How to Recover Flood Damaged Art, Books and Photographs | Home & Garden


Flooded photos

A photograph in a flooded New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina.

( | The Times-Picayune Archives)

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of cleaning up after a flood is the loss of beloved books, treasured artwork, and family photographs. Experts in art and photography say it’s not enough to throw things on the curb. Some parts can be saved.

The following tips come from Steve Sweet and Kristin Hebert Veit, both of The Historic New Orleans Collection. Sweet was the collection’s chief preparer in October 2005 when he first provided Times-Picayune readers with valuable advice on how to salvage works of art, photographs and books damaged by flooding. . Today, he is responsible for the Internet and Interactive Development collection.

We asked him to update his advice, in case new technology made a difference. He then consulted his colleague Hebert Veit, the curatorial cataloguer of the collection. Below is their combined advice.

For works of art

“The most important thing to know is that if it’s a thing of value, you have to hand it over to a restaurateur,” said Sweet. The efforts of novices can ruin anything a restaurateur could save.

Pastels or works of art in soluble ink are problematic, but etchings or lithographs can be kept. As with photographs, remove the frame, but if the artwork is stuck to the glass, do not attempt to remove it. Dry face up with blotting paper underneath, changing the paper to absorb moisture.

Hebert Veit added: Keep in mind to never erase the surface of any artwork on paper or painting on canvas. If there is any lingering residue, it is best to gently rinse the object in a bucket of clean water, horizontally if possible.

Paints should be removed from the frame, but not from the stretcher, and left to dry. “Wear and apply wet paint to drip horizontally, face up. Never touch or rub off the paint layer,” said Hebert Veit.

“Don’t apply heat or put it in the oven to flatten it, which will spoil it,” Sweet said.

For books

“If it’s wet and you can’t get to it, put it in waxed paper and put it in your freezer,” Sweet said. “Keep it frozen, which will keep it until you can work on it.”

Interleave damp books every few pages with regular blotting paper or newspaper (from an art supply store) or paper towels. Keep changing the paper to absorb the water. To dry the book further, place it on its back and blow a fan around the room, but not directly on the book, so that the air circulates. “When the book gets a little dry, when it’s a little cold but most of the moisture has come out of there, put it down, put more paper in it, and then put a weight on it,” Sweet said. “The book will want to expand and will never return to its normal form.”

For photographic prints

Always rinse photos damaged by flooding in clean water before freezing or allowing them to dry, Hebert Veit said. “Freeze photos that you can’t clean up immediately to prevent mold growth, which can start within 48 hours of wetting them,” she said. “To do this, start by interweaving them with waxed paper so they can be separated later. When you can reach them, let them thaw before separating them, then hang them out to dry. Or take them home. a restorer; they know how to work with frozen photographs. “

Sweet Added: The most important thing to remember about photos is not to touch the image or the emulsion. Family photographs on resin coated paper (those from the 1970s to digital photography) can probably be lightly rinsed in fresh water and stored, dried flat with the emulsion side facing up. Put blotting paper or paper towels underneath to absorb the moisture. Continue to change the paper. Photos will curl, but a framer, photo studio, or conservator can flatten them in a press.

If the photo has been in the water for a while, do not touch it. Use a piece of sturdy cardboard to gently pick it up from below and place it on top of cardboard. Take it to a restaurateur as soon as possible. If a photo is framed and sticks to the glass, don’t try to remove it. Remove the frame and let it dry with the glass side down on the counter, and take it to a conservator.

Hebert Veit said negatives and films should be dried vertically, tied to a clothesline. These are more stable than photographs on paper, so prioritize prints.

More help for water damaged photos

Fujifilm also offers a comprehensive set of tips for cleaning water damaged photo prints, photos stuck together, water damaged photos in albums, and water damaged negatives. Find them at

Some of this advice was first published in an article by Judy Walker in The Times-Picayune on October 13, 2005.

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