Q: I have an old album with photos and newspaper clippings glued to the pages. Is it possible to remove, preserve and store these items without destroying them?
A: It’s probably best to leave the photos and clippings where they are. Only a conservator can tell what type of adhesive was used to attach the items and what kind of solvent will safely remove it. If you try to detach the pieces yourself, you’ll likely cause them to tear. But even if freeing the pictures were a risk-free prospect, conservators probably still would advise against it.
“An album is more than the sum of its parts,” says Adrienne Lundgren, senior photograph conservator at the Library of Congress. “When you disassemble it, you lose the historical context, the sequence and format that the creator designed.”
Still, there are important steps you can take to ensure the longevity of your heirlooms. Place the album in an archival box to buffer the photos from temperature and humidity fluctuations, dust and insects, and store it in a cool, dry place. Avoid the basement and the attic, where conditions tend to be moist, promoting sticking and mold growth, or extremely dry, causing shrinking, curling or cracking.
Choose a box that has passed the Photographic Activity Test, which assesses whether storage material will cause fading or staining of photographs. (This information often is included in catalogs and websites for art and photography supplies. One source is University Products, www.universityproducts.com.)
If the pages of the album have come loose, place them, in order, in individual sleeves made of pure, uncoated polyester, polyethylene or polypropylene — all materials that pass the Photographic Activity Test. Number the sleeves to retain the initial sequence using a pen with archival-quality ink, such as a Pigma pen (also available at University Products). Stack the sleeves inside the original binding, and place them inside a box. You can protect pages further in an intact album with sleeves or interleaving sheets. Just be careful not to overstuff the album, since this can break the binding.
If you think the album’s materials are harming its contents, find a qualified conservator; in the U.S., consult www.conservation-us.org.
Q: I have a 20-year-old lilac bush that has flowered only once. How can I encourage it to bloom?
A: Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are long-lived shrubs that are covered with large spikes of tiny, fragrant purple blossoms at the height of spring. If your shrub doesn’t flower regularly, there are three possible reasons: lack of sun, poorly timed pruning or your climate.
In order to flourish, common lilacs need a lot of sunshine. A shrub planted in full sun years ago may now find itself shaded by the much larger trees that surround it. In this case, start with a new plant in a sunnier location. You should have blooms the first year.
These lilacs benefit from having old, woody stems removed to encourage air circulation and new growth, but proper timing is crucial. Almost immediately after blooming, the shrub begins to form buds for next season’s show. The only time you should prune is right after the blooms have faded.
Another factor required for common lilacs to flower is a proper winter chill. Without one, they struggle and bloom irregularly; some don’t flower at all. If you live in a location that has mild winters, choose a Descanso hybrid. These lilacs have been developed to bloom reliably in such climates. Most local garden centers and nurseries offer them. You can learn more about Descanso lilacs at www.marthastewart.com/southern-exposure-lilacs.
For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com.
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