Hand-painted religious icons are much more than just results of human creativity and imagination. In Orthodox Church, they are often called “windows into heaven,” as they help establish strong relationships with Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, a certain saint, or another holy figure. For that reason, such pieces demand a great deal of attention, especially if you have more than one. Check out the list of some useful tips below to ensure your precious icon collection is stored in excellent condition and will stay in your family for years to come.
A guide on how to store an icon collection
1. Understand the risks
According to the online gallery Russian Icon Collection, the major risks involved in the preservation of sacred artworks are the following.
- Tears, missing and loose parts, breakages, and smudges.
- Fingerprints left on polished surfaces.
- Marks and stains from eating, skin contact, cosmetics, smoking, or household chemicals.
- Environmental conditions that lead to damage, such as central heating, poor storage materials, intense light, dampness, etc.
- People’s mistakes, improper handling, and accidents that may lead to damage.
- Storage in a moldy basement or another inappropriate place.
2. Maintain the right level of humidity and temperature
One of the most important factors related to storing religious artworks is creating favorable conditions. The temperature level should not be below 20 degrees Celsius, or your possessions may deteriorate. To be more accurate, the ideal temperature to store artworks and antiques is between 21-24 degrees Celsius. Besides, be sure to check the humidity level of the place you are going to use as storage. Remember that moisture can damage wooden boards and egg tempera. A good idea is to use a humidifier to achieve the appropriate humidity level that is 45-55%. Keep in mind that improper storage conditions may cause discoloration, mold growth, warping, cracked paint, and other damage. Also, if your space has several windows, it is better to seal and cover them with a thick and dark material to protect your icons from strong sunlight and rain.
3. Keep your icons clean
Dust and dirt that cling to the surface of a piece can attract dust mites. For that reason, cleaning is absolutely essential. Gently wipe down the surfaces using a microfiber cloth to remove any dust. Do not use anything with chemicals, as they may mess around with the paints and oils and affect the icon. Besides, never rub your religious icons with wax. The best thing you can do is consult an icon restorer or a hardware store to choose the polish safe for your pieces. Asking a professional appraiser for a condition report and having your icons professionally cleaned can also be an option.
4. Keep your collection away from heat
As it has already been mentioned, rapid changes in temperature are enemies for such delicate items as hand-painted icons. Thereby, never place your sacred art near a source of heat. Avoid a stove, lamp, heater, or any other heat-emitting object in order not to dry out the surface of the pieces. Apart from that, you should limit direct sunlight that can cause the paint or oil to crack or crumble.
5. Store antique icons in kiots
Although some believers think that the religious images should not be covered by anything, a kiot is still the best option to preserve a good look of the icon. Kiots are special custom-made wooden cases with glass front, which are used to protect religious art pieces from light, dust, and humidity changes. Remember that the glass must be at least several centimeters away from the surface of the icon.
6. Ensure correct documentation
If you want to preserve your collection for years to come, you need to be prepared for the worst. Before putting your possessions in storage, always archive the items to protect them against loss or damage. Take photos and make a condition report for each piece. For convenience, all the documentation (a notation of any existing damage, description, any changes in the storage space, etc.) can be done online. Besides, you can keep a record of the dates when pieces entered your collection, as well as update their location and condition information.
7. Do not stack the items on top of each other
One of the common mistakes related to dealing with icons, as well as other artworks, is storing them on top of each other. Pieces on the top may damage those on the bottom of the stack. Therefore, each icon should be stored vertically. This way, artworks do not have access to other pieces and cannot damage them.
8. Transport icons with care
In addition to ensuring proper storage conditions, you need to ensure safe and secure transportation of your collection to the storage unit if it is outside your home. During transportation, make sure your precious possessions do not shift inside the boxes and your vehicle. As mentioned above, do not stack the pieces to prevent any irreparable damage.
If you are not sure you can complete this task on your own, it is better to ask experienced art and antiques movers to help. With their expert assistance, you can avoid various hassles and difficulties that may occur in transit. Specialized movers will pick up your icons, make an inventory, take photos, and deliver them to their ultimate destination safe and sound. Some companies provide both transportation and storage services for art and antiques, so you can save much time and effort if you choose the right people for this job.
9. Do not try to restore your icons yourself
It is not a secret that things lose their original look over time. If this happened to your valuables, find and consult a reliable restorer instead of trying to restore the icon on your own. Only professionals can make your icons shine again.
We hope these relatively simple but fairly useful tips will help you keep your sacred art in the best condition possible. Follow them to preserve your collection for the future generation!