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‘Cajun ingenuity’: dry cleaner restores photos for museum

June 16, 2019 GMT

HOUMA, La. (AP) — Matt Porche knew from an early age that he was going to clean and restore clothing for a living.

Not until much later did he also take on the task of restoring history.

Porche, third-generation proprietor of Uneeda Cleaners in Houma, is lending a hand to the Regional Military Museum, which he serves as a member of its board of directors.

Specifically, Porche has lent his expertise and equipment in the cleaning business to a project dear to the heart of any modern museum: helping to restore and preserve old photographs.

“My heart is in the museum, it really is,” Porche said. “It just so happened to work out really well.”


Old photographs, even potentially valuable ones, are often discovered rolled up and left in less-than-ideal conditions for long-term life. After a few decades in an attic or storage unit, they dry out considerably, making unrolling them a risk for cracking or even disintegration.

Curators have found that a light application of steam usually helps, but few have access to large-scale steaming equipment, making the process long, laborious and inexact.

Porche got an idea from a similar process he saw at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington during a trip there for a dry-cleaning seminar years ago. The presses it used to restore old uniforms were also used to restore photos.

While most of the business relies on modern, mechanized, computerized equipment, it is an old, reliable manual steam press, one his grandfather bought, that Porche thought to try. He suggested it to Jane Thomas, the museum’s chief archivist.

“I told Miss Jane that I had this old machine back at the shop that would work perfectly for this,” he said. “It’s got a 42-inch board on it, it’s manual so you can control the steam, you’ve got a vacuum on the opposite side so if you want to cool it off and suck the steam out of it really quickly, you can do that.”

In the few weeks of this project, three batches of old military photographs have been successfully unrolled and made useful for historical purposes.

“Normally, it would take you a day or two to do one picture,” Porche said. “This way you can do a couple dozen, probably, in the same amount of time.”

Porche attributes that success to “a little bit of teamwork, a little bit of Cajun ingenuity and a little bit of luck.”

But that Cajun ingenuity does not stop there. Porche said that he is working on fabricating a similar press dedicated solely for restoring old photographs, one that the museum, and perhaps even other museums, can keep on-site.

He has already heard from other museums around the country interested in exploring this new use of old technology.

“I would venture to say that there is nobody else in the country doing something stupid like this,” Porche said. “But it really works.”


Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com