Loss compensation of leather and animal skins

Erin A. Anderson, Steven O’Banion and Marlene Yandrisevits

Abstract

Leather has been used in a multitude of ways for historical and artistic works, but is vulnerable to degradation and damage over time. The texture of leather and other animal skins is unique and varies greatly by species and processing treatment. Replicating these qualities for loss compensation presents challenges. This talk will present two case studies of objects, which were treated by second-year graduate fellows in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The first project, a canteen that once belonged to George Washington (currently owned by Mount Vernon), had large sections of missing leather and the remaining leather was in various states of degradation; the second, a sword and scabbard (owned by University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), had a small loss in the rayskin hilt grip. The treatment of both objects involved loss compensation for sections of missing animal skin. The method chosen to replicate the missing sections involved first taking a silicone mold of skins similar to those on the objects. The mold was then used to simulate the texture in an acrylic paint film applied to various substrates. This method of leather replication has been used in many conservation specialties, and this brief presentation will illustrate the process with step-by-step with images from these two treatments.