Saving Your Treasures: Display

Saving Your Treasures


Preservation Principles




Proper display of valued objects will help prevent damage and loss. We have all seen textiles that have faded due to overexposure to light as well as paper objects rusted by thumbtacks. These types of damage can be reduced by using safe materials and methods and by ensuring safe environmental conditions for our items on display.


All materials used in the display of objects should be acid-free and lignin-free. This includes materials like mat board, fabric, stuffing, supports, cases, and shelving.

Wood is neither acid-free nor lignin-free and is not a preferred material for exhibiting valued objects. Painting wood does not stop the emission of acidic gasses from wood. These gasses attack nearby objects and cause damage. Often, the paint applied to wood only adds its own volatile gasses to the mix, accelerating or exacerbating the damage. Wood surfaces can be covered with a barrier film, like Marvel Seal®.

There has been a lot of research into the safety of materials for use in museum exhibits, and some of this information can be extrapolated for use in smaller museums and in the home.

Preventative Care
Preventative Care
Preventative Care
Preventative Care
Examining, Handling, and Housing Paper-Based MaterialsExhibition
Housing Documents for ArchivesHousing Photographs for ArchivesHousing Negatives, Film, Books, Newspapers, Scrapbooks, & Sound Recording Media

Reference: Hatchfield, Pamela B.. Pollutants in the Museum Environment: Practical Strategies for Problem Solving, Exhibition and Storage. London. Archetype Publications. 2002.



How to Hinge and Matte
a Work of Art
Safe matting for paper objects and textiles involves the use of acid-free, lignin-free mat board, cardboard, fabric, paper, and other materials. Adhesives should never be applied to the object itself, except when wheat starch paste is used to adhere Japanese tissue hinges to paper objects. (See below.) Liquid adhesive and self-adhesive tape should not be applied to textiles, metals, or any other object materials.Textiles should never be stapled to backboards.


The parts of a well framed object include the frame, the frame rabbet lined with inert felt, glazing of either glass or polyester sheet (Plexiglas®), a window mat, the object, a back mat board, a thin sheet of inert vapor barrier, an acid-free, lignin-free cardboard backing board, two mounting brackets, perimeter tape to seal the backing to the frame, and two d-rings for hanging. See the handouts on the right for detailed information about this sequence.


There are many good references that describe safe mounts to use for three dimensional objects on display. Mounts can be complex and expensive, but if your item is rare and valuable, you should consider a museum-quality mount.

Environmental Conditions

Light, temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pollutants make up the environment that surrounds an object on display. Low light levels, short exposure times, moderate temperature, controlled relative humidity, and clean air are all needed for objects to be safe on display.

Light Levels and Exposure

Light causes significant damage to textiles, works of art on paper, and other sensitive materials. Often, some coloring materials will fade faster than others, causing color shifts in works of art and other objects. Even seemingly hardy objects, like finished wooden furniture, will fade in extreme exposure.

Exposure to visible and ultraviolet radiation can be a significant factor in the survival of objects. It is important to limit the level (foot-candles or lux), type (visible or ultraviolet) and length of exposure (minutes to days of illumination) to visible and ultraviolet radiation in order to protect objects.

Generally accepted levels of visible illumination for preservation range from 2 to 5 foot-candles for sensitive materials, like watercolors and silk textiles, to 30 to 50 foot-candles for materials that are not as light sensitive, like paintings or furniture. Only the materials most resistant to light damage, such as ceramics, metals, or stone, can withstand light levels above 50 to 60 foot-candles. Even these materials will be damaged if they include organic resins, paints, or repairs.

Environment: Light

Temperature and Relative Humidity

Environment: Relative Humidity
& Temperature
Temperature that is too high or too low can damage objects on display. Relative humidity that is above 55% and below 25% can also damage items on display.