"Man with the Mustache" by an unknown Italian artist circa 1905. Miriam purchased this painting in NYC in the 1950's.
"Man with the Mustache" by an unknown Italian artist circa 1905. Miriam purchased this painting in NYC in the 1950's.

Caring for Your Art

If you do nothing to care for your art, you can expect over time that your beloved work will eventually look like the “Man with the Mustache” painting pictured above that Miriam purchased in New York City in the 1950s. This work will likely cost several thousand dollars of conservation to bring it back to museum quality. You don’t have to let your collection get to this state, and proper care and conservation can help.

Art Care Basics

If you don’t stay proactive caring for your art, then time, the elements (water, sunlight, mold, etc.), and moving it around will damage your art. The bare minimum for keeping your art in good condition is to:

  1. Ensure your work is framed by a professional. This will protect the edges from damage either when moving or hanging.
  2. Use museum quality glass/plexiglass to prevent harmful UV rays from damaging the surface color.
  3. Hang the work, and hang it securely. If you have to take it down, store it safely in a temperature and humidity controlled room (not your attic!).
  4. Large, frequent and/or rapid temperature changes damage artwork (especially oil paintings) over time. Keep the temperature in your home in a comfortable range for your art between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. You may be tempted to turn off the heat/air for a vacation to save money. Don’t. Your art isn’t going on vacation and will not appreciate the temperature extremes.
  5. Humidity is another problem in climates like the Southeastern United States. Get a dehumidifier for rooms that have high humidity (basements!) where your artwork will be hanging and keep it between 40-50%. Mold growth on paintings is tough to conserve and expensive.
  6. Don’t try cleaning the work yourself. If you spill something on it or damage it, talk with a conservator or contact us directly.
  7. When moving the work, wrap in acid free paper then bubble wrap. Do not lay the work flat and place items on it during a move. Keep it vertical. Same is true for storage of framed work.
  8. Ensure no direct sunlight shines on the work at any time. Check this at all times of year because the sun will shine in different places in different seasons.
  9. Let your paintings “breath” when in storage. Don’t wrap them because it could trap moisture. If you work is framed and backed with paper, carefully cut a slit in the paper on the back (not the canvas!) to let air in the space between the paper back and the canvas.
  10. Anything that touches your artwork should be acid free.

Hiring a Conservator

Art conservation is the principles and practices of examining, documenting and treatment of art for preservation and restoration. We do not conserve artwork but instead recommend any treatment be done by a trained conservator in your city or region. Why? You want to preserve the value of your investment and using a conservator is the best way to ensure the stability and enjoyability of the art work over time.

Mold growth (white spots) on the painting “Day Nurse for My Grandmother” by Miriam McClung, 1963. Ready to be conserved then made available again for purchase.

We’ve tried our hand at conserving Miriam’s artwork, and it didn’t go well. We’ve also hired someone who had years of experience cleaning works for a local gallery but was not formally trained. That didn’t go well either.

Our advice is to only hire a certified, trained professional conservator. There may not be one in your city or even your state, but they often travel to museums in other cities and can make “house calls”. The closest city to Birmingham with a trained conservator is…yes, you guessed it, Atlanta! There are quite a few listed online but Larry Shutts of Savant & Shutts travels to Birmingham every couple of months and makes house calls. 

It’s going to be expensive…about the same cost as a plumber or electrician in a big city, but they are worth their weight in gold. Here is an excellent article about what to expect in terms of cost for a conservator.

If you take the time and care for your work it can last well over 100 years without any significant conservation efforts. That’s a much better investment than a car or tech device that only lasts for a decade, maybe two. Please contact us if you have questions about the care and/or conservation of one of Miriam’s works in your collection.