By Mary V. Danielsen of Documented Legacy
A typical home in the United States doesn’t have a Van Gogh hanging on the wall, but most of us probably have spent thousands of dollars decorating our homes with artwork and photographs.
In their book Saving Stuff, Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar refer to household preservation as the museum of you. You have worked a lifetime to build your homes and enjoy the space where family comes together. You don’t want to be wasteful or replace anything you’ve spent good money acquiring. You want to take care of your things and hope that family members would want them someday.
So, how do we handle the preservation of artwork and artifacts that receive normal use in our homes? Normal use, according to Williams and Jaggar, presents no unusual risks, because they’re decorative. Even with periodic use, all items wear out or break down over time. The only way to prevent your collectibles from being worn out or misused is to never use or display them. Now, that doesn’t make sense. Why own something you’ll never enjoy, unless it’s an investment piece?
Instead, develop a best practices routine for preserving it. Let’s start by including an inventory of your favorite artwork into your household inventory and heirloom documentation efforts. The upside benefit is it fits easily into all the disaster preparedness and estate planning programs we’ve talked about in the last year. We are in the midst of the summer storm season and every region of the country has been touched by some sort of natural disaster. This step should take a few evenings of work, unless you’re an over collector.
First, decide what are your important pieces of artwork. Kid art is included here. Depending on the artwork you may decide to scan it at 300 or 600 dpi (dots per inch). If your artwork includes intricate samplers from your great, great grandmother or an oil painting you bought at auction, you may want to scan it at a higher resolution.
By way of example, my daughters are artists, whose work I’ve been framing since they were in elementary school. I honor the perspective that breathes a view in differently and exhales through the brush in their hands. Over the years I’ve spent a small fortune on professional framing. If something happened to my home I would be crushed to lose this artwork. I am emotionally attached to these images and their preservation is important to me. Of all the things in my home that I would want to have a duplicate digital copy of, these pieces of art are high on the list.
Use a digital camera to photograph every piece of artwork in each room of your home. Go wall by wall. Take your time to ensure you have that image in the best light possible and as close as possible. Avoid reflections off the glass. You may need a step stool or small ladder to get into position to shoot the image without a reflection. You may also need to close the binds and turn off lights, as you open up your camera lens. Experiment. Sometimes you have to wait until the sun shifts in your home and provides better light in one room.
If it makes sense to remove the image from the wall and lay it flat on the ground to photograph, do so. Carry the frame by the sides, holding the solid edges, as not to weaken the corners.
If that trick doesn’t work, place the artwork on a thick carpet on the floor and lean it against a wall while you photograph it. A well-lighted room with white walls sometimes acts as natural diffusers. I have photographed many images in the garage of my home with the door open at midday. It produces a natural soft light. Find your sweet spot for this step and make note of it in your files.
Not everyone has an archivist’s photographic skills, steady hand or a closet of high-end scanning equipment. You’ll want to try two methods to capture images of your artwork. Save your best samples. One will naturally work better than the other and that varies with each person and the artwork itself.
One of the biggest advantages to owning a Flip-Pal mobile scanner is that it is capable of scanning your framed artwork using the Flip-and-scan method. You don’t have to take the artwork out of the frame. Often you don’t even have to take it off the wall. If you already own this scanner, put it to work for you.
Click here to watch a video showing how to scan a framed picture on the wall.
Take the lid off. Turn it upside down (tip – place the scan button to your left) and start in the upper left corner. Overlap each section by 1/2 inch or more. Watch the grid through the window on the bottom of the scanner to determine your next location. If you accidentally move the scanner while it was capturing the image, scan it again. Keep your Flip-Pal Sketch Kit handy, especially when scanning artwork that is in storage. You can make notes on its location, origin, ownership and the direction you’re scanning the image. Using the included EasyStitch software in the Flip-Pal Toolbox software on the SD card, you can merge the scans together to create one image of your artwork.
By way of example, I’ve tried repeatedly to photograph my Lion’s Head painting, but it hasn’t come out right. I scanned it and got the resolution and colors I needed to preserve the image properly.
On the other hand, the sailboat watercolor looked great in both the photograph I took at eye level with the lights off and the Flip-Pal scan.
Back it your work onto archival-grade DVDs, external hard drive or your Picture Keeper PK8.
In compiling these images into your backup system, you’ll create a solid archive of the artwork and heirlooms in your home. Add to that archive a simple document that lists the item, where you store or hang it, when you bought or acquired it, the size and value, if known. If something happens to your home you’ll be able to prove you owned it.
If you sell or hand it down someday then you’ll have a copy of it for your records. You can also make duplicate copies. For instance, if two of my children both want the artwork over the mantle someday I can now reproduce it.
Lastly if you’re not displaying it, this gives you the chance to assess it and decide how you want it stored.
If you must store framed artwork, consider bracing it using acid-free buffer board, backed by Foam-Core. The best place to store framed artwork is in an interior closet where it won’t be disturbed. The best way to preserve artwork is to frame it using archival methods and hang it properly in your home, away from dust and grime. As always, keep your artwork away from heat, water sources and grime.