Suffolk paper conservator goes by the rock

Rendlesham-based book and paper conservator Judith Wiesner tells us about <br/><br/>her highly specialised skills in restoring books and works of art

Rendlesham-based book and paper conservator Judith Wiesner tells us about her highly specialised skills in restoring books and works of art

I was based in Prague from 1992-2002, where I was employed as the creative director of a British company establishing museum shops in major central and eastern European cultural institutions. These institutions had no experience of product development, sourcing of multi-lingual publications and merchandising. By 1994 the company had successfully opened five museum shops including a flagship store in Prague Castle, and I was appointed to the Board of the Czech Museums and Galleries.In 1999, I spearheaded the company’s expansion in to Germany. Then, in 2002, the company sold the business, and I was free to pursue a life-long interest in book and paper conservation. After training at the Institute of Art and Restoration in Florence and Camberwell College of Art, I graduated with a distinction in Paper Conservation.In my Suffolk studio, our conservation work primarily deals with books and paper – drawings, water colours, prints, documents. In other words if it’s made of paper, it’s our pigeon! The studio is a quiet and peaceful place to work, an essential element to assist a task which often needs a high level of concentration.  I have a very varied work schedule. I usually start the week making wheat starch paste, which is a specialist glue used in our repair work. We use a wide selection of Japanese and handmade western paper from the UK, France, Ireland and Italy. I love fine paper; the feel and the sound, it crackles when healthy.Repairing and conserving paper is no simple matter, and although I try to keep to a programme of work this sometimes has to be interrupted because of a problem.Being a paper conservator is rather like solving a puzzle – it test one’s ingenuity and knowledge. A thorough understanding of chemistry is an essential part in treating and understanding paper. There is no one solution; obstacles have to be overcome and an alternative approach considered. There are no short cuts, a piece of paper must be meticulously clean before I wash it or treat it with a chemical solution.I enjoy mending paper. It requires much skill and accurate work. For instance, to repair a tear or hole in a document or drawing requires the use of a light table where the object is illuminated from beneath allowing me to complete the repair with precision. Sometimes the repair paper will also need to be dyed to match; a task I find particularly satisfying.I work with two colleagues. Louisa di Capite specialises in drawings, prints and paintings (called ‘flat work’) and I recently worked with her on a magnificent Albrecht Durer woodcut consisting of eight panels dated 1514. I was extremely excited about this piece since I had seen the original in the Albertina in Vienna years before. My other colleague, Valerio, is an experienced bookbinder from Gubbio in Italy, who assists me in making new books, journals, albums, etc using beautiful handmade marbled papers and leathers.On some days I work in the binding room where I can make more of a mess – paring leather and using thick wheat starch paste. I deal with many different types of books . From beautiful 15th or 16th century books that need minimal intervention or just a Solander Box (a fitted box lined with acid free paper which opens out flat and protects the book), to contemporary books that may only require repairs to a dust jacket. Other books may have no covers, some have loose or broken sections and need re-sewing. Tricks of the trade? Frankly, there are no shortcuts in our profession. The best advice I can give is that books should always be handled with care. For instance, don’t drag a book off the shelf by the head and don’t leave radiators on next to your bookshelves. Equally, make sure that there is no damp behind the shelves and that books are kept upright and prevented from falling over. In the case of leather bound books, try and keep to a moderate and even room temperature as leather can dry out and crack if it is too hot, and deteriorate in cold and damp conditions. Works of art on paper are also vulnerable to even relatively small changes in  temperature and  humidity, atmospheric pollution, too much light, and insect attack. Prints, drawings, documents, etc that have been kept in poor condition can suffer from ‘foxing’ – little brown spots that disfigure the object. I provide professional advice on all these matters, preparing condition reports on individual pictures and books or whole collections and libraries. My favourite tools: A Japanese goats’ hair brush, a porcupine quill, and a small bone ‘folder’ (a specialised small tool used to smooth paper). A favourite material of mine is parchment – a most satisfactory material to work with – it feels as though it is alive!My most hated material is any type of adhesive tape – these tapes do untold damage causing irreversible staining and deterioration to paper. 

Judith Wiesner555 Bentwaters Business Park,Rendlesham, SuffolkTel:  07931 927526Email: