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I’m Sorry, but Your Painting has Cleavage

Part of what we do in collection management is to monitor the condition of the objects in our care, whether they are part of our collection or on loan to us from another institution. One thing that helps us monitor the status of an object is to create a condition report for each object. The condition report is a record of an object’s condition at a specific time. Whoever is creating the condition report carefully looks over the object to find any faults or irregularities and then records them.  In order for anyone at another museum to understand what is written on the condition report there is a specific language that is used. These words can seem very strange to those who are unfamiliar with the terms.

We thought our readers might be interested to learn some of the lingo.

When looking at textiles you may come across crocking. This is where only color has been rubbed off the fiber and no other loss has occurred.

You could encounter spalling—chipping or flaking—when looking at ceramics or stone.

If you have wavy or concave/convex distortions on paper that are repeated in a pattern then you have cockling. But if the pattern is random, then buckling is the term you need.

Frilling is not a new sport but it is the separation of the emulsion in photographs from the edges of the paper.   If you have unpacked a wooden object and there is frass in the packing materials you know that you will have a long day because you may have an insect problem to deal with. Frass is the shed exoskeletons and excrement left by insects.

Foxing is not a new dance craze. It is actually a mold from iron elements in paper.

A sugaring marble statue is not making syrup in Vermont, it is exhibiting a type of erosion on the surface that resembles the appearance of sugar.

Fugitive colors are not running from the law but are pigments that easily fade when exposed to light.

A painting could be showing off its cleavage when the paint layers have separated from the canvas or wood because the support surface has contracted, therefore causing the paint layers to lift up. This cleavage could be either tenting or cupping.

Now some of these terms are rarely used (mainly by professional conservators) or only by those who really want to show off—but it does make for interesting reading whenever you come across a new term. It would be fascinating to do more research about the origin of these terms. Was the alligatored finish created by an alligator?

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