Compensating losses: Tissue paper fills for sculpture

Pamela Hatchfield and Michele Marincola

Abstract

Materials customarily used to compensate losses in sculpture, such as gesso compounds, plaster, or microballoon and resin mixtures, can, despite their well-known advantages, be inappropriate choices in certain instances. For example, when treatment time is severely limited, it may not be feasible for the conservator to apply and carve gesso or plaster fills. In the case of sensitive archaeological wood, it may not even be desirable to apply fills and retouching, as their presence may be visually misleading. Furthermore, application or removal of such fills may have a great potential to damage fragile polychromy. There are also cases when temporary fills, executed in a rapidly applied and reversed material, would be useful for determining the extent of compensation necessary in a specific object, or for photography or exhibition purposes. Pre-tinted tissue applied with media such as cellulose ethers has been useful in a wide range of treatment applications where color compensation is required without an intervening layer of fill material.

Using case studies of sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Cloisters, New York, the authors will present their use of toned paper fills, which accept color easily and have the desired advantages of rapid application and ease of reversibility. Two different approaches to the use of tissue paper fills will be discussed: in the treatment of archaeological material, the recessed fill that is easily achieved with tissue helps to distinguish between original and restoration. Use of this technique will be discussed in instances where the use of fill material or barrier coatings is not feasible as a substrate for retouching. Limitations of the technique will also be considered. In the second approach, the loss of contour and of retouching detail that result from the use of tissue paper fills will be discussed as a disadvantage when the technique is applied to European polychrome sculpture. Instances where tissue paper fills may be more appropriate for the compensation of loss in this kind of sculpture will be presented.

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