All posts by Henry Hebert

What (Was Once) in the Lab

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator

Even though we’re working from home right now, we thought we’d add to our What’s in the Lab series with some pictures of neat items from the past that we never got a chance to share. It’s nice to revisit these pictures during this time so we can fondly remember all of the cool things that pass through the Conservation lab on a regular basis.

WHAT (WAS ONCE) IN THE LAB: ELECTRICAL HANDBOOK FOR WOMEN

front cover of electrical handbook for women

Acquired as a part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, we found this Electrical Handbook for Women from 1934 as it was awaiting cataloging. We love the art deco cover illustration.

Frontispiece and title page

Photomechanical print of a woman repairing a fuse box.

Woven and Interlocking Books

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

About 10 years ago I visited Claire Van Vliet at her Janus Press studio space in Newark, Vermont with another conservation intern. Claire was incredibly kind, spending all afternoon showing us around and talking about her work. At the end of the visit she gave us each a copy of her book Woven and Interlocking Book Structures as a parting gift.

Front cover of Woven and Interlocking Book Structures

I rediscovered this book on my shelf a few weeks ago when I hit my limit on Zoom meetings and was desperate to return to doing some hands-on work. And what a sanity saver it has been! I’ve taken time every day to step away from my computer and work my way through each of the structures.

Image of work bench, laid out with tools and materials.

The book provides instructions for creating a sample of more than a dozen woven or interlocking book structures that are easy enough for anyone to do at home. The samples are small, only 4×5” and just a few pages long. Construction requires a few simple tools: a pencil, ruler, cutting blade, scissors, scoring tool/bone folder, awl/needle, glue, and a microspatula which was not required but “worth getting because you’ll wonder how you lived without it.” While nicer paper or a variety of papers would make more interesting finished samples, you really only need cover stock and text weight papers. Still, I had to make do with the paper I had on hand at home. Sometimes I had to use scraps of paper with the grain direction going the wrong way or that wasn’t quite the correct weight. But in the end I was able to successfully create a sample of every structure.

(Click each image to enlarge)

There are even instructions at the end of the book to create a lovely little slipcase to house your entire sample set of books.

Book in slipcase

If you would like to create your own sample set of woven and interlocking book structures you can access the entire book online for free through Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/details/woveninterlockin00vanv/mode/2up

Zoom Tip: Add a Handheld Camera

Each spring for the last couple of years, I’ve traveled up to the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library to teach a workshop on blind and gold tooling to students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The workshop provides a very basic introduction to all the tools and materials that have historically been used to decorate bindings and allows the students to try some of the techniques for themselves. We also use the time to examine bindings from the library’s collection, looking closely at tool marks and other evidence, to determine how they were produced.

With in-person instruction suspended this semester, we decided to try a modified version of the workshop  via the popular video conferencing platform Zoom.

Side by side images of a laptop screen showing a Zoom meeting in progress.
Photos by Dr. Melissa Tedone

I had to change a lot about how I would ordinarily approach this workshop, since I usually provide paper hand-outs and bring a number of physical samples for students to examine. I was able to get around some of this by using the screen-sharing feature to display images of specific tools and diagrams of important concepts during the lecture portion of the workshop. I also shared links to specific bindings in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Bindings Image Collection, so that each student could zoom in or navigate around the image on their own. Resources like this were a helpful stand-in for bindings from the Winterthur Library’s collection.

Image of book spine from the Folger Bindings Image Collection
Erasmus, Desiderius. 1544. Enchiridion militis Christiani. Folger Shakespeare Library Bindings Image Collection: https://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/b62z6p

But what if you have an item on-hand which you would like your participants to examine more closely? My laptop’s webcam is thankfully good enough to show a fair amount of detail, but it can be a little tricky to orient the object in front of the camera so that your room lighting shows the surface characteristics. It might also be impossible to hold the object upright enough to view in frame.

