Light, Humidity, Storage Vital to Preservation
Byline: Bonnie Marx Southern Illinois University
CARBONDALE, Ill. -Great-grandma's heirloom quilt may look fantastic hanging on the bedroom wall, but it could end up a worthless pile of rags if it isn't properly protected.
Teaching people how to care for their family heirlooms and other treasures is one of the missions of the University Museum at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Lorilee C. Huffman, the museum's acting director, began offering Cultural Heritage Preservation lectures as a part of a program that began last January called "Sundays at the Museum."
The lectures, Huffman said, became part of the program in response to public demand. "People were always coming in with items wanting to know how they could protect them," she said. "We decided we should make this a regular part of the museum's offerings."
Some of Huffman's advice includes:
The Victorians may have been onto something with their tendency for dark, heavy draperies that kept rooms darkened even in the brightest sunshine. It was protection.
Upholstered furniture that is bathed in sunlight from nearby windows quickly bleaches out. Inside lights can be damaging as well. The trick is to minimize lighting, Huffman said, with window shades and darker colored walls.
"Everybody thinks white walls are best," she said, "but if you decrease the contrast between sources of light, wall color and the artwork, this will create satisfactory viewing at lower light levels."
Incandescent lighting is less damaging than fluorescent, Huffman said, but if you're stuck with fluorescent at least get an ultraviolet filter.
Spotlights on paintings will emit heat, creating a hot spot on the canvas. The solution? Track lighting, Huffman said, or diffused lighting.
Even candles can be culprits. A candle or two beneath the painting over the fireplace brings soot, smoke and heat to the artwork.
Maintaining a constant temperature of 70 to 72 degrees in homes is an important factor in preserving treasured items, but much more damage can be created by fluctuating humidity.
"If you can control only one thing," Huffman said, "relative humidity is the most important."
In Southern Illinois, "air that you wear" often drives temperatures near the three-digit mark; humidity levels aren't far behind. …