Inside the Collection

Conservator’s Corner: Caring for maps

One of the flattened maps, showing a large tear
One of the flattened maps, showing a large tear. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

One of the Museum’s paper conservators, Dee McKillop, has been working on a set of navigation maps including one titled ‘Montague Island to Beecroft Head’. The map collection has not been treated since it came into our collection some time ago. The maps were in a poor state as they were rolled, creased, torn and were quite dirty and dusty.

Half way through the cleaning process, the rubber, brush and metal stencil were used
Half way through the cleaning process, the rubber, brush and metal stencil were used. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

There are 56 maps in all and they vary in size from 500 x 500mm up to 1500 x 600mm. After the maps were photographed, the next step was to flatten them slowly – this is called the ‘relaxing phase’. The maps were flattened between layers of thick blotting paper for a period of many weeks. Eight maps were flattened at a time. Acid free cardboard was placed on top of the pile for extra weight. The maps gradually acclimatised and flattened out.

Conservator, Dee McKillop, trimming the japanese tissue repair
Conservator, Dee McKillop, trimming the japanese tissue repair. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

The next step was to surface clean the maps to remove the loose dirt and dust. Dee brush vacuumed the loose dirt off and then used a chemi sponge (dry cleaning sponge) to do a gentle clean all over the paper. This is particularly important over pen, ink or pencil markings. After that, Dee used a firmer rubber (Mars Staedtler) to clean the plain areas of the map. She was able to remove dirt from very small areas near the pen, ink or pencil markings using a metal stencil. The tears in the maps were repaired with feathered japanese tissue paper and starch paste, drying under weights.

The flattened, cleaned and repaired map ready for storage
The flattened, cleaned and repaired map ready for storage. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

The project is nearly finished and the maps will soon be interleaved with acid-free tissue paper and put into plane cabinets in our climate controlled paper store.

Kate Chidlow and Dee McKillop, Conservators

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