Shirley de Vocht (nee Martin) studied art at East Sydney Technical College and worked in a number of post-WWII Australian design and manufacturing industries. She became a well known designer, primarily of textiles and created the official towel for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. During her career, Shirley focused on Australian flora and later fauna, creating colourful, intricate designs.
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences has a wonderful collection of Shirley’s work from 1945-1955 that includes 13 textile designs using poster paint (gouache). The works feature waratahs, wattle, flannel flowers, gum blossoms, Christmas bells, kangaroo paws and daisies.
The gouache designs were in fragile condition and needed conservation care. The gouache paints are mostly painted on thin board, then adhered to another thin board. The backing boards are discoloured, have some foxing stains and some are dog-eared. The painted surface has areas of paint loss and cracking. Often this paint loss is in areas of creasing, areas with some distortion from point of adhesion to the backing board, or where the paint has been thickly applied. The gouache has lost both adhesion to the paper plus some breakdown of the paint binder which has resulted in paint loss and cracking.
Firstly, the collection was photo documented and a condition report done for each design. The objects were surface cleaned using a size ‘0’ brush, a dental aspirator and a microscope, to facilitate precision and prevent loss of loose paint. Some of the designs had dry white mould residue which was successfully removed with the surface clean. In some cases it was possible to treat the dog-eared, distorted corners if the paint surface was not disturbed. They were slightly dampened and gradually flattened.
A consolidant (binder) was needed to stabilise the paint surface to prevent further loss. Funori is a Japanese glue extracted from red algae and it was chosen because it is the most suitable for matte powdery paint finishes. The prepared product was applied using a size ‘000’ brush, again using the microscope, and applied to the edges of paint loss. In areas that had cracking, the consolidant was surface applied. The treatment proved to be very successful with good adhesion and the paint surface maintained a matte appearance.
A storage box was made for the designs using archive text and acid-free mount board. The designs have individual sink mounts to ensure the painted surface is protected.
Written by Kate Chidlow, Conservator