Meadowcroft curator shares photo preservation tips

Meadowcroft curator shares photo preservation tips

September 16, 2013
Bonnie Reese, left, curator at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, and Mary Beth Graf, president of California Area Historical Society, examine artifacts Saturday in the society’s research center. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

CALIFORNIA – Many people inherit family scrapbooks and struggle to decide what to do when they find old photographs glued to the pages, a museum curator says.

The worst thing to do is attempt to remove the photographs because they are fragile and easily ruined while peeling them off pages, said Bonnie Reese, curator at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village in Avella.

“You really do risk damaging them,” Reese said Saturday while giving a presentation on preserving old paper documents and photographs at California Area Historical Society. “I don’t ever try to force things off. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The best things to do, she said, are to place white tissue paper between each page to prevent further damage and keep such records out of rooms that experience radical temperature or moisture changes.

She also recommends scanning old photos into digital files and using such computer software as Photoshop to remove scratches and stains. That may require finding a software expert and paying a fee to have photos repaired and duplicated for other family members.

Reese began her lecture by explaining the difference between preservation and conservation. Preservationists take steps to “stop the clock of deterioration,” and conservationists are professionals trained in restoring damaged documents.

“There is quite a difference,” she said. “The preservation mindset is better than doing nothing at all.”

When dealing with old paper records and letters that are folded, or handling photographs, it’s important to wear thin white cotton gloves to keep the oils from fingers from causing further damage. Items that are folded should be unfolded, because the fold lines are where damage often first occurs.

She suggests using archival supplies to store items. For instance, paper items survive best by being placed inside Mylar sleeves and then stacked inside heavy card-stock boxes that help to prevent damage from light, dust and moisture.

It’s also important to find a place to work on these items that is clean and free of food. Jewelry should be removed to prevent scratches or snagging textiles.

If smaller museums or personal budgets cannot afford expensive archival supplies, white tissue paper can be purchased in dollar stores, and similar acid-free boxes can be found at cheaper prices at such stores as Ikea.

“Doing something is better than nothing,” Reese said.

Historical society President Mary Beth Graf said volunteers there do a good job on the preservation of materials in the group’s research center at 429 Wood St.

“Our biggest problem is the database, but we’re working on that,” Graf said.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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