Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conservation in the Archive

Four extraordinary landscape architecture drawings were recently donated to the Drawings and Documents Archive’s Indianapolis Parks Collection. The drawings depict Garfield Park Conservatory, a design for an outdoor amphitheater, and Holiday Park; all located in Indianapolis. Each of the drawings are full-color pencil drawings on paper, dating from the 1940s to 1950s. Much of the Indianapolis Parks Collection contains architectural drawings and mechanical information for structures in the park, so these elegantly rendered landscapes and planting drawings are a welcome addition to the collection.

Unfortunately, they were previously housed in a mechanical warehouse with engines and exposed to decades of soot and dirt, and thus came to the Archive covered in a layer of grime that obscured their beautiful colors, subtle details, and handwritten planting notes. The first pair of white, cotton gloves used to move the items to the Archive were quickly blackened from the soot covering nearly every inch of the items.

In order to be placed within the collection and enable researchers to utilize the information contained in the drawings, they required careful cleaning to remove the layer of grime that obscured them, without removing the image itself.

This image of the Garfield Park Conservatory drawing was taken with the cleaning was nearly complete. You can see, on the left side, the extent to which it was darkened.


  1. Exactly how do you clean something like this? Do you use any chemicals or tools? Is it fun or tedious?

  2. These drawings were cleaned using very small particles of shredded Staedler Mars plastic erasers, which is then moved over the surface lightly with a soft brush. The uppermost layer of grime adheres to the erasers and is swept away. Of course, care is taken to ensure no color or information from the drawing is touched. Absolutely no chemicals were used. The only tools were a conservator's spatula to carefully remove acidic tape from the corners and the brush to move the eraser particles.

    The Garfield Park drawing took approximately five hours to clean. And yes, it is fun AND tedious work. One must be in the appropriate mindset to work on something like this. The final result--protecting the history of our built environment--is worth it.