Heritage, Volume 02, Number 04, Fall 1985

MATTING WORKS OF ART ON
PAPER-SOME GUIDELINES
by Terry Rempel

INTRODUCTION
Matting serves a three fold purpose: it
protects the paper artifact, enhances its
aesthetic qualities, and, in the museum
environment, induces the patron to use
more care in handling. In general, museum
staff are most concerned with the
protection offered to paper artifacts by
matting, while artists and the general
public lean more towards the aesthetic
qualities. Since the actual methodology is
expertly put forward in the Library of
Congress manual', it is strongly advised
that you purchase this excellent reference
before you begin to mat. In this article we
will talk about the benefits of matting and
see several different styles of matts, thus
providing guidelines for choosing the appropriate
style of housing needed.
WHY SHOULD YOU MAT?
Paper responds to changes in the environment
with dimensional changes of its
own-if it isn't free to move it can buckle,
wrinkle or distort. I'm sure you have all
seen examples of wavy or cockled prints
in a framed piece. Unfortunately, this
necessary freedom may also incur damage.
Totally free prints-that is, unmatted,
unframed prints-run the risk of
being torn, stained, creased or destroyed
due to lack of protection. Matting is a
way to provide access and protection at
the same time. Paper has the added characteristic
of taking on the problems of its
neighbors. If a reasonably good quality
paper is bordered by a poorer acidic one,
the good paper yellows wherever there is
contact. This is what is known as acid
transfer. The acid buildup in the poorer
paper is at a higher concentration than in
the better paper, and tries to attain equilibrium
by "transferring" to the less
acidic paper. This can happen with wood,
or any substance that is acidic. If a
framed piece is backed with wood, as was
the case with many antique prints on the
market today, you will soon see, transferred
to the back of the print, the wood28

grain patterns from the board, along with
any irregularities such as cracks and knotholes.
I should mention here that, in general,
paper is on the acidic side of the pH
scale. The pH scale has 14 divisions on it
to measure acidity and alkalinity (acids
and bases). The divisions from 0 to 6.9
are on the acid side of the scale, while 7.1
to 14 are on the alkaline side. The midpoint,
7, is said to be neutral, the point at
which acid and base are in complete balance.
Most papers manufactured today
fall within the range of 5.5 to 7.5 on the
pH scale, so you can see they are for the
most part slightly acidic. Acid free and
buffered papers are on the alkaline side
in pH.
If a paper artifact is allowed to directly
contact glass, a different sort of problem
can arise, such as image transference,
abrasion, adherence or sticking to the
glass, and mold growth. Image transference
is just what it sounds like. The
image leaves a "residue" or "ghost" of itself
on the inside surface of the glass,
where it was in contact. This happens
most often with loose pigment images
such as pastels, charcoals, and pencil
sketches, but can also occur with any kind
of print if left in contact with another sur

Terry Rempel is a private paper conservator,
freelance writer, and fiber artist.
She is at present finishing a manuscript on
identifying weave structures in textiles for
conservators and curators.
face long enough. In effect, you lose that
portion of the image that has transferred
to the other surface.
Abrasion can occur if dirt or dust gets in
between the paper artifact and the glass.
Dust may feel soft to the touch, but microscopic
examination shows most dust
particles to be jagged and hard, and they
can abrade the surface of the paper quite
easily. Once the surface is abraded, "new"
paper is exposed to the dust and the process
starts all over again.
High humidity can do really nasty things
to paper that is in direct contact with
glass. Oil pastels, photographs, and
lithographs can stick to the glass when
humidity causes the surface of the paper
to swell. This minute amount of pressure
is sufficient to adhere the surface of the
paper to the glass and, in some cases,
when the humidity drops and the paper
shrinks during drying, it can tear and
leave a portion of itself stuck to the glass.
Mold growth is accelerated in high humidity,
and moisture trapped between the
paper and the glass provides a perfect
spot for growth. There's only one way for
the mold to travel, and that's down into
the paper.
HERITAGE * Fall 1985

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 02, Number 04, Fall 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45445/. Accessed August 22, 2014.