DO NOT let your fingers do the walking!

What is it with people who have to touch and pick at everything?

"Maybe I'm just a little over sensitive," says Scott Haskins art conservator and author of How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster, "because I'm in the process of dealing with people who should know better." There's good reason for Haskins to feel angst with people who aren't sensitive to what damage they can cause and admits that some people are like a bull in a china closet.

"So, I'm called to visit this collection by the people in charge of the art where I'm lead to inspect an important valuable painting. There, in the lower right corner is an area of flaking that is near the signature. Among the many small flakes and cracks, there's a big flake of paint, about the size of a nickel, that is lifting off the canvas like a big corn flake. As I point out the problems, the man accompanying me begins to point towards the large flake holding onto the canvas for dear life. All I can get out of my mouth is ‘No, don't…' before he has touched the damaged area, broken off the big flake of paint and crushed it into small pieces. My heart sinks but since I can adhere them back in place later, I bend down on hands and knees and very carefully pick up every littlest piece I can find off of the carpet to repair the damaged area of the painting later. I don't have anything to put the pieces of flaked paint into to protect them but I see a ledge, covered by curtains where I can hide my dear little pile until I can get back to them. As soon as I deposit my carefully gathered flakes of paint, the wife of the man, comes up from behind, sees the pile, says, ‘What is this?!' takes her finger and crushes the pile into dust and then flicks it off the ledge onto the carpet for the vacuum cleaner. Sigh..."

"It drives me crazy," Haskins says about another case in point. "I simply cannot understand how someone could pick at and remove patterns of beautiful inlaid wood veneer from a lovely 300 year old antique piece of Italian furniture as if they were peeling off their summer tan and yet, I meet these accluistic (clueless) people all the time. These items can be fixed and repaired to be as good a new! Whether your artwork, antiques, collectables or family history items (of little monetary value) are damaged in a disaster or by old age… leave them alone if they are falling apart and call for help, for goodness sake."

Alright then, this scenario begs the following question: What happens to the value? English born, International Society of Appraiser Mr. Richard Holgate (www.faclappraisals.com) works nationally with settling estate values, probate issues, helping people with values of items to sell, "Of course, there are many aspects of what accounts for value. Is the excellent condition an important factor?(as with art, antiques and collectables) Is the perfect preservation important to you emotionally? (as with maybe some family history items) Let's look at this question from a financial point of view, only. Let's talk about a painting, but the example is applicable to any art item that will be damaged by prying fingers.

The key word is "original condition." No parts replaced, no touch up… original. And if prying fingers pick at, flake off and damage further the original nature of the item, then there is theoretically a loss of value. How much? That depends on how expensive the item is and how much the value depends on the original condition. So, depending on many factors, the loss of original details of an artwork could have no loss of value, or for another item where, there is loss of significant details, there could be 10 – 30% loss or more. This is one of the reasons why professionals do all they can to protect and preserve the original nature of the item."

If you are any kind of a collector and have made the rounds and talked with friends about collecting, you will have wondered whether restoration can actually fix something good as new and how does restoration and conservation effect the value and original condition? Mr. Holgate offers the following example, "If a painting has significant cracking and flaking, then there is a condition problem that will impact the value and desirability (if it's going to be sold). If great quality conservation work can make that aesthetic and condition problem go away, then the artwork usually recoups the lost value due to the damage. Of course, there are extensive and endless problems caused by inept conservation work, a situation commonly known industry wide."

Haskins has a perfect example, "Not long ago, a very nice painting was brought to me. Undamaged, it was worth, perhaps, $150K. But it had gotten wet and, in particular, the sky had suffered badly with a lot of nickel sized flakes being lost. I'm pretty sure that the flaking was either picked off, or scrapped off and the flakes thrown away. So, the owners took the painting to an inept restorer who did an awful job. The owner then consigned the artwork to an auction house to be sold where they didn't even want to sell it for $25K. That means that the damage plus the poor restoration contributed to a loss in value of more than 80%. The auction house showed the painting to me and we undertook the resurrection of the original characteristics of the painting as close as possible. After our conservation treatment, even though there was still significant inpainting in the sky, was put up for sale at $75K. and brought $50K. Someone got a great deal and the owner got twice as much."

A couple of sources for referrals for conservation services are www.art-care.com and the American Institute for Conservation at http://aic.stanford.edu/.

Still hot under the collar from seeing flakes of original paint picked off of a painting and then crushed to dust, Haskins suggests, "… keep your cotton pickin', finger lickin' fingers away from the artwork. And be alert for damaged areas to avoid and protect until it can be repaired."

If you've been caught in the turmoil of a disaster and have enough damage around you to make you dizzy, then some practical ‘How to…' information can be found at www.preservationhelp.com.

Scott M. Haskins has years of experience with earthquakes, floods, mold, fire and everyday home accidents and is the author of "How to Save Your Stuff from a Disaster," (www.preservationhelp.com) a non-technical book with instructions on how to protect and save your family history, heirlooms and memorabilia. Besides instructions on how to protect and save papers, books, ceramics, glass, furniture, silver, paintings or frames, Haskins writes about how to deal with your insurance company as well many other helpful instructions. The author has worked in both Europe and the U.S. as a professional conservator for the last 33 years. He routinely treats and saves items damaged by water and mold. He has been personally involved in six "major" California disasters: three earthquakes (Silomar ‘71, Whittier ‘89 and Northridge ‘94), two fires (Santa Barbara '90 and Oakland ‘93) and one flood (Santa Barbara '95) and has consulted with people on innumerable other accidents. He works with the general public, historical societies, museums, corporations, private collectors, art galleries, state governments and the federal government. He is an expert witness in the Los Angeles Supreme Court system and on the part of the federal government regarding public art issues. He has done consultation work for Pope John Paul's family, the Shroud of Turin project and the Getty Conservation Institute among many others. He also wrote a booklet on earthquake response of which several 500,000 were distributed in Los Angeles after the Northridge Earthquake.