Fig. 1 & 2, Silex Male, Ritual . Willie Cole, Logan Collection.
So, cold weather is finally upon us. And based on the hissing radiators, banging pipes, and whirring HVAC’s, the heat is on.
Higher thermostats mean dryer homes, as the relative humidity or RH in the air is forced out by our artificial heat. RH is the percentage of moisture in the air relative to the amount of air that can be held in your space. For example, if your home is 70 degrees and contains half of the water vapor it can hold, the RH is 50%. If you are a collector, keeping track and controlling your space’s relative humidity incredible important.
When the air in your home has low relative humidity, our bodies are adversely affected. Our skin and air passages dry out quickly. We work to mitigate the effects by applying moisturizer, drinking more water, or running humidifiers by our beds at night. Art work responds to a dry environment in much the same way as our bodies. Wood stretchers and sculptures may spit, crack, or separate at the joints as the material loses moisture. Paper can warp, yellow, or become more brittle in low relative humidity. Paintings on canvas can suffer a combination of effects as both the stretchers and the fabric of the canvas react to the dry environment.
Increasing the relative humidity in your home is important during the winter months. It not only creates a comfortable environment for you, but protects your investment by keeping the moisture in your artwork at consistent levels. Regularly operating a humidifier to control your RH is the best thing you can do for yourself and your collection.
If you need a humidifier, be prepared to spend a few dollars. You don’t want to purchase something that will not fulfill your needs. I recommend that consider units with the following features:
When regulating your RH, we recommend the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s conservation department’s guidelines for relative humidity versus temperature. The museum recommends a %RH between 45-55 for temperatures ranging between 68-72 degrees for paintings, works on paper, texties and furniture. We often set our RH to 50% to protect our collection.
Following these recommendations will keep you and your collections warm and safe this winter.
Looking for humidifiers? Here are a few recommendations: