Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2010 Newsletter

Before and After: L'Eclair poster

Poster. Click to enlarge.

L'Eclair Poster: Before

Poster. Click to enlarge.

L'Eclair Poster: After

The conservation department of the Harry Ransom Center is responsible for the care and preservation of the Center's collections. The work of conservators ensures that materials will remain accessible for research at the Center. This feature highlights repair and conservation work on collection items.


The Ransom Center's paper conservation department recently treated a large L'Éclair poster from its Harry Houdini collection. L'Éclair ("the flash") was a newspaper in 1920 that was edited by French journalist Émile Buré. This poster appears to be an advertisement for the newspaper, with the lightning flash emphasizing the speed at which L'Éclair reported the news.

The poster arrived in the department folded to an eighth of its size, roughly 10 x 15 inches, and could not be easily opened without damage occurring because of the severe brittleness of the paper fibers. By slowly introducing moisture vapor, the paper became pliable enough to open safely to assess the extent of the damage and the full size of the poster (3-1/2 feet x 5 feet). After an in-depth examination of the poster and a consultation with Helen Adair, Associate Curator of the Performing Arts collection, treatment began.


Stephanie Watkins, Head of Paper Conservation, performed the treatment with the assistance of conservation graduate student Laura Bedford and paintings conservator and community volunteer, Nani Lew.

First, the dirt on the surface was reduced with finely grated eraser crumbs. Then the paper was washed on the Center's recently acquired vacuum-suction table to remove inherent acidity and discoloration, a treatment step that takes several hours. After washing, the students toned pieces of Japanese paper using extremely thinned acrylic artist's paint to match the brown background of the paper and the blue-black background color. After the inserts were colored and dried, they were fitted to each particular loss area. The poster was re-wetted to facilitate alignment of the small, detached fragments and to flatten folded-over pieces along the edge.

Once alignment was complete, the poster was adhered to a large sheet of Okawara Japanese paper with dilute wheat starch paste to hold all the tears and fragments in place. The Japanese paper is attached to a polyester fabric (Dacron), which is in turn attached to a large, thick Plexiglas sheet. The treatment is a wet process, and the poster dries flat under tension while attached to the Plexiglas. Once dry, only the Japanese paper will remain, which allows researchers to safely handle the brittle poster while viewing the striking graphic as it was originally intended.

View slideshow of the conservation process of this poster

Learn more about the Conservation Department

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