Art Conservation Project: Drawings from the The Wind in the Willows (1970)

March 26, 2021 | TPL Staff

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Hello! I am Emily White, a conservator at Toronto Public Library. In September 2020, I started the conservation treatment of a series of new drawings in our Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.

A masked conservator is removing dirt from a drawing of Toad with a small piece of chemical sponge.
Here I am in Toronto Reference Library's conservation lab working on the project.


The drawings

In 2019, Toronto Public Library acquired 55 drawings from the 1970 Anglia Television adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s children's book The Wind in the Willows (1908). The TV show and book follow the adventures of four animals: Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger.

Artist John Worsley produced a total of 550 drawings for the 18-episode series. The drawings were either filmed as an entire scene or the camera would zoom in on different details in a single drawing. Some even feature multiple vignettes, with each vignette forming a distinct scene as the camera panned across the drawing.


Condition assessment

All 55 of the drawings in the collection are watercolour on board with black crayon. Some have touches of opaque watercolour and others have traces of graphite.

Most of the drawings were determined to be in good condition. There were some minor tears at edges or corners, some moderate surface soil and a moderate amount of offset media (i.e. colours from one drawing transferring to another drawing). The offset media was mostly from the black crayon present on every drawing. It would have been transferred from one drawing to another through close contact, likely during previous inappropriate storage.

Close examination revealed that the artist applied corrections with opaque watercolour to cover previous inscriptions or "erase" previous versions of a scene. These corrections are useful to conservators because they can help us determine the original colour of the paper before it was soiled or yellowed.

A drawing of a robin where grey paint has been applied to correct the shape of the head. The grey paint stands out from the yellow paper.
The correction applied around the robin’s head was once a close colour match for the paper.


Conservation treatment

Because the drawings were in generally good condition, the treatment that followed was minimal and focused on long-term preservation.

Minor tears were mended with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Brown paper tape was also removed from the verso (back) of two drawings using a local application of steam.  This tape was not original to the drawings, and it covered inscriptions about the scene and the cameras used for filming. These inscriptions were legible once the tape was off.

brown tape being removed from paper with tweezers
Tape being removed with tweezers.


The most extensive treatment involved removing surface soil and offset media from each drawing. Surface soil was carefully removed with a chemical sponge, while some areas of ingrained dirt were cleaned with a white vinyl eraser. It was important to avoid image areas to avoid disturbing the media layers.

Two images, one of close up of sponge rubbing on paper with dark media and a drawing showing clean right side and black smudges on left side of drawing of woman with tool and toad
Left: Detail of surface soil picked up by the chemical sponge. Right: Before surface cleaning (left half) and after surface cleaning (right half).



Long-term storage solutions were needed to prevent media transfer from reoccurring. Of the 55 drawings, 42 measured approximately 52 x 55 cm, and 13 measured approximately 75 x 100 cm. The smaller drawings are now housed across four archival boxes, interleaved inside custom-made folders which help prevent the drawings from shifting during retrieval or transport. The larger drawings are now housed across four custom-made portfolios. Like the smaller drawings, they are also housed within an interior folder and interleaved with sheets of lightweight folder stock.

Four portfolios are stacked on a work bench in a conservation lab
Four portfolios were constructed to house and protect the oversized drawings.



Thank you to the Friends of the Osborne Collection for generously funding this conservation project.


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This blog post was written by Emily White, Conservator.