A lady called to ask if we could “remove some “dirt” from her Snow White cel”?
It’s not unusual to get that sort of question. We created animation art conservation as a practice in 1977 and since that time we have branched out beyond animation art to paintings, prints, ceramic and porcelain as well as photographs. Most questions like the lady posed requires an ability to see the art itself in order to provide a proper answer. there isn’t much that can be done without actually seeing the problem in person.
The caller was told even though we couldn’t know what the “dirt” on her cel might consist of we haven’t failed yet at cleaning debris from a cel surface.
Her response, however, was a surprise. She would keep trying to get it off herself, she said. Huh?!?
“You see,” she said, “I figure if you can get it off I probably can too!”
It was a surprise indeed.
She has no way of knowing what to expect because she can’t identify the “dirt” and has no knowledge of what different treatment options are possible or what selected chemicals might do to the cel in her attempt to clean it.
Could the “dirt” she is seeing be evidence of the art’s age or previous insult that would give a conservator a clue as to the art’s current condition and need for conservation?
Maybe the “dirt” could be an artist’s mark that would give note of the art’s provenance, travel through time, or production notation? Is the “dirt” really a design element that is supposed to be there?!?
Dirt, as you might guess, is not always debris and it certainly isn’t always unwanted. “Dirt” tells the experienced conservator a story and is a valuable indicator of the art’s needs going forward.
The lady’s approach is called; flying blind. Its an approach often chosen by super heros and the very foolish.
The point to all this is; keep your hands off your cels and let us know when you see something unique or unusual. DIY (do it yourself) is just plain unthinkable when it comes to fine art.
Note; These timeless tales, and others we post here, are real. They actually happened!
Until next time