Carrie Jacobs Bond Questers hire conservator to restore image that hangs in Lincoln-Tallman House

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, May 15, 2014

JANESVILLE—Before Len Lassandro worked his magic on the print, it had moisture, fungus and acid burn damage.

When he finished restoring the 130-year-old mezzotint engraving print of “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet,” it looked “almost like new or a document that's only two decades old,” said the owner of Conserve Lab, Madison.

A mezzotint engraving is made by pressing metal shavings into a copper plate to make an impression that holds ink. The artist uses lacquer to "rub out" areas he doesn't want to hold ink, Lassandro explained.

The resulting plate is then used to make prints.

The Carrie Jacobs Bond Questers hired Lassandro to restore the print owned by the Rock County Historical Society with a $200 grant the Janesville group received from the Wisconsin State Questers. The chapter paid for the other half with money from fundraisers, said Pat Wagner, president.

The 1884 black-and-white image captures President Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet as they toil over the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

It hangs on a wall in the second-floor hallway of the Lincoln-Tallman House, 440 N. Jackson St., and near the room where Lincoln slept two nights in October 1859 during his presidential campaign tour here.

Lassandro used specialty brushes, tools that resemble dental equipment and heated irons and platens to restore the 32-inch image. It's printed on cotton rag he described as similar to modern fine wedding invitation paper.

The tedious work took 25 hours.

“It was broken up over a period of four weeks,” he said.

Lassandro said acid burns came from wooden planks backing the image. As the wood aged, it released acid in the form of gas and burned brown lines into the image.

“That had to be reversed via a cleaning process that took the majority of the time,” he said.

A perforated suction plate was used to draw vapor and air through the document and pull contaminants onto a cotton blotter, Lassandro said.

Fungus and bacteria were identified under a microscope and then removed with a fine brush and cleaners such as alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.

Lassandro said the mezzotint engraving print is one of the best he's ever seen of the original image.

The plate was made in 1866, and the print was made in 1884.

“You can tell by the strong impressions,” he said.

The Rock County Historical Society is grateful to the Questers for the restoration work it would not have been able to afford.

“For a group to see value and prioritize this particular conservation effort, it speaks volumes of how the Questers feel about the society's mission and important work we're doing,” said Michael Reuter, executive director.

Wagner said the local Questers, who support preservation and restoration projects, wanted to restore the image for future generations.

Lassandro said 90 percent of damage was removed from the image, but he intentionally didn't try to make it look new.

“After all, it is an antique engraving,” he said. “We don't want to do anything that would compromise that image.”

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