Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Valve Failure Causes Humidity Damage at Georgia Museum of Art

Approximately 25 paintings from the permanent collection at the Georgia Museum of Art appear to have been compromised to varying extents by moisture created when an HVAC valve failed in a storage room. The problem was discovered Sunday morning, Jan. 4, about 10 a.m. when a security supervisor making a routine check noticed elevated humidity in one of the museum's storage rooms. The valve failure caused humid air to blow into the storage area which is used to house paintings, framed works on paper, folk art, Asian objects and objects of decorative art.

The museum security officer notified UGA Police, who contacted UGA Physical Plant per the museum's emergency procedure. Museum staff immediately arrived to move the threatened objects to safety and to begin damage assessment. Employees of the Physical Plant and the Office of University Architects repaired the HVAC valve and remedied the humidity problem. The museum conservator will need at least a week to ascertain damage levels and to develop conservation solutions specific to each piece. One mid-19th century American painting by artist William Haseltine sustained paint loss and is apparently the most seriously damaged work.

"Thanks to quick and effective action by the staff, the damage was limited to a relatively small group of works," said William U. Eiland, director of the museum. "While indeed regrettable, it could have been much worse."

"In preparation for the museum's upcoming expansion and renovation, most loaned items had already been returned to their owners and much of the permanent collection already sequestered," added Annelies Mondi, deputy director of the museum.

Due to the reactions moisture produces in paintings, a full conservation report cannot be made until the damaged objects return to their original level of moisture. Moisture and water cause the support on which paint is applied, for instance canvas or wood, to expand, often at a different rate from the paint itself, while dehydration has the opposite effect. Therefore, some damage to the paintings may be revealed during the slow drying process.

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