February 2011

Creative Accounting

Restoration, The Falls of Eternal Despair


The paper conservation laboratory at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the de Young and the Legion of Honor museums) oversees the preservation and treatment of a vast collection of prints, drawings, and photographs. To protect art for future generations, conservators restore damaged art and take precautions to prevent decay. The following budget, by conservators Victoria Binder and Debra Evans, details the cost of restoring one print for the museums.

The Falls of Eternal Despair is a rare chromolithograph from 1892. Chromolithographs were an early form of commercial color prints in which multiple smooth stones were used to stamp a full range of colors on paper. This chromolithograph was printed in Cincinnati by the Publishing House for Holiness Literature, the brainchild of Methodist minister Martin Wells Knapp. It arrived at the paper conservation laboratory in a state of extreme deterioration. The paper was discolored, stained, and brittle, with numerous losses and breaks.

Despite its nearly irretrievable state, something about the print’s peculiar depiction of a bizarre moral landscape captivated conservators Binder and Evans, and they decided to repair it. This budget is presented in two sections: materials and labor. As one can see from the list of expenses, the materials used for treatment are fairly affordable. The expertise of the art conservators, however, is a scarce resource. Conservation efforts can vary in scope and complexity, depending on the damage. This was a complex treatment.

This is an installment of Creative Accounting, an ongoing series that explains where the money goes for projects in the major creative industries. Very soon the series will be collected into a single, indispensable volume, published by Believer Books.

—Christopher Benz, Victoria Binder, and Debra Evans

Creative Accounting

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Christopher Benz, Victoria Binder, and Debra Evans

Victoria Binder is the assistant paper conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She received her M.A. in art conservation from the State University College at Buffalo in 2007.

Debra Evans earned an M.A. in art conservation at the University of Delaware. She has been a paper conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for twenty-eight years.

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