Disaster Response

Our conservators have lectured to museums, galleries and cultural institutions on the preparedness, response and recovery from disasters such as fire and flood.  We have cleaned, repaired and restored valuable fine art and documents, directly for collectors, museums and archives and also contracted through commercial restoration companies.  Only art conservators have the formal university-level training and specialized expertise that is required to save, clean, repair and restore valuable or irreplaceable art and archival material.  Conservators will ensure the best possible result for recovering disaster-damaged fine art.

A disaster such as fire, water, or earthquake, is always a surprise.  We are able to help with basic telephone advice, and can provide estimates and proposals for recovering art and archival material that is damaged by water, soot, high humidity, etc.  Although we can often tell from a digital image whether a piece can be conserved, sometimes we will need to test a damaged painting or paper object to ascertain whether or not it can be saved.  We can assist you with advice on packing and transit of art to our lab.  See our contact us page for assistance by phone or email, and our address.


Here are some general tips on salvage of damp or wet fine art.  This applies to all media, but look below for tips on specific types of art :

  1. Remove the artwork to a dry and clean location.
  2. If possible, take a picture of the front and back to document in case required for insurance, and so that you can remember all of the constituents of the work (frames, labels, etc.) if it is conserved.
  3.  Items should be air dried in a room that has low humidity and good air circulation.  Ensure that the room has good ventilation with dehumidifiers, fans, lightly circulating air, etc. because this will allow for faster drying of the art and will avoid buildup of mould.   Do not point fans directly at the art.
  4. Act quickly to allow items to air dry because mould will build up quickly, certainly within 48 hours.  Warmth, stagnant air and moisture are the ingredients for mould growth, so avoid these conditions.
  5. Art that is being dried, or disassembled for drying can be laid on tables, floor, etc. on blotter, clean towels, bedsheets, paper towel, clean (no ink) newsprint, or brown kraft paper.

Works of art on paper and photographs

Damage due to water such as staining, distortions and light mould staining can normally be reduced or completely ameliorated.  But, first this is what to do if you have damp or wet works of art on paper or photographs:

  1. Remove the frame, glazings and backing.  For your information, we find that during conservation, mats and backings (those not part of the artwork) can almost never be recovered and re-used, frames can sometimes be re-used, and glass/plexiglas can often be reused.  If the item is stuck to the glass, keep those parts that are not stuck as separated as possible (e.g. with wax paper strips), leave the artwork and glazing in place (thus it may also need to stay in the frame), and dry glass-side down.
  2. Labels, letters and tags that belong with the artwork should be air dried and saved in a Ziploc bag and saved in a Ziploc bag and kept with the work.
  3. Dry artwork slowly, image side up with nothing touching the surface.
  4. When dry, paper artworks and photographs can be interleaved with tissue in a folder for storage and sent to a conservator.


Damage to paintings such as flaking paint, blanching or bloom (looks like whiteness or haziness on the surface) can often be ameliorated.  Cracks and flattening can be consolidated below the paint to ensure that loose paint is not lost.  Distortions can sometimes be relaxed and removed.  But first, here is what you can do with damp or wet paintings:

  1. Remove the artwork to a clean and dry location.
  2. If possible, take a picture of the front and back to document in case required for insurance, and so that you can remember all of the constituents of the work (frames, labels, etc.) if it is conserved.
  3. Carefully remove from frames.  Do not separate paintings from their stretchers (the wood frame on which canvas is stretched).
  4. Keep wet paintings horizontal and paint side up, elevated on blocks such as pieces of foam, wood (anything that can be used across the corner to elevate), with nothing touching the surface
  5. Avoid direct sunlight or heat sources.
  6. Keep all dry pieces (loose paint, frame pieces) in a Ziploc bag in case required when the work is conserved.
  7. It is normally safe to temporarily  store completely dry paintings back-to-back and front-to-front separated by a piece of cardboard, foamboard or coroplast.   This can be done against a wall, in a large box, etc.  Vertical storage is safer than horizontal storage.  Any paintings with unstable and flaking paint should be kept face up and not stacked.  We can advise you on further action if you wish to seek conservation treatment.


  1. Remove from plastic/paper enclosures or frames.  Save all information about the photos.
  2. Do not touch or blot surfaces.
  3. Air dry: hang with clips on non-image areas or lay flat on absorbent paper or fabric such as towels.  Keep photographs from contact with each other or with adjacent surfaces.


  1. If rinsing is necessary, hold book closed.
  2. Partially wet or damp books: stand on top or bottom edge with covers open to 90-degree angle; air dry.
  3. Very wet: lay flat on clean surface: interleave less than 20% of book with absorbent material such as paper towel; replace interleaving when damp.


  1. Air dry flat as individual sheets or small piles up to 1/4″.  Interleave with blotter paper, uninked newsprint, paper towels, or waxed or freezer paper; replace interleaving when damp.
  2. Do not unfold or separate individual, wet sheets.

Stone sculpture:

  1. If stone objects is smooth-surfaced, blot gently and air dry.
  2. If object is rough surfaced or has applied finish, do not blot.  Air dry.

Metal sculpture:

  1. Use gloves to handle because hands contain acids that will corrode metal.
  2. If the sculpture is muddy, rinse/sponge and blot metal object using minimal water.  Towel dry by blotting, and then air dry.
  3. If object has an applied finish that could be damaged by water, do not clean.  Air dry, and keep flaking surfaces horizontal if possible.

Wood sculpture:

  1. Inspect painted surfaces.  If paint is blistered or flaking, air dry slowly without removing dirt or moisture.
  2. If surface is strong, and the object is muddy, rinse/sponge surface gently to clean.  Towel blot.  Air dry slowly rather than rapidly to avoid cracks and warping (this may be done by placing a large tented piece of paper over the object, or a clean sheet, changing this when it becomes damp.  This will allow moisture to escape fairly slowly.)