What do an expert grasp of chemistry, a deep understanding of historic paper and paper-making practices, and mad skills in art have in common?
They are all qualities a paper conservator brings to bear when working to preserve cultural heritage works created on or with paper. Kathryn “Casey” Carey, a paper conservator based out of Nahant, has all these qualities and more. Carey, the long-time paper conservator at the Peabody Essex Museum, with stints at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and many other institutions, has been hard at work trying to conserve some of our most interesting and important works on paper.
In 2019-2020, the Gables undertook an independent evaluation and assessment of our paintings and prints. Some items in the collection were critically in need of conservation treatment to stabilize, repair, and preserve them for the future. Carey is currently treating nine of our works on paper identified during the assessment, including an 1883 lithograph of Nathaniel Hawthorne that showed signs of deterioration. The lithograph is important for a number of reasons. It was the first lithograph made of Hawthorne and was copied by Joseph E. Baker, a fellow-apprentice of Winslow Homer. The image was based on a well-known 1860 photograph taken by J.J.E. Mayell, an English photographer. Hawthorne’s pose, known as the “Bright-Motley,” was named after two of Hawthorne’s friends in London. In the U.S., the lithograph was published by Houghton Mifflin in large format, and was designed for use in schools.
Carey’s proposal for conservation included the delicate removal of the hard acidic-board backing, followed by a sterilizing wash in a PH-balanced solution and blocking to flatten the distorted surface of the print.
When the conservation work is finished, the print will be re-framed in its original 1883 frame using conservation framing materials, thus ensuring the print’s long-term health and preservation. Stewardship of our collection, including conservation, is one of the Gables’ key strategic goals. Thanks to Carey’s diligent efforts, our organization will be better able to preserve and share important parts of our collective history.