Tornado-damaged artworks

We are thinking of all the people in Dallas affected by the tornado. If you have questions and need guidance in rescuing artworks, you can call the National Emergency Responders at (202) 661-8068 or TX-CERA at (669)-237-2243.

To find a local qualified conservator, use the search function on the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website:

A few quick tips to stabilize and avoid further damage to water-damaged or impact-damaged artworks until you are able to contact a conservator.

Remember: your safety comes first! For general guidelines on how to approach an emergency:

For framed artworks: if the artwork is not stuck to the glass, carefully remove from frame in a safe and dry place. If you notice that the paint is lifting off the surface or if you see minute losses, do not unframe. Place painting face up on elevated blocks to provide air circulation. If the glass protecting your watercolor is broken, pay attention not to scratch the artwork when handling it.

For photographs: if there are wet, do not allow them to dry in a pile. They will “block” and it’ll be impossible to separate them. Rinse them with clean, cool water and hang them to air dry. If too dirty to clean, put them in a container with clean water and take them to a conservator within 48 hours. Or you can interleave them with waxed paper and freeze them until you’ll have time to take them to a conservator. Do not freeze glass plate negatives.

For books: if partially wet, stand on top or bottom edge, open to 90 degree angle, and let them air dry. Photographic images need to be interleafed, otherwise they will block (dry inseparably). If you don’t have time or space to air dry all your books, start with a few and wrap in waxed paper (with interleaf as needed) and freeze the other ones. You can get them out and air dry them a few at the time.

For furniture: gently sponge surface to clean, blot, air dry slowly. If the uppermost layer dries too quickly while the inner part remains wet, the wood will warp and crack. Hold wood veneer in place with weights or clamps. Contact a conservator as soon as possible. If upholstery, remove cushions and seats and separate all the pieces; use dry towels or sheets to wrap the upholstered pieces and change the absorbent material as it becomes wet.

For ceramics: keep the pieces together in boxes. If possible, make sure the fragments don’t collide in the box; it’ll minimize the losses along the edges of the fragments.

For metals: handle with gloves, clean with soft sponge and blot dry; if object has an applied finish, do not attempt to clean. Air dry.

For textiles: fabrics become saturated with water and they are at risk of damage when handling them. Make sure the textile is supported. Do not stack wet textiles. Rinse, drain and blot textiles with clean towels to remove excess water. Shape textile to its original form. Air dry using fans.


Let’s Talk Mold

There are numerous resources online that provide information and guidance on how to “deal” with mold.

This is a brief synthesis.

Mold grows on organic materials in suitable conditions: relative humidity higher than 65%, oxygen and lack of air circulation, temperatures preferably in the range of 50 – 95°F. Mold decomposes the organic material (something we are usually trying to safe) and produces substances that can cause illnesses and allergic reactions.

During intervention on a mold outbreak:

  • make sure to protect yourself first: wear nitrile gloves and make sure mold does not come into contact with your skin; wash hands after removing gloves; do not eat and drink in an environment where mold is present; wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as FFP3 dust mask and goggles, up to respirators and body suits in case of large outbreaks;
  • try to identify and address the cause(s) of the mold outbreak;
  • create some air circulation, using fans;
  • use dehumidification equipment to reduce the relative humidity below 65%;
  • use HEPA vacuum to remove mold growth;
  • consult a conservator for appropriate of intervention depending on substrate/artifact.

In case of symptoms such as skin rash or asthma, stop immediately and consult your doctor.

For a list of symptoms, you can consult the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019). Mold Allergy:


PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 8, 2019 Contact: Eryl Wentworth, Executive Director Phone: 202.661.8060 Email: Collecting Institutions: Prepare for Heavy Rainfall on Gulf Coast WASHINGTON, DC—A low pressure system over central Georgia is expected to move toward the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days. This system will likely produce heavy rainfall along parts of northern and eastern US Gulf Coast. Those in the storm’s path should prepare for the likelihood of an extreme water event later this week. The Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) offers free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations impacted by the event. Please help ensure that staff members of collecting institutions are aware of these resources: • Information on disaster recovery and salvage for impacted collections can be found online at • The National Heritage Responders, a team of trained volunteer conservators and collections care professionals, are available to provide advice on the phone via a free 24-hour hotline at 202.661.8068. • National Heritage Responders are also available to conduct pro bono on-site assessments and provide guidance on salvage. Call the hotline (202.661.8068) to request assistance. Collecting institutions are encouraged to do all that you can to stabilize your collections before the storm hits, while also making sure that your response contact lists and resources are ready to use, should your institution be affected. ### The Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that delivers and supports an array of programs and initiatives to protect our shared cultural heritage. FAIC tells the story of conservation, empowers professionals working within the field, and shares instrumental knowledge and resources. FAIC works with organizations and individuals to ensu servation is widely understood, appreciated, and supported.

