R is for Repair

There has been a thread recently on the Book Arts List discussing some of the horrible things that galleries sometimes do to artist’s books. The inappropriate use of tape seems to feature, but other bad things happen too. My work In Winter was recently returned to me after almost two years on tour.

Given the fragility of the piece, it had not fared too badly but some restoration work was definitely required.

I am extremely careful about the way I pack work for shipping. (The Saskatchewan Craft Council recommends that for touring shows travelling with public carriers work should be packed to survive a 6 foot drop upside-down!) I also provide detailed instructions for handling and displaying the work. The outside of the crate gives instructions for unpacking, beginning with a request that cotton gloves not be worn while dealing with the piece.

Further instructions for installation are inside the crate, beginning with the same request.

Apparently some gallery staff either can’t read or think they know better than I do how to handle fragile works made of paper. There was one small tear and dirty smudges in several places, which I located after doing a square by square examination of the work.

Fortunately the worst marks were on the packing sheets.

The letter that had been torn had also been bent back leaving a couple of dings in the paper. The red pointer in the image below indicates the tear, the black ones point at the dings.

I used a new Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser to remove the smudges. (I consulted Peter Verheyen and Mindy Dubansky before doing this to reassure myself that I was using the best method.)

The lower image shows an area after cleaning and before removing the last of the eraser crumbs. The final stage was the repair of the small tear. I used Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste to do this.

After the tissue had been carefully rubbed down and the paste had dried, I trimmed off the excess with a scalpel. I smoothed the dings gently with a bone folder, but as you can see, they are still visible in strong cross lighting.


There was some nasty tape involved as well, though fortunately no one stuck it to the work, only to the packing. The folder holding the work had originally been held shut with green low tack painter’s tape. It came back with shiny scotch tape. Judging by the assorted peeled areas, this solution had been used more than once.

I have re-packed the piece with no tape at all on the folder, as it isn’t really necessary and apparently gives people bad ideas.

I will close with something from The Postal Museum, London, England. It was posted on Twitter tagged #Glovesoff. The rules make good sense for anything made of paper.

About Byopia Press

I have been working in the book arts field for more than twenty years, and operating Byopia Press with my husband David since the late 1990s. I began producing artist's books and altered books in 2004.
This entry was posted in artist's books, book arts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to R is for Repair

  1. dinahmow says:

    I’ve heard some horror stories, too.


    • Byopia Press says:

      I’ve had price tags stuck on the backs of books (over printing) which is why if work is going into a sales gallery I now put a paper band around the back cover so that labels/price tags can be attached to that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is very interesting to see how it got back to you, and how you packed it in the first place! Indeed for such a fragile piece, being shipped back and forth for several years it seems in fairly good shape. – Such a beautiful piece!


    • Byopia Press says:

      I pack things very carefully and write detailed instructions with photos. ; ]
      Gallery staff are generally good and careful but it only takes one thoughtless person to damage a piece. This is true in other media as well. I once visited an exhibition of tapestries by a world famous artist. The show was on tour at a series of major galleries. Somewhere along the line before the works got to the gallery I was visiting someone had decided to take one of the larger pieces and fold it in quarters instead of rolling it for shipping. Yikes!


      • Hilke says:

        And quite likely they thought they were doing the right thing…

        I usually write opening instructions on the outside of a package, because I myself sometimes have trouble unpacking things: Is a knife o.k.? If not, how else to open? Where should I best cut, and so on. And so I usually write somewhere: “Open from here, knife through one layer of cardboard is o.k. there is another layer underneath before you hit the artwork.” or something along those lines.

        I used to be more worried about my books before than I have been recently. The first two books I ever sent abroad for a show (to bookopolis in Ashville no less) came back with a tear in one and a smudge on the cover of the other which left me paranoid for a while.
        Recently I sent off more multiples, though, and my own expectation for my books is that they are supposed to endure the loving abuse by gallery staff. Your work here of course is different. Such an exquisite piece. The prize is well earned!


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