25 September 2023

Students map out a path to restoration

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A team of students from the University of Canberra’s (UC) Faculty of Arts and Design has risen to the challenge of restoring a collection of historic maps dating back to the early 1900s.

The collection, owned by the Australian National University’s (ANU) School of Asia and Pacific, was entrusted to UC’s Creative Futures and Heritage team for restoration.

Discipline Lead of Cultural Heritage and Conservation at UC, Alison Wain said the project included an intensive hands-on approach to understanding the various aspects, qualities and treatments of paper and its evolution over time as a printing material.

“It provided the ideal opportunity for students to gain an understanding of the value, purpose and intent of maps as they were produced over time, their historical value and relevance in today’s context and how a collection can provide significance to learning and life today,” Assistant Professor Dr Wain said.

“From scraping stubborn adhesive off the back of the biggest map in the collection, to removing aged shellac that had been painted over the surface of another, and restoring a very brittle map torn into three pieces, many practical activities and skills were learned.”

She said the maps had had interesting and long lives and the quality of paper differed from one map to another dependent on the location of the printing press, the printing method and time of printing

One of the oldest maps, of China dating to the early 1900s, had deteriorated substantially.

Third-year culture and heritage student, Maren Innes said it was an interesting process as the team watched the map transform over a few days.

“After the first wash we were able to see the yellowing of the old paper reduce, bringing out the original colours of the map, and because of it being so brittle the map’s restoration was so rewarding,” Ms Innes said.

“Once completed, the map was a true reflection of its former glory after being applied to a backing of Japanese tissue paper that will keep it in pristine condition for a number of years.”

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