in the AGO Library and Archives, has finished her project of creating new preservation enclosures for the 121 sketchbooks and notebooks from the late Montreal-based artist Betty Goodwin. Read the rest of this entry »

Art on wheels: Meet the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Art Truck

September 25th, 2014

For the first time, the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is bringing its talented finalists to the streets. The travelling Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Art Truck will feature video footage of the four shortlisted artists discussing their practices, offering a glimpse into their artwork and allowing visitors an opportunity to vote for who should win the $50,000 prize. Track the location of the Art Truck using the hashtag #ArtIsMoving or follow the Prize on Twitter @AimiaAGOPrize.

The Art Truck arrives in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2014, making its first stop at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Front Street East and continues onto a number of locations across the city.

The Art Truck was created to break the Prize out of gallery walls and making it accessible by all who walk by. Voters will have the opportunity to win an expenses-paid trip to Toronto, a private tour with an AGO curator, dinner for two at the AGO’s FRANK restaurant, tickets to the exclusive winner announcement and 15,000 Aeroplan® Miles.

Making appearances at several key locations and festivals across Toronto, the Art Truck can be found at:

The Prize, co-presented by Aimia and the AGO, will award each of the four artists a six-week artist residency in Canada and will feature their work in an AGO exhibition, on now through Jan. 4, 2015. The winner will be chosen by public vote via the Prize’s website and Facebook page until Oct. 27, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be announced on Oct. 29, 2014, at the AGO, and the Art Truck offers a unique way of voting by using iPads, so that all visitors to the truck can have their say.

The 2014 finalists are:

  • David Hartt (Canada);
  • Elad Lassry (Israel/USA);
  • Nandipha Mntambo (South Africa); and
  • Lisa Oppenheim (USA).

Search for #ArtIsMoving on Twitter to follow the Art Truck around town. For updates on the Prize, further details on the shortlisted artists and additional information, please visit AimiaAGOPhotographyPrize.com and follow @AimiaAGOPrize on Twitter.

#AGOfieldtrip: Pascal Paquette’s Instagram tour of new Toronto street art

September 16th, 2014

We handed over our Instagram account to Toronto artist Pascal Paquette last week, and from Sept. 10 to 13 he travelled around Toronto’s street and alleys capturing new street art and graffiti work, both commissioned and sanctioned, along with classic works from recent years. The 15 photos he shared with our followers are evidence of Toronto’s thriving street art community, which provides fertile ground for Toronto talent and attracts accomplished artists from around the world. Many thanks to Pascal for the tour and to all the artists who’ve brightened our city’s streets with these projects.

About
Pascal Paquette is primarily a fine art painter, and also uses street art, graffiti and photography in his site-specific projects. His art has been exhibited, commissioned and published internationally and locally, notably at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) and the AGO in 2012, when he and Sean Martindale presented their collaborative installation NOW. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and posts to Instagram at @pascalpaquette.

Instagram takeover: Pascal Paquette presents new Toronto street art

September 8th, 2014

Chou (aka Pascal Paquette) on Camden Street, Toronto.

Chou (aka Pascal Paquette) on Camden Street, Toronto.

Toronto artist Pascal Paquette is taking over our Instagram account from Sept. 10 to 13. He’ll be roaming Toronto streets to post pics of street art and graffiti, both commissioned and sanctioned works produced mainly this summer, along with classic works from recent years. Follow @agotoronto and #agofieldtrip to see the photos, then find the geo-mapped locations and experience the pieces in person.

About
Pascal Paquette is primarily a fine art painter, and also uses street art, graffiti and photography in his site-specific projects. His art has been exhibited, commissioned and published internationally and locally, notably at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) and the AGO in 2012, when he and Sean Martindale presented their collaborative installation NOW. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and posts to Instagram at @pascalpaquette.

This month in Prints and Drawings: a Date with Italian master drawings

September 8th, 2014

Francesco Salviati, Lamentation over the dead Christ, c. 1540, brown ink and wash, over traces of black chalk, heightened with white gouache on laid paper, 24.1 x 16.1 cm. Purchase, 1981. Art Gallery of Ontario.

Francesco Salviati, Lamentation over the dead Christ, c. 1540, brown ink and wash, over traces of black chalk, heightened with white gouache on laid paper, 24.1 x 16.1 cm. Purchase, 1981. Art Gallery of Ontario.

For the month of September, as part of its monthly Date with [Art] series, Prints and Drawings is offering visitors a closer look at Italian master drawings, in anticipation of the exhibition Michelangelo: Quest for Genius, opening Oct. 18, 2014.

Each Wednesday throughout the month, stop by the Marvin Gelber Print & Drawing Study Centre for the Open Door program, running from 1 to 8 p.m. Enjoy tours of the Study Centre and see original works by Italian masters. Before 4:30 p.m., you can even ask staff members to bring specific works out from storage for viewing. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: What’s (literally) behind Belle Époque posters’ longevity

September 3rd, 2014

Théophile Steinlen, Tournée du Chat Noir, 1896. Colour lithograph, sheet: 142 × 98.1 cm (55 7/8 × 38 5/8 in.). Gift from the Donald R. Muller/ Ross R. Scott. Collection through the American Friends of the Art Gallery of Ontario Inc., 2013. © 2014 Art Gallery of Ontario

Théophile Steinlen, Tournée du Chat Noir, 1896. Colour lithograph, sheet: 142 × 98.1 cm (55 7/8 × 38 5/8 in.). Gift from the Donald R. Muller/ Ross R. Scott. Collection through the American Friends of the Art Gallery of Ontario Inc., 2013. © 2014 Art Gallery of Ontario

In a post earlier this year we introduced you to Tessa Thomas, Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Paper Conservation at the AGO. Tessa is currently completing research and treatments on a group of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec posters from the Ross R. Scott and Donald R. Muller Collection. Here is Tessa’s latest update on the progress of the project: Read the rest of this entry »