From a run down to a practically brand-new map, it is almost like magic.
In February, Americana Corner awarded Historic Shepherdstown Commission & Museum a $7,000 grant to restore its S. Howell Brown 1852 Map of Jefferson County, Virginia. The map, which was donated by Mary Hartzell Dobbins, was considered to be in poor condition.
Americana Corner, established in 2020 by Tom Hand, is an online resource that helps organizations tell stories about America and its Revolutionary past. Hand set up a website and posts videos about Revolutionary-era Americans such as John and Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Andrew Hamilton to YouTube and Facebook. He also developed the Americana Corner Grant Program. This program provides funds to organizations to enhance a historical site, establish academic exhibits and recondition historical pieces.
“The grant we received from Americana Corner gave us the opportunity to conserve the map, and we want to thank them for it,” Donna Bertazzoni, president of Historic Shepherdstown Board of Directors, said. “The map was donated to Historic Shepherdstown Commission in the early 1990s, and for nearly 20 years, we did not have the funds to have it restored.”
The work to restore the map was done by Maria Pukownik Fine Art and Paper Restoration. It is a privately-owned art restoration center in Orrtanna, PA. Before doing the work, it developed a restoration treatment for the 19th century wall map.
This map by S. Howell Brown is subtitled “Actual Survey with Farm Limits”. It encompasses 27 Districts alongside the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and includes accounts of Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. It was lithographically printed on two sheets of paper, hand-colored in some areas, and coated with varnish. The map was entered into the Act of Congress in 1852 by Brown and its dimensions are 39 inches by 54 inches. Maps were seen as tools used for direction, especially in the 19th century, and this map is a prime example of that.
Before its restoration, the map was in poor condition with discoloration, dirt, dust, varnish damages, fragmentation, and some decomposition in the back of the canvas. There was also masking tape found securing the map edges to the glass frame.
The preservation and restoration process took roughly three and a half months and 10 steps. First and foremost, the frame was removed, and the map conditions were photographed. Then, the surface of the map was sealed with tissue.
“It’s a Japanese tissue that can be adhered to the front of the map with a very light glue, a water-based glue that further, later on, is easy to remove,” Maria Pukownik, chief conservator of MP Fine Art and Paper Conservation, said. Sealing the surface protects the map from any possible shifting.
Next, the backing canvas was removed for the cleaning process. Layers of fabric were laid onto the map to absorb moisture from the aqueous solution that was applied. This solution was sprayed profusely until it was completely saturated. This method was repeated in certain areas.
“You know some stains, like the stains on the map, they had to be pretreated to be able to remove them, and the process is pretty long,” Pukownik said. “You spray the water – it’s completely wet – then, the dirt comes to the surface as it’s being blotted, for as long as it is needed and until you can tell there’s no more dirt coming through.”
After this stage occurs, fractured and creased areas were filled in with matching paper pulp and tissue. Then, the map was set overnight to dry and the next day, a water-based starch glue was applied. After this application, Pukownik used reference material to restore missing pieces within the map.
“Before we put the new canvas … that same tissue is applied on the back because the map, even de-acidified and cleaned, the paper is still antique paper, fragile and could be too weak for contact with other materials,” Pukownik said. “So, we applied the same tissue, clean tissue, on the back, all over and then, followed by the fabric backing.” The fabric backing is modern cotton that was pre-washed. Then, the map was put under weights until it was fully dry.
The entirely dried map was then touched up in color and surface sealer. “The Jefferson [County] map had some weakness in color – some colors faded, original colors,” Pukownik said. “So, they needed to be touched up slightly because of the geographical borders. They were important for the map to be fully informational, so we touched it up with watercolors and at the end, everything was sealed, and the varnish was sprayed on the surface to keep it nice and stable, and it went back in the frame.”
“The work that Maria Pukownik did was so good, I jokingly asked if she had bought us a new version of the map. The before and after comparison is that striking,” Bertazzoni said.
The museum intends to open a new map exhibit in September, and the restored map will become the centerpiece. “The museum owns several maps, including what is believed to be the original plat map of Shepherdstown, as well as two other Shepherdstown maps and another map of Jefferson County,” Bertazzoni said. “We have also just received a gift of an 1883 S. Howell Brown map of Jefferson County from the Jefferson County Historical Society. It is very interesting to compare all of them and see the evolution of both the town and the county.”
The Library of Congress has the 1852 S. Howell Brown map on their website in a form that allows the viewer to zoom in to a specific location Map of Jefferson County, Virginia 1852
Jessie Ramcharran, 2022 Intern