Disneyana Fan Club Convention Flashback — Conserving Animation Art

This year’s Disneyana Fan Club DisneyanaMania Convention is now less than a week away, so today I’m excerpting parts of one of my favorite convention presentations.  In 2006, Ron Stark of S/R Labs explained how to preserve and restore valuable collectibles, information that is always timely.  For more information about this year’s convention, visit http://www.disneyanafanclub.org/content/disneyanamania-2016-wednesday-july-13-through-saturday-july-16-2016

This was originally published on July 9, 2009 at LaughingPlace.comhttp://www.laughingplace.com/News-ID512800.asp and was reproduced in the Disneyana Dispatch Newsletter’s Special Convention Preview Issue 2013


But What About Collecting?

It’s always fun to discuss the glamour topics – voice-acting, Imagineering, animation, etc.  But first and foremost we are collectors, whether our individual tastes run to figurines, pins, animation art, or simply memories.  So let’s talk about collecting.

One of the most informative (and entertaining) collecting programs I’ve ever heard was presented by Ron Stark, Director of S/R Laboratories, at the 2006 NFFC [now Disneyana Fan Club] Convention.  S/R Labs is a multi-faceted company, conducting periodic auctions of animation art, providing appraisals, maintaining a custom-framing shop, and owning the venerable Courvoisier Galleries – which was the first to market Disney animation art beginning in 1938.  But the company is best known for its Animation Art Conservation Center (S/R actually stands for “Search/Rescue”), which provides conservation, restoration (including three-dimensional and photographic items) and consulting services.  How the Conservation Center was developed is a story in itself.  For now, let’s just say that as a close personal friend of Mickey Mouse, Ron delights in not only helping collectors but occasionally surprising them as well.

On this occasion, Ron’s presentation was intended as a cautionary tale; he discussed some of the maintenance and conservation aspects that are crucial to art collections, interspersed with horror stories about what not to do.

What are the two most dangerous threats to your art, especially animation art?  Many would say light and heat.  But Ron knows they are actually neglect and trauma.  See what you think as we discuss some basic care precautions and what can go wrong.

S/R Labs provides many different kinds of restoration services.  But since they are most famous for animation art, let’s begin by discussing cels.  Of course cels do age.  Unfortunately, they can reach a point of no return; that’s called “cel necrosis” – cel death.  A cel is a piece of art where the support is in the center.  It’s a sandwich; the ink is on one side, the paint is on the other.  When the support dies, the art dies, so the cel must be kept alive.  That’s the key to conservation – the cel itself.  Interestingly enough, cels age at different rates because they are each made slightly differently, one from another, and may have been made by different manufacturers.  Even cels from the same scene can age at different rates.  When cels are piled one on top of another, there’s an absence of air as they release gaseous stuff [technical term].   Cels do off-gas, which in the case of the old-style cels – the nitrocellulose cels – it’s nitric acid and other chemicals; in the case of acetate cels, the newer stuff, that’s acetic acid.  If you smell vinegar, that’s acetic acid, and that’s when you need to have your cel cleaned.  Send your cels to be cleaned professionally every three to five years so all the oxides and acetic acid that “grow” on the surface can be removed.  Also, cels age from the center out.  Don’t ask why, they just do.  They embrittle at the center and the resulting effect is a pulling like taffy.

At what point do you give up the restoration?   Ron flatly states “We never give up.”  But there does come a time when any collectible will reach a certain age and condition where restoration is no longer possible.

How do you clean your artwork?  You’d be amazed at how simple everything looks.  But it’s not simple at all.  “There is a chemological balance to each piece of art that is unique to that art.  It is in balance; the art is in equilibrium.  And it needs certain things that the collector can’t recognize,” Ron explained.

For example, Ron is occasionally asked “Can’t I just pour some bleach on my drawing?”  Think about it: bleach is sodium hypochloride, and it goes to work in a matter of milliseconds.  And once you start a chemical reaction, how do you stop it?  It’s simple: you can’t.  Once begun, any chemical reaction must reach its logical conclusion.  That’s why your doctor is so careful.

This also means that knowledge from one environment cannot automatically be transferred to another environment, e.g. you just don’t take bath soap and wash off your Disneyana collection.  So many items are made with different kinds of inks and dyes and all kinds of things, even toys.

For 3-D conservation, you’d be amazed at how many people send in a Mickey doll or a Winnie the Pooh and they say “You know, it’s a funny thing, but I was using Formula “409”® household cleaner and his eyes disappeared.”  Ron warns, “That stuff on old dolls and figurines is not meant to last decades and decades.”  Cleaning them requires certain types of washes that are created to have detergency capability, and yet not cut the inks or the dyes.

Another common comment is “I was using such-and-such of cleaner, and everything looked great, and all of a sudden the character’s hands are gone.”  Or Winnie the Pooh turned red.  What happens is these chemicals release tracer dyes.  If you’re skeptical, try this with colored pencils: draw some lines on a white piece of paper, spray the lines with some household chemical, and watch the colors change.

Without getting too technical, these items are made of combinations of colors.  These can be solid colors that have been ground into liquids, or an inert substance like talc that has been dyed.   So when you rub the colored pencil on, you’re rubbing on a dyed, inert pigment.  The cleaner releases the dye, which leaches out, and then the color changes.

Some colors are called fugitive colors, which are colors that fade quickly.  Most colors that were used on Disney animation cels were fast colors, which in this case means they retain their colors very, very well.  There were a few that were not.  For example, some of the light pink colors in Fantasia could be quite fugitive.  Another good example is the color used in The Sword in the Stone’s Madam Mim’s skirt, which tends to bleed off into the cel and can leave a halo of color outside the black inking line.  And cels themselves retain color too.  The orange-red of Winnie the Pooh’s shirt is very indelible, and can stain the cel.   To make matters even more complicated, remember that not all cels age at the same rate.  Some Mary Poppins cels are actually aging quicker than 1930s nitrate cels.

