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Art conservation and iconic animation

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There is an inscription and signature on the back of a paper mat. The mat has slight foxing stains. A close up image shows the student dabbing the edge of the mat with an angled sponge.

​​

A close-up view of Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation Fellow Daniella Briceño Villamil dry cleaning around the inscription with a cosmetic sponge.​ (Image: E. Krape for UD.)

Tom and Jerry, the sly grey house cat and the clever brown mouse, first appeared in 1940 in a one-reel film short created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbara for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The iconic cartoon characters are perpet​ual adversaries, with Jerry invariably getting the upper hand. The cartoons won seven Academy awards and can still be found on the internet.

This year, a single matted set of animation cels (short for celluloid) created in 1950 for a 1951 Tom and Jerry cartoon called “Casanova Cat” became a treatment project for WUDPAC Fellow Daniella Briceño Villamil, an objects major with a special interest in time-based media and contemporary collections. The cel set depicts Tom setting out to woo Toodles, a new kitty in town who has inherited $1 million. He is taking her two gifts: flowers and Jerry, who is on a leash with a bow around his neck.

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A close up of two hands using a microspatula and tweezers to lift the edge of an old, yellowed, brittle piece of tape from a piece of paper.

Daniella using microtools to remove the tape carriers from the verso of the watercolor background. (Image: E. Krape for UD.)​

​The cel set Daniella is treating contains four parts: two transparent plastic sheets—one per character— outlined on the front and painted on the back; a watercolor scene painted for the background, and a window mat that frames the entire set. The mat carries an inscription and signature noting that this and one other Tom and Jerry cel set were given to “Sheila and Patty” in the late 1950s by Fred Quimby (1886-1965), a retired MGM animation producer then working for the Associated Press, where the sisters met him while visiting their aunt at work.

Daniella plans to stabilize all components of the set and restore its aesthetic integrity. Some issues, such as undulations in the window mat and the watercolor background and color variations in the paints of the plastic sheets, are related to age. A large purple mold stain on the background and rust marks around the edges are the result of past water damage. Through scientific analysis, Daniella will determine if the plastic sheets are cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate and identify their paint medium so that she can devise a tailored strategy to carefully clean the components and adhere the flaking paint. Daniella will also reduce distortion in the paper items and attempt to remove or reduce the purple mold stain on the watercolor background.

​When her treatment is complete, Daniella will return the cel set to the owner, Sheila of the inscription. She is proposing to create a clean facsimile of the current mold-stained watercolor background, expanding a conservation solution into the digital realm.

A printable PDF version of this story is available online. Previous stories on projects from the Department of Art Conservation are archived on our website​.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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A student, wearing a lab coat and purple gloves, sits at a table. On the table are two animation cels, and trays of tools. Behind the student is a rack of colorful pigments in jars.

Daniella working with the animation cels for Tom the cat (right) and Jerry the mouse (left). (Image: E. Krape for UD.)​

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Used in the Home Page News Listing and for the News Rollup Page
Tom and Jerry first appeared in 1940 in a one-reel film short created for MGM. This year, a single matted set of animation cels for a 1951 cartoon of the iconic characters became a treatment project for WUDPAC Fellow Daniella Briceño Villamil.
 
 
3/14/2023
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