Monday, September 18, 2006

Maryland's "Birds of America" Prints Conserved

As part of a larger preservation project, the Birds of America prints belonging to the Maryland State Law Library have recently undergone conservation treatment, the Baltimore Sun reports. The overall project ran to $854,000, of which $300,000 was used for Audubon's birds. Other aspects included an "overhaul of the rare book room and the addition of a new display case, which are to be unveiled midweek."

The work on the library's prints was done at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, with the last batch of birds due to be returned to the library by the end of the year. This set, according to conservators, had "a hard life" - the prints were glued to fabric, severely trimmed for rebinding in 1921 (which included cutting off the names at the bottom of the prints). "Fingerprints, smudges, wrinkles, blotches, rubbed-off color, tears, even drips from beverages marred the pages." Yikes!

"Conservation efforts began with unbinding the prints from four books. It included cleaning pages with specialized solutions, bleaching the stains, flattening the paper, mending tears, painting the cracks and placing the prints in thick mats. Discolorations and creases remain, but they are less noticeable than before." A new display case will highlight two prints at a time, to be rotated each week.

During the conservation, five of the 435 plates were found to be missing, their fate unknown.

The article adds that the first librarian at the library (which was formed originally as "
a repository for official, valuable and reference material for Maryland"), David Ridgely, subscribed to Audubon's work as it was being released. The total cost of the set then would have been around $1,000.

According to the paper, the first two birds to be displayed in the new cases will be of special significance to Maryland: the Baltimore oriole and the raven.

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