Before pests become an emergency…

Two important websites to guide you in understanding how to prevent infestations or control and eliminate pests once they’ve unintentionally entered your collection.

  1. The MuseumPests Working Group was formed by collection managers, conservators, entomologists and other professionals for the implementation of integrated pest management in museums, libraries, archives, and other collection-holding institutions:
    Main sections:

2.  What’s Eating Your Collection is a website by the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery dedicated to integrated pest management with guidance to its implementation and to the identification of the insects that you may find with recommendations in case you need to take action.
(Note: this website requires Flash)

July 9 Free Webinar on HVAC

The Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) is offering a series of webinars through its Connecting to Collection Care program.

On July 9, 2 – 3:30 pm (EDT) the topic will be temperature and humidity control through heating, ventilation and air conditioning.  If you are considering upgrading your system or would like to gain a better understanding of the parameters you can modify to optimize your existing system, follow the link for additional information and to register:

HVAC Installation, Renovation, and Collections Environments – An Introduction

Discussion will include an introduction to updates in the 2019 American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Handbook – Applications, Chapter 24: Museums, Galleries, Archives, and Libraries.

TX-CERA Training, Response and Workshops, Update

TX-CERA stands ready to serve in case of future disasters, not only in their home state, but in other areas of the nation in need of help. Indeed, as recovery work continued in Texas, a TX-CERA representative made two trips to Puerto Rico in October and December 2017, to assist art museums, artists, and libraries with storm mitigation following Hurricane Maria. Today, there are still some institutions engaging in the long recovery work from disaster. TX-CERA’s first responder efforts put many on the path to recovery.

In surveying the challenges and success of actions taken by TX-CERA during Hurricane Harvey recovery—and in recognition of additional challenges in the coming years for cultural heritage resources along the Gulf Coast—the FAIC and TX-CERA were prompted to approach the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for support to increase the number of museum and library professionals trained to respond safely and professionally to future local and regional disasters. On October 25, 2017, The Mellon Foundation awarded $100,000 to the FAIC to support emergency training for staff in collecting institutions from three key at-risk cities nationwide: Houston, Miami, and Seattle. In Texas, the grant supported a program to train and establish a state response team of thirty-five collections professionals in collaboration with TX-CERA. The cost-free training program used a curriculum similar to that used to train FAIC’s National Heritage Responders (NHR), and was conducted using both hands-on instruction and distance learning. The selection of participants were made on a competitive basis. This new team, Texas Heritage Responders (THR), formed of volunteers from across the state, will not only be a ready resource for response at the state level but will also be available to supplement the NHR team members elsewhere, if need be. The THR group is attached to the Texas Emergency Management Assistance Team (TEMAT). This is the forward response and recovery team for the Texas Department of Public Safety. The program serves as a state resource with multi-disciplined, multi-talented, and highly qualified members. A TEMAT member is a subject matter expert with a mastery of all phases of their area of expertise. TEMAT is deployed under the direction of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), as required to support local entities in the event of a catastrophic incident or event. The response teams are recruited from various disciplines at the local level, and coordinated with other state agencies.


Additionally, TX-CERA is collaborating with the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA)—the city’s designated local arts and culture agency—in an effort to create and disseminate information through the Houston Area Arts and History Disaster Resilience Plan. Recognizing that the vast majority of artists, cultural practitioners, and arts and culture organizations are unprepared for the next sudden or historic disruption, the HAA secured funds to hire an experienced disaster planning professional and to create an advisory committee of cultural nonprofit leaders and artists, funders, and public-sector disaster professionals. In creating the plan, the working group sorted through the dozens of opportunities, needs, and questions that surfaced during the recovery period following Hurricane Harvey and assessed needs and paths forward to create disaster response elements, such as communication databases and vehicles; damages assessment systems; engagement with existing public and private disaster resources at the City of Houston, Harris County, and the region; ongoing training for nonprofits and individuals; and corps of expert disaster responders to help in recovery efforts. TX-CERA’s Steven Pine sits on the HAA’s advisory committee. TX-CERA also has been part of the planning process and agreed to be content experts during training workshops designed for artists and arts and history organizations.

