Caveat: This review presents very little of the data from this study, but is instead a quick overview so that you know what the Herblock team is working on and what to look forward to in the published study.
This presentation addresses a looming problem in the conservation of 20th century material culture – the color change of ubiquitous late twentieth century drawing and writing materials. Fenella G. France’s talk is the second AIC presentation of an ongoing ambitious study at the Library of Congress on the aging of drawing materials used by the editorial cartoonist Herbert L. Block (Herblock). Although this study looks at the materials of a single artist, it has applications for both late 20th century and contemporary archives and for contemporary fine art on paper. France reminded the audience that the Library of Congress is the depository for the Members of Congress’s papers, which often contain the same materials Herblock was using, including White-Out, Avery Labels, and paper with optical brighteners. In short, this Library of Congress team is looking at the future of paper conservation.
When the Library acquired the Herblock collection, which spans 72 years and includes 14,400 drawings and 50,000 rough sketches on newsprint, Holly Krueger, Head of the Paper Conservation Section at the Library of Congress, had the foresight to gather some of the artist’s materials. (Collecting contemporary artist’s materials turned out to be a theme at the 2013 meeting, with Michelle Barger’s “Artist Materials Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art” presentation, Tiarna Doherty’s passing reference to a few spare television sets acquired to replace sets as they broke, as well as the acquisition of an entire inspirational archivein “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary: from the Archive to the Exhibition,” and on a more conceptual level, the acquisition of people with specialized knowledge for the conservation of performance art in Dr. Pip Laurenson’s “Collecting the Performative: the Role of the Conservator in the Conservation of Performance-Based Art.”) In the future the Library is hoping to work with the U.S. Secret Service, which has its own collection of modern ink and fugitive materials.
In the 1970s, Herblock made the transition from India ink and graphite (which are relatively permanent, and have a long history of use) to modern materials that he bought at the corner store, including porous-point (felt-tip) pens, white correction fluid (White-out), pressure-sensitive labels (Avery brand) and coquille board, a textured drawing board with optical brighteners.
The ongoing study of composition and aging characteristics has been conducted with 23 of Herblock’s drawing materials on both Whatman paper and on samples of Herblock’s favored coquille drawing board, all exposed to 5 different conditions. The discovery that some of the pen components fade even in the dark has added cold storage as another variable for future study.
The study is further complicated by Herblock’s use of several different porous-point black pens that are indistinguishable in normal light but that have different formulations and fading characteristics. The team used a progressive LED illumination sequence (hyperspectral imaging) to allow them to distinguish between individual blacks.
The team used a range of techniques to investigate both the samples and a selection of Herblock drawings, including hyperspectral imaging, UV-VIS colorimetry, micro-fade-ometer, and micro-sampling (of the sample sheets) for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS). The sample media that showed change were also subjected to thin-layer chromatography (TLC) to separate out the components, and analyzed with Direct-Analysis in Real Time (DART) Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry.
I will not attempt to present the team’s results, but a very quick and general summary would be that many of the inks are highly light sensitive, so far there is no dependency on substrate (Whatman vs. coquille board) for the color change of the media, and certain elements of the porous-point pens fade rapidly, even in the dark. France shared a before and after picture of one TLC plate that had been kept for 8 months and several of the porous-point pen ink components had already noticeably changed color within that time frame.
This study provides a unique chance to delve into the wide array of proprietary formulations of drawing and writing implements from the late 20th century and to look into the implications for their long-term preservation. I am sure I am not the only one eagerly awaiting the publication of the study to get a glimpse of what we will face as the century continues.