A short video, a new app and some good advice
When treasured family history documents, photos, heirlooms, memorabilia etc are wet, in some way or another, priorities need to kick in. But what makes an item valuable enough to rescue?
Remember that value is more than just financial. “Don’t save that stupid thing of your mother’s” may indeed be the most important thing you have to pass down to children, has extreme value emotionally and for story-telling value. Add to your story of saving it from the flood and you will really make it an important item for future generations!
“The affection people feel for the art objects they own can be intense, and seeing those objects hurt or destroyed can be intensely traumatic. Take a step back, breathe, and assess yourself,” said Kala Harinarayanan, Director of Environmental Health and Safety at the American Museum of Natural History, speaking at the Consortium on Recovery of Works of Art Damaged by Flooding. It wasn’t too surprising that a conference held at the Museum of Modern Art on how to deal with damaged artwork in the wake of hurricanes and winter storms, at times, felt like a group-therapy session.
At the same conference, renown industrial hygienist Monona Russol reminded people, “Among the most common and pernicious effects of flooding is mold. She pulled up a slide of a wooden sculpture covered in white mold—a victim of Hurricane Katrina. “One problem with mold, she said, is that it can take months to manifest itself. You might think you’ve dodged a bullet,” she said, “but you’ll have problems later on, especially in summer.”
Jim Coddington, a MoMA conservator, had been orbiting the scene like a priest at a church shelter.
“It’s true, some things may be lost,” he said. “But don’t make that assumption until you’ve been able to step back and get some expert eyes on it.”
There’s two (or maybe 3) parts to protecting and saving water damaged keepsakes: 1. Emergency actions and 2. Longer term preservation… and if you want, you can add a third step – restoration. Getting professional help may be your salvation.
For emergency response and saving of “valuable” items that make up your family’s heritage, this app may be useful:
Emergency Response and Salvage Mobile App, is a handy mobile tool (which doesn’t work on a MAC) created by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Although designed for museum professionals, the free app offers useful information for anyone dealing with water damage.
To help keep precious items safe from the storm, here are some tips from experts:
- The Most Important Things First
- People and pets are most important. Helping others is good for your soul.
- Protect your property/home, equipment etc
- First thing – Get Organized
- Make sure the gas and electricity are turned off and that the area is cleared for re-entry before you begin to assess damage.
- A little extra planning at the beginning will go a long way—especially for insurance purposes. Document the situation as you go: Take pictures and keep notes for reference.
- Cool and dry spaces are the best spots to examine objects. If you can, keep air circulating with fans.
- A mixture of seven parts alcohol and one part water is effective for mold prevention, Steve Pine, a conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. But be mindful: Flood water can contain hazardous materials, so wear safety masks and gloves before handling anything that has been submerged.
- Take Extra Care with Framed Paintings and Works on Paper
- Be careful with old frames. If they are wet, they will fall apart in your hands. It will cost $1,000’s to repair or replace.
- Handling artwork on canvas can be very tricky especially is flaking paint is visible. BE CAREFUL. In the blink of an eye you can ruin the value, increase the repair costs by $1,000 or turn it to trash. See the video below!
- Immediately take the work out of the frame, but do not separate paintings from their stretchers.
- Keep wet paintings horizontal, with the paint-side up, preferably elevated. Keep them out of heat or sunlight.
- If the work is stuck to the glass of the frame, do not try to peel it apart. Leave it in the frame to dry with the glass side down.
- Soggy Photos? Do Not Despair
- Wet photographs that are stuck together should be immersed in clean water and swished around until they come apart. Then, lay them out to dry.
- If the photographs are damp or partially wet, experts have a secret weapon to salvage them: the freezer. Interleave the photos with wax paper, place them in resealable bags, and freeze them until you can spread them out to thaw and dry. Textiles can also be frozen after being briefly submerged in clean water.
- The air-dry technique is another tried-and-true method favored by museum conservators. Place an absorbent material (such as un-inked newsprint, paper towels, or blotters) underneath wet objects. Then, lay them out in a cool, dry space stocked with fans. Do not hang wet items, as they will be unlikely to remain intact.
- Freeze Your Wet Books, Too
- If you have more than one book stuck together, rinse off any grime while the books remain closed. Then, pack them spine down in a re-sealable bag or sturdy container and put them in the freezer.
- Individual books can be air-dried, standing upright.
Scott M. Haskins, Virginia Panizzon, Oriana Montemurro, Painting Conservators
805 564 3438