Through education and advocacy, TX-CERA strives to serve as a resource for cultural institutions in order to mitigate loss of cultural and heritage collections due to disaster. Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding in August 2017 was historic in nature. Key support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and its Chairman’s Emergency Grant program helped TX-CERA effectively respond to the crisis. Through their actions, TX-CERA was able to offer immediate help and advice to arts and cultural heritage organizations in need, and spread knowledge on mitigation and recovery efforts to both the community and their peers. The continued effort to create a master list of arts and cultural organizations in the Texas Gulf Coast region not only positively impacts hundreds of arts and heritage groups in the wake of Harvey, but also should be an invaluable tool to facilitate quicker response in case of future disasters.

Past posting of a successful Hurricane Harvey collaboration in Houston, 2017


TX-CERA and AIC National Heritage Responders assist with art damaged during Hurricane Harvey

Houston muralist’s painting in jeopardy

Historic artwork endangered with mold from storm

Updated: September 10, 2017 11:04am

"I am happy to say that, from a structural point of view, the mural looks OK," said Elizabeth Mehlin, a Boston painting conservator who came as part of an emergency response team. "The paint is all right, and it's not flaking, which would have been a much bigger problem." Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Staff / © 2017  Houston Chronicle


Hurricane Harvey peppered the John Biggers 1953 mural, Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, with bursts of black mold.

National heritage responders – experts activated when art has been compromised by disasters – showed up Saturday to evaluate the damage on the painting that covers a wall inside the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association’s headquarters in Houston’s Third Ward. The work featuring Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Phillis Wheatley was painted when the building housed the Blue Triangle YWCA.

What was an emergency will become a catastrophe without immediate intervention.

Saving the Biggers mural will require a multi-pronged approach: A construction solution for the damaged building, which includes the roof; an art restoration fix for mold on the mural; and a hefty financial infusion to support those projects.

Caretakers went public in January 2016 to plead for contributions to repair the roof – $50,000 for a patch job and $200,000 for a complete restoration. The funding never came. Now, the resolution will cost much more.

Astonishing damage

Two weeks ago, Harvey’s unrelenting rain sent water through the roof and walls of the historic building at 3005 McGowen St.

What were warped, discolored ceiling tiles have come down or are inundated with mold. Walls are damp with telltale trickle trails. There are dozens of receptacles throughout the building still catching water.

In a room off the main hallway, the Biggers mural is scarred but stable.

“I am absolutely astonished at the damage that has been done,” said Charlotte Kelly Bryant, the association’s founding president. She noted that the mural has been “perfectly kept” for more than six decades, including the association’s 17 years of owning the building.

Members of an emergency response team from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works have come to Houston to assess the mural, as well as the flooded collection of props at the Alley Theatre in downtown’s Theater District. Art conservators and a property damage restoration expert wore respirator masks inside the Blue Triangle building.

The mural can be saved. The preliminary diagnosis credits Biggers’ use of two coats of white paint to prime the wall, which protected the colors from moisture.

“I am happy to say that, from a structural point of view, the mural looks OK. The paint is all right, and it’s not flaking, which would have been a much bigger problem,” said Elizabeth Mehlin, a painting conservator from the Boston area who came as part of the emergency response team. “I believe that the mural is salvageable, and now we just need the funding to go ahead and get the building squared away and the humidity levels reduced so that the mural won’t be in jeopardy in the future – once we get the immediate mold issue resolved.”

Asking for prayers

The mural restoration plan will involve conservation scientists sampling the mold, examining the fungus under a microscope, then applying the same solutions that would repair a similarly injured Picasso or Rembrandt.

Also on site Saturday was Steve Pine, a senior decorative arts conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, who works with the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance. National heritage responders traveled to New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. They also provided services following the 2010 Haiti earthquake and on the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Pine said.

The Blue Triangle building, a state historic landmark registered with the Texas Historical Commission, includes a gymnasium, commercial kitchen, meeting rooms and indoor pool. Association supporters are working to preserve the community center, its programs and the mural.

“I ask the prayers of everybody as we beg for assistance,” Bryant said.

Biggers, who founded the art department at Texas Southern University, died in 2001 at 76. His is considered one of the foremost artists whose work captured the black experience of the 20th century. Biggers also mentored several generations of Houston artists, particularly muralists.