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Ülle Soosaar

  • Faculty of Art and Culture
  • Cultural Heritage and Conservation
  • BA
  • Conservation of large-scale printed works on paper on the example of posters in lithographic technique depicting Georg Lurich
  • Tutor: Maris Allik, MA

These thesis are based on the practical work of conservation. The goal of that was to prepare two posters depicting the Estonian professional wrestler Georg Lurich preserved in the Museum of Viljandi for digitization and to ensure their preservation for longer time.

Description of the practical work is supplemented by a chapter on historical background, in which Lurich is characterised as a versatile personality, and his partner and friend Viljandi bookseller and publisher Hans Leoke is introduced, because on the Lurich’s full portrait can be found his library stamp. In addition, a brief overview of the lithography technique and on the printed materials of that technique produced by Adolph Friedländer’s lithography printing house, including posters depicting Lurich, is given. The part of the printing history is based on Stephan Oettermann’s catalog „Adolph-Friedländer-Lithos: ein Verzeichnis nach Nummern“ on the history of the Adolph Friedländer lithographic printing house.

The preparatin and conservation process is described on the basis of two mutually supportive methodologies: based on the author’s learning process including participation in practical conservation and describing that, and based on objects to be preserved – posters –, including choosing the most suitable conservation methods, according to the condition and format of the posters.

The condition of the museum exhibits before conservation so poor that it was not possible to digitize them in this form. Numerous damage and losses of paper were found, which (especially in the case of a full portrait) severely distorted the image. Thorough conservation gave the posters the quality they needed to make copies for use.

Conservation processes began with Lurich’s breast portrait – conservator Maris Allik dry-cleaned and dismantled the poster with the necessary previous processes, and the author of this work was able to observe these processes. The author’s participation in practical work began with washing the poster on a vacuum table, as it is a process that is efficient to perform by several persons, particularly in case of large objects. The description of the conservation processes is based on work done with a full portrait of Lurich. As the conservation plan was generally similar for both posters, the individual differences that emerged during the work are highlighted separately in the description. For these large and severely damaged posters, the best solution for conservation was supporting from the backside.

Material studies were also carried out, which included examination of the condition and origin of paper fibers, determination of lignin content and additives. Studies have once again confirmed that paper of the poster has been severely degraded over time by various factors, in some places held only by printing ink. The posters were printed on low quality paper, which could be produced using both recycled rag paper and wood pulp. It was practically impossible to identify specific wood species because the wood fibers were extremely decomposed and lost their original shape during repeated processing. Analytical studies concluded that chlorine, aluminum and silicon-containing substances (chlorine compounds, alum, kaolin) were used in the manufacture of the paper. 

As expected, the biggest challenge in this conservation work was the size of the posters, which were large objects in terms of the usual parameters of the works on paper. The preparation of work surfaces (table, vacuum table) as well as precise planning of work processes (washing on a vacuum table, backgrounding, digitization) have required non-traditional solutions. Some of them required the cooperation of several conservatives. The posters were stretched on a stretcher because there was no paper press of a suitable size. The larger poster, consisting of two sheets, was divided in two during conservation and was processed in separate parts. Making a large archival permanent box for storing the posters required combining and manual work.

Georg Lurich’s breast portrait before conservation. Photo: Conservation and Digitisation Centre Kanut
Georg Lurich’s breast portrait after conservation. Photo: Conservation and Digitisation Centre Kanut
Full portrait of Georg Lurich before conservation. Photo: Conservation and Digitisation Centre Kanut
Full portrait of Georg Lurich after conservation. Photo: Conservation and Digitisation Centre Kanut