While we’re on the subject of cleaning, how do you clean figurines? Ron quipped, “Very carefully!” Generally speaking, never use gauze. Gauze cuts, it has a slicing capability.  It’s composed of cotton threads just like wire; they might as well be floss.  Ron suggests using a very soft cotton with a little water misted on it, because there should be nothing on the figurine but dust.

But beyond dust is dirt.  Think a minute about plain ordinary “dirt.”  Dirt is actually extremely complex.  Returning to animation cels again, this is especially true of what can get on cels; the cel itself needs different kinds of stuff to remove the dirt that’s on it.  Some analysis is required, and the cleaning process must be tailored to the problem.  It’s best to follow one basic, simple rule: when you think you know what to do, don’t do it. But unfortunately some people have to learn this the hard way.

When you see a spec of dirt on anything, there is a natural, almost instinctive temptation to wet your finger with your mouth and rub the item with your wet finger.  But think about that: the moisture in your mouth is saliva.  What’s saliva’s purpose?  It’s to help you digest food.  Saliva breaks down protein and vegetables, and otherwise helps prepare what you eat for further processing in the stomach.  So whatever you do, don’t get your saliva anywhere near your valuable collectibles!

One more point about restoration: what Ron really “loves” is when people say something like “Oh, look at that.  That picture is fading.  You know, we should keep our eye on it.”  Keep your eye on it?  Excuse me, but it’s not going to heal!  It won’t get better!  If you see a picture fading, call for help.  It can be rescued.  Ron explained how he had just completed restoring a series of Civil War letters.  The owner said “But I kept my eye on it for a couple of years.”  Fortunately, this rescue operation was a success.  So don’t wait, call when you see something changing.

Next, let’s talk about framing artwork.  What do you use in your frames?  Glass?  Pardon, but why would you frame anything in glass?  Remember, in Southern California there are 30,000 earth shakes a year.  And there’s no West Coast exclusivity when it comes to natural disasters; three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history were in the central Mississippi Valley (1811-1812).  Glass breaks, and shatters, and what does it do to your art?  It irreparably cuts it and makes the job of the conservator absolutely ghastly.  You probably use glass because someone sold you on the idea that glass is okay.  And glass is “okay,” but on balance it’s not wise to use.  In addition to breakage, here are a couple of other points to remember.

Glass sold in your average framer’s shop is usually “the cream of the crap.”  If you insist on glass, at least get the best quality you can.  But in Ron’s view, all glass is bad for artwork

During your last visit to a framer, you may have heard some impressive-sounding terms.  “We use museum framing!”  Or how about “We use conservation framing!”  Each of these terms is wonderful.  So just what museum is that?  The truth is, there is no organization in the world that regulates the terms “museum, preservation, or conservation framing.”  What they mean to say is they use materials that don’t age as fast, except they usually don’t take into consideration what they’re framing as opposed to what they’re using to frame with.  Just think about what you’re buying, whether it’s for an oil painting, a piece of animation art, or a high school diploma.  And never, never put a framed piece over a child’s bed.  Yes, they do fall off and hurt, even kill, children.

So the lesson here is it’s best to use glazing-quality UV5 acrylic.  It may be three times the price, but it’s about three million times safer.  Plus if you’re worried about the impact of light on your framed artwork, light is almost a non-issue with UV5 acrylic, which filters out 99.9% of ultraviolet light that hits the surface.  Ultraviolet light is the energy which depletes color, although (not to complicate matters further, but I will) what really depletes color is not light as much as it is ozone.  That’s why you have to keep your art clean.  It’s okay to get your art out where you can see it.  Normal daylight is fine.  Florescent lights (at least at the time of this presentation) actually have more ultraviolet than the ambient light in your house.  That’s why UV5 acrylic is a really good idea.

There’s also styrene.  Styrene is the one you have to be fearful of; that’s the one that off-gasses.  You can’t tell by looking which is styrene and which is acrylic.  But you can test it with your tongue.  If you touch it with your tongue, styrene will tingle.  The way to tell if something is framed in glass or acrylic is to touch it to your cheek.  Acrylic retains heat.  Glass retains cold.  That’s why most people prefer soft drinks in glass bottles.

As long as so many people are using glass, how do you clean it?   Never ever spray anything onto the glass itself, because it runs down onto the bottom of the frame, then wicks up underneath and leaves a stain on the mat.  Ron recommends using a little water misted, not sprayed, on a soft cloth.

Let’s say you frame something in acrylic in front of pastel.  Some people say “I can’t frame my pastel piece from Fantasia because if I put acrylic in front of it and I wipe it, it’s going to cause a static charge and then it will suck all the pastel to the acrylic and it will ruin it.”  But did you ever notice there is no static electricity on a rainy day?  That’s because of the moisture in the air.  So how do you make an anti-static cloth?  Put a little water on it.  Not only is it anti-static, but dust clings to it.  You really don’t need anything to wipe your acrylic down if it’s clean.  So all you really need to do is dust it – a soft cloth with three drops of water.

I realize this has been a sobering discussion.  But remember what’s really important in the final analysis: to enjoy your art.  Have fun with it.  Isn’t that why you have it?  Just watch out for those episodes of temporary insanity.  Use some common sense when you handle it, and remember there are highly skilled and experienced conservers at S/R Labs available to help you keep it in pristine, enjoyable condition.

For more information on S/R Laboratories, and to consult “Lab Notes” on preserving your collectibles, visit their website at http://www.srlabs.com/.


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