Arts / Museums

Fine Art Rescue — How to Save Precious Waterlogged Paintings and Treasures

Art Experts Give Flood Tips

BY // 09.01.17

While Houston museums are reporting good news regarding facilities and collections, there are those among the tens of thousands of homeowners facing losses from Tropical Storm Harvey flood waters who have valuable works of art  that have been impacted. Art galleries across the area are receiving calls from individuals seeking advice on best practices for salvaging artwork.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston senior curator of decorative arts Steve Pine offers this advice. “Focus. Don’t panic. Get your artwork to a safe space for clear-headed assessment of damage.” Pine is also a member of the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance (TX-CERA). That group’s website offers the following tips for saving damaged family treasures.

Safety First! With any disaster there may be health risks. Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup. Protective gear such as goggles and a fitted face mask is recommended if there is mold.

Prevent Mold. Mold can form within 48 hours; you will need to work fast. The goal is to reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures as you proceed to clean and dry them. If you do encounter extensive mold, use protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and an N100 face mask, available at most hardware stores.

Air-Dry. Gentle air-drying is best for all your treasured belongings — indoors, if possible. Hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight will do irreversible damage. Increase indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers.

Handle with Care. Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials: remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place paper towels between pages of wet books.

Pine advises if the works are water-logged, getting the water out is the primary goal.

The number one priority for fine art, according to several online experts, is to contact a conservator as soon as possible. These are the experts who can assist. While there are a number of local conservators found on a Google search, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works lists three member conservators in Houston — Robert Proctor and Jill Whitten of Whitten and Proctor, and Maite Leal of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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