In this blog, I’m going to start talking about restoration, my thoughts on it, what sorts of cels need it, and as much information as I can think of to spread around from my opinion and perspective… As a dealer and lover of animation who has been around the “business” since there were only 5 galleries in the world some 25 years ago, I have certainly seen my share of damaged cels….Here are the categories of cels that need restoration:
- There are cels that have been left in the closet of a house that has no air conditioning: the worst example of this was a cel of Cheshire Cat where the bright pink paint had seeped into the actual cel, and the paint had melted to make the poor creature look like he’d been smashed to death. Tragic. (No picture. No one needed a reminder of such ruin)
- There have been cels that are from the era of “art corner”–these are the cels from Disney released at Disneyland–they are put on thin litho copy backgrounds and it is just about inherent to the era that the cels are stuck, often completely, to the background. Many collectors just leave them that way, since anyone who knows what they are looking at will expect the cel to be stuck. Fortunately, a friend devised a way to separate those cels from their backgrounds without destroying all the paint, and keeping the art intact. YAY!!! He deserves an award! (no, he doesn’t do it for the general public…)
- There are cels that are painted nitrate cellulose, and that “plastic” shrinks and expands with the moisture in the air and they look all shriveled and wavy. Often the paint cracks off because it is being asked to stay adhered to these wavy pieces of plastic. TOO MUCH STRESS! These pieces are often Courvoisier set ups, which were put together and sold by Disney in the late 30s and early 40s. There are also cels from Dumbo that crack from the kind of paint they used with the elephants. Rare indeed are the cels that are unrestored of the lead character or other elephants from that film.
- There are cels that are from the 50s from movies where the paint they used is notorious for cracking. An example of this is the white on Alice in Wonderland. Her apron, her tights…these crack very easily. Since Alice and Cinderella fall in between the Courvoisier and Art Corner eras at Disney, they are often just loose cels someone saved. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few that are in perfect condition from that time period that I call “The Secretary’s Era”, because women who worked in the offices there and took art home sometimes painted over the back of the cel where the paint was with clear nail polish. I have never seen pieces that have nail polish with chipped or cracked paint. Those gals knew what they were doing!
- There are cels that are from when Disney started selling art to the public through what they called “The Disney Art Program”. These cels have seals (a variety of them, actually) but they are often laminated on both the front and the back of the cel. So that means an extra piece of plastic is added on top of the cels with art on them. THESE ARE TICKING TIME BOMBS, says a chemist friend who has been working with restoration experts for longer than I’ve even been around animation. Why? Because something happens with the chemistry of the paint and whatever they used to seal it all together. I don’t really understand it, but what I DO know is the end result is at some point the cels start getting bubbling, smell weird, and then shrivel up. I have heard of, and a few times seen firsthand that removing the layers on either side of the art saves the inner cel(s), but once it starts bubbling time is of the essence. For this reason I rarely sell cels from between 1971 and 1986 unless I can tell it is laminated only on one side or not at all.
- Finally, there are cels that are simply not well taken care of–left in houses with extreme changes in temperature, or in a hot car, or in a pile of cels where they all get stuck together. Also, if an extremely hard winter (as we’ve just had on the East coast) has caused sharp changes of temperature and extreme cold, it can mean trouble for a perfect unrestored cel.
Unfortunately, (from my perspective), the world of animation doesn’t see any difference between art that is in original condition and art that’s been restored. This is good news for those who agree with this notion, but those who know me are aware of the fact that I would always prefer to carry and sell art in its original condition. I suspect those from Europe, or at least more often from outside the US, tend to be more committed to finding art that is in good original shape. When a collector with either perspective finds a great image of a key scene or moment from a favorite short or movie, however, if the art is damaged to the point of being visually distracting, restoration often becomes a necessity.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss how to proceed when cels are damaged, at what point a collector might decide restoration is necessary, and where information and help can be obtained.
Postscript: I was searching the web for Courvoisier cels that are cracked but in good condition, and I found no less than dozens of cels that I’ve had for sale and sold at some point, and remember what they looked like at the time, and now they are “perfect”