TSLAC Conservation

A Dome-Shaped Photograph


This month we highlight an early 1900s family photograph from the Callender, Goldsmith, and Cox family papers held at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.  The subject of the photo, Russell Goldsmith, was a bookkeeper at Gulf Oil Refinery in Port Arthur, TX.  Given its age and drawing-like appearance, this hand-colored image may be a gum bichromate print.  The 11” x 8.5” photograph is mounted on curved board, which was popular in early 20th-century family portraiture.  Boards were shaped into a dome with steam and custom framed beneath curved glass.  At some previous time, this photograph was separated from its frame and its vulnerable dome shape was broken.

Domed photograph with breaks, abrasions, creases, and previous repairs (graphite retouching.)

The goal for this treatment was to stabilize the item for storage and possible display within the skill set available to a book and paper conservator.  Photograph conservation is a specialized field.  It is hoped that the reversible elements of this treatment would allow work by a photo conservator at a later date if required.

After testing for media solubility, small amounts of thick wheat starch paste were worked into the exposed, broken board edges.  Broken segments were aligned and Japanese tissue was adhered on the back of the item.  This process required working in steps from the front and the back, while supporting the item’s curved shape.  Even this iterative approach required compromises of alignment between the image area and the board’s convex shape.  After many years of separation and changing environmental conditions, it is likely that the board pieces have drifted from their original shape.

Supporting the curved shape while mending.

The fragile nature of these repairs required careful housing for protection.  The domed image was centered on mat board with pH-neutral bulk surgical cotton and a buffer sheet of Japanese tissue beneath.  The item was then pressure-mounted to the backing board with window mats.  A window mat cut slightly smaller than the image was bulked with three layers of archival corrugated board to accommodate the depth of the curve.  Finally, a top window mat and cover mat were attached.

Corrugated sink mat edges being covered with paper (outside edges complete.)

Abrasions in the image area along the broken edges were inpainted with acrylic paint and methyl cellulose, with an eye toward minimizing the visual impact of the damage.  As the least reversible step in this treatment, inpainting presented an ethical dilemma.  The choice was made due to the distracting nature of the cracks and the low probability of future re-treatment.  The matted photograph will be stored in an artifact box.  It is suitable for viewing and display as matted.

Reassembled and inpainted domed photo in sink mat.