The work of the paper laboratory deals with three major collections: Prints, Drawings & Photographs, Asian Art prints and paintings, and works on paper within the Contemporary Art collection.

The Prints, Drawings, & Photograph Department of the IMA holds over 29,000 works on paper representing all media and techniques from the Medieval period up to the present day. These works cannot be permanently shown because of the deleterious effects of light on paper, but the IMA exhibits prints & drawings on a rotating basis throughout the galleries, with two galleries dedicated to works on paper alone. The Paper conservator must ensure that the selected artworks are stable for display, and works to mitigate serious structural problems as well as minor surface flaws such as grime.

The Asian prints and paintings are executed on both paper and silk, and date from about 700 CE to 21st-century works. The complete restoration (remounting) of Asian screens and scrolls is a rare specialty that is not a part of the current IMA Conservation Department; but smaller structural treatments on Japanese prints and Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings and their mounts are regularly performed in the Paper Conservation Lab.

The IMA’s contemporary works on paper range from traditionally executed prints and drawings to experimental works featuring unorthodox media, substrates, configurations, and exhibition expectations. It is the conservator’s role to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each work and to map a safe course of storage and display protocols to best preserve the unique characteristics of each artwork.

The Paper Conservation Lab will be involved with research and testing within these three collections as the Conservation Science Center begins operation.

The challenge of conserving Gustave Baumann's work

The Paper Lab at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is currently engaged in preparing the tempera sketches and woodblock prints of American artist Gustave Baumann for a major exhibition in 2016. Gustave Baumann, who immigrated to Chicago from Germany at the age of 10, became a major figure in the early 20th century American art scene primarily for his innovative work in color woodblock printmaking. He was powerfully influenced by both the German Jugendstil art movement and the aesthetics and underlying philosophy of the American Arts and Crafts milieu. Baumann preferred to work in solitude, as his technique demanded precision and intense concentration; a consummate craftsman, he is said to have mixed his own inks and paints according to a personal recipe that he did not divulge even to close colleagues. This helps to explain the unique look of his images, but makes the conservation of his work especially challenging.

The painted sketches on paper of Gustave Baumann are often found to have severe paint insecurities. The images seen here are from the painting Estes Park, Colorado. created by Baumann in 1926. The scene is rendered in energetic strokes of thick paint for use as a prepatory sketch intended to help the artist finalize an idea for a woodblock print. The paint is unfortunately cracked and has great difficulty adhering to the underlying paper. Loose flakes are found raised precariously, in great danger of falling off altogether. The Paper Lab will be engaged in consolidating the damaged paint films in preparation for a major Gustave Baumann exhibition planned for the IMA galleries in 2016.

Pictured above are Estes Park, Colorado, by Gustave Baumann, tempera paint sketch, 1926; and two photomicrographs of the insecure paint.