Do you ever think about how your creations will hold up in the future? Recently, I learned a lesson in the importance of using quality, archival materials. Back in 1986, when I made “Picking Peas”, I didn’t think about those kind of things. I used wire that was the right thickness and was not concerned about what kind of metal it was. It’s my style to use materials I find around, instead of buying everything new. Over the years, using found materials has helped me explore new ways of working. Odd pieces of this and that have pushed me to make bolder design decisions that I would otherwise have made if I just used thread and cloth. But, I learned that if you want your artwork to last beyond a few years or even a generation, you should be more careful about what kind of materials you use.
This summer, I borrowed the “Picking Peas” for my show at Falmouth Museums on the Green. When I picked it up from its owner, I noticed that some pea vines were an orange brown color instead of green. The owner hadn’t noticed the change, but I could see that rust had reared its insidious head! It didn’t help that the piece had been hanging for almost 30 years in a house right on the ocean, with salt air flowing through every open window.
It was clear that something had to be done before the corrosion spread further and parts started crumbling apart. I promised the owner that after the show was over, I would fix the damage before it was returned. This is my first experience with textile conservation, so I proceeded slowly and cautiously. I worked on one section at a time, peeling the pea fence, one side at a time and removing the rusted wire vines. I decided to take the dry approach, and vacuumed away any fine particles. Luckily, the background was made of dark upholstery fabric, which held up pretty well and camouflaged the stains a bit.
I remade the vines, this time using copper jewelry wire and wrapped them with embroidery floss. I did my best to cover the rust stains.
I added the glass peas and plastic leaf beads to the vines.
This is how it looked after everything was put back together. You can hardy see the rust stains, which blend in with the brown background fabric. “Picking Peas” is now back with its owner, hanging just around the corner from a beautiful view of Vineyard Sound.