A Sticky Situation in the Doll “Mansion”

You were introduced to Winterthur’s doll “mansion” in our previous blog post, and already the museum visitors have expressed lots of anticipation for the doll house’s Yuletide debut in 2016. Before that can happen, however, various conservation problems must first be solved.

The prevalence of Blu-tack and wax in many rooms and on many miniatures is one such problem. Blu-Tack was used because of its superior ability to hold heavy objects of many materials firmly in place. In the long-term, however, Blu-Tack poses the risk of staining porous materials due to the mineral oil within it and causing surface loss in addition to collateral damage if the adhesive fails. Wax, while collecting dust and grime, is generally regarded as having fewer deterioration-related risks. For this reason, we intend to remove as much Blu-Tack and old wax as possible, replacing it with the minimum amount of fresh wax. In most cases, objects can be held as firmly with wax as Blu-Tack, but miniature paintings on the walls, for example, will require a stronger adhesive in the absence of Blu-Tack. Since each piece of wall decor is different, ranging from lightweight textiles to metal racks filled with pans and even antique daguerreotypes, we are currently researching and testing a variety of methods appropriate for each case.

Rm 11- Royal Bathroom - Excessive Blu-Tack on walls Rm 17- Nancy's Bedrrom - Blu Tack on sensative wall paper

Another issue is the lifting and cracking of the inlaid wood veneer floor in the living room, along with more minor cracking in two other rooms and the complete separation of the linoleum-like flooring in the kitchen. In the coming week, we hope to identify which adhesive will work best for each material and issue, so that we can implement them before commencing reinstallation.

Rm 3- Living Room- Lifting Inlaid wood floors (2)

An additional material of interest in the dollhouse is sterling silver. Many of the decorative serving objects and utensils do not simply seem like silver, but, in fact, are silver, most of which were fashioned by Peter Acquisto and Guglielmo Cini, and some of which were special order items. Unfortunately, since silver has a tendency to tarnish and a number of the objects are already showing signs of such, we had to address the problem thinking long term. We could certainly polish the silver, but since disturbing the installed furnishing could compromise the preservation of the house as a whole, we have decided, after research and consultation, to lacquer the silver. This will allow the pieces to remain untarnished for decades to come.

Room6-4- dinning room table setting close up Room3-7- close up of tea set

All of these treatments and more, usually performed in conservation labs that are out of the public eye, will be done in an accessible space near the entry of the Galleries. We encourage you to come visit us, stay a while, and chat with us as you observe our progress in readying the dollhouse for its Yuletide debut.

Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum

This entry was posted in Academic Programs, Art Conservation, Decorative Arts, Design, House, Students & Alumni, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Sticky Situation in the Doll “Mansion”

  1. elaine naddaff says:

    It is, indeed, fitting that Winterthur should have a beautiful doll house with finely crafted pieces. Such a sentimental way of capturing a beautiful American house! I wonder, if there is room enough in the doll house for a beautiful restored grandfather clock????

    I recall how charmed and overwhelmed I was to visit the doll house at Windsor Castle in the 1970s.

    Thank you for posting.

  2. Linnea Raffaele says:

    This is so interesting. I can’t wait to see the results of all your amazing work. Do you have to do any textile restoration?

  3. Ann Langerhans says:

    I am excited about your conservation project. My mother was a miniaturist and I have an 1896 doll house she restored more than 25 years ago. She also used a sticky substance throughout the house to hang things. When she passed away the house was undecorated to safely move it to my home and the stickum was on everything. I am very interested in how to remove it. Please keep us posted.

  4. Beverly Bednar says:

    You are addressing many questions that I have regarding what to do about sticky residue left on the walls of the dollhouse as well as lacquering silver, and floors that have come up. In fact I left the new kitchen floor in my 30 year old dollhouse unattached because I did not know what kind of substance to use. I am also wondering if the silversmiths like Peter Acquisto would sell pieces that have already been lacquered. I have no idea how to do that on my own. Your dollhouse is beautiful.

    I hope you publish your findings when the dollhouse is restored!

  5. Rebecca Scroggins says:

    Instead of wax to hold the small items to table tops and sometimes even furniture (chair and table legs) to the floor you should get some Moveable Miniature Glue. I’ve used this for years in room boxes as it does no damage to the surfaces, can be removed, and allows you to move items and place them elsewhere. Also doesn’t show like the wax. For heavier items on the walls try Museum Putty. It’s white and not oily.

  6. Dr. D Taylor says:

    I am a relative newbie in the miniature world. I am interested in how to remove the blue tack. I wonder if an ice cube in a plastic bag (so no dripping) would help to remove the thick globs. I find that in warm weather the blue tack is so soft that it is difficult to remove (like chewing gum). I wonder if perhaps paper towel beneath a small hot iron could be used to remove the greasy residue. I’m thinking similarly to removing batik wax by melting the wax and absorbing the melted wax with paper towel. In other words a couple of layers of the paper towel would be laid over the blue tack stain and then heated by lightly running a small hot iron over it. Has anyone tried this?

    • Allison Dunckel says:

      When we encountered Blu-tack in Nancy’s Dollhouse, we would first take minimally invasive approaches. Often this meant removing the bulk of the Blu-tack with our fingers, which we then softened in our hands. Then we used this softened glob to pick up the residue left behind, in essence using Blu-tack’s strength against itself. When this didn’t work because of the age of the Blu-tack or the texture of the miniature, we employed white rubber erasers that can be found in any office or craft store. This produces eraser shavings, but it was safe on paper items including wall paper. If neither the Blu-tack nor the eraser worked, we resorted to a 75/25 solution of mineral spirits to xylene. This quickly dissolved both Blu-tack and wax residue from wooden objects in Nancy’s dollhouse. There is a chance that a varnish on your wooden miniatures is soluble in this solution so carefully test the back or underside of your miniatures before attacking the wax and blu-tack. We never employed heat in the removal of wax or Blu-tack. I would be worried that the iron would burn the residue into the miniature, but we would be interested to hear the result of your experiment. Thank you for the thought provoking question. We would be happy to answer more.

      • Allison Dunckel says:

        Here is some additional information as well: The only thing I would add is that xylene is a flammable solvent that is considered to be low in toxicity. Though it is low, depending on the space and resources you may just want to try mineral spirits on their own, which are only an irritant. A more comprehensive explanation for the hazards and proper use of these two solvents can be easily found online, which I encourage them to check before they use anything. Additionally, we usually used these solvents mostly on nonporous materials, and the erasers seemed to be the most useful on porous materials.

  7. Janice Lawrence says:

    I love your house! I love building doll houses, and decorating them. I did something in mine, I used material ( cloth) with tiny designs for wall paper and I was able to use two sided take to adhere pictures etc to walls. They are easy to remove and replace elsewhere f I wish to redecorate, as I do all the time. lol, I just can’t help myself. I love looking at your houses and getting ideas for future houses and the ones I have now. Thank you so much for all the pictures and videos. They are very helpful.

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