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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

by Rebecca Pavitt

Polychrome crucifix, showing pre-treatment breakage

Before treatment

Fine artist and commercial illustrator Oscar Cahén (1916–1956) holds a unique place in Canadian art history.

Raised in the sophisticated, avant-garde art circles of interwar Europe (his father was a diplomat and political journalist), the artistically and intellectually precocious Cahén enrolled in the Dresden Art Academy at the young age of 14. Three years later, he was teaching and studying at the Rotter School in Prague. Forced to flee Europe in 1938, he escaped to England, where he (like thousands of other German refugees) was interned before he was shipped to a detention camp in Quebec.

His charm and artistic talent brought him to the attention of Canadian well-wishers, who worked for his release and found him employment as a magazine illustrator. Technically masterful, artistically original and stylistically diverse, Cahén thrived in his new environment – and transformed the world of Canadian illustration. This success gave him the financial security to pursue a parallel career as a fine artist, in which capacity he is best known as a member of the Painters Eleven group.

After Cahén’s early death at age 40, his widow and young son Michael relocated to Florida, where they placed much of the artist’s work in storage. The work was repatriated to Vancouver in the early 1990s, when Michael Cahén established the Cahén Archives to build the reputation and scholarly comprehension of his father’s work. It was then that I was introduced to Cahén’s art on paper supports, and to their unique set of conservation challenges.

The hot, humid Floridian environment had resulted in damage such as surface dirt, accretions, discoloration and foxing (dark spots of discoloration caused by oxidized iron and/or mould). Straightforward problems in theory, they become challenging in practice because of Cahén’s unconventional techniques and use of materials.

After treatmenet

After treatment

For example, soft-edged islands of pastel and hard-edged reticulated shapes of extremely water-sensitive dyes lose their visual impact when surrounded by discoloured paper, but conventional water-based treatments such as immersion are impossible. Even local treatment on the suction table is rendered ineffective by the dense, impermeable paper and paperboard that Cahén often used. Ten years ago, these were insurmountable problems. Fortunately, recent innovations in conservation have lead to some workable treatment options.

Water-sensitive media can be temporarily fixed with cyclododecane, an evaporating wax. Gore-Tex allows slow, even humidification to gently relax paper, which in turn allows local cleaning with rigid agar gels that can be cut to precise shapes for targeted cleaning. New research in the chemistry of cleaning has increased the number of chemical solutions that can be introduced (and removed) via these agar gels.

Even with these new tools, some of Cahén’s works remain too delicate to treat, and must await future innovations before they can be safely cleaned. A consummate experimenter and innovator himself, I like to think Cahén would have been interested in and excited by the new techniques and materials his works have lead me to explore.

Previously: Coming Apart at the Seams: A Polychrome Crucifix Project
Next issue: Paper: Learning to Appreciate and Accept Dimensional Movement


 Fri, Jun 12, 2015