“Can you see the decoration on this binding?”

I’ve seen some enterprising examples of detachable webcams mounted to headbands or task lights to create document cameras, but my webcam is not detachable. It turns out there is a simple way to turn your smartphone into a secondary, hand-held camera! Unfortunately, I figured this trick out too late for my own workshop – but maybe it can be useful for other folks doing instruction remotely. This trick requires you to first install the Zoom mobile app.

I start by scheduling a Zoom meeting and then either add the invitation to my calendar or email it to myself for quick access later. The meeting is launched on the primary device (in my case, a laptop) and the video and sound are set up. Instruction proceeds as usual until the hand-held camera is needed. At this point, tap the meeting link on a mobile device to join. When the meeting has launched in the mobile app, select “Join with Video” and then tap “Cancel” when asked to join audio. I learned the hard way that you will get some rather unpleasant feedback and echoing if you have audio going on two devices at once.

Side by side images of mobile Zoom interfaceAt this point your meeting participants will be disoriented by your competing video feeds (and maybe by your disheveled quarantine hair), but these feelings will pass.

Screenshot of Zoom interface with 2 camerasTap the button at the top left of your mobile device’s screen to switch to the rear-facing camera. You should ask your audience to find and “pin” the video feed for your mobile device, so that it occupies the majority of the screen when they switch to the “speaker view”.

Zoom interface with main video feed as handheld phone cameraNow you can easily move your mobile device around the object during your instruction session. When you don’t need the second camera anymore, simply leave the meeting on that device. Obviously this setup will put some additional load on your home network and internet connection, but it has worked well enough in my experiments to get the job done. This method will probably also work on other video conferencing platforms, but I have not attempted it.

With so many people developing and participating in online instruction right now, I’m sure others are finding new and helpful ways to use the technology we might already have at home. What tools or tips have you found useful in your work from home situation?

Quick Pick: Our new office view

With the library closing to all staff at 5:00pm today, we are rising to the challenge and adapting to working remotely.  With some of us having attended the Southeast Regional Conservation Associations annual meeting last month, we decided to get together to share what we had learned.

Laptop screen with Zoom meeting in progress

Here Rachel is showing a chart of the Triboelectric series (right before we all remembered we could just share screeens 🙂 ). It’s nice to be able to connect with colleagues so easily, despite everything that is going on.

Stay safe out there!

Chance Encounters in the Lab

Yesterday, I was going through some collection material from the Duke family that had been transferred to the conservation lab for review and noticed an image of a very familiar-looking building. I knew I had seen it before, but I couldn’t remember where.

1009 5th Ave
1009 5th Ave, circa 1927

It turns out, I had been looking at it for several weeks. Rachel Penniman has been treating architectural drawings of the same building!

1009 Architectural Drawings

And not only that – I had seen it in real life just a few months ago. Known as the Benjamin N. Duke House, this property is located at 1009 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, just across from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had stopped by The Met after we finished our exhibit installation at the Grolier Club back in December. I stared right at it as I was leaving the museum and didn’t know what I was seeing.

Built in 1901 and designed by the firm of Welch, Smith, and Provot, the building is a splendid example of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, rising eight stories and measuring approximately 20,000 square feet. Ownership of the property has changed hands many times over the years, but stayed in the Duke family until 2006.  After Benjamin, his brother, James,  lived in the house until his own residence was completed just a few blocks away in 1912. His son, Angier Buchanan Duke, then took up residence until 1919, when Mary Lillian Duke (Angier’s sister) and her husband A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. moved in. Later, their daughter, Mary Semans, took over ownership and you can hear her recount some memories of living there. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1974, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.  Mary’s son, James, lead a renovation of the building in 1985 and you can also see him speak about the project.

The photograph and drawings that we have in the lab depict the matching limestone and red-brick facades of two other buildings along fifth avenue. Sadly, those structures have not survived.

1009 Today
1009 5th Ave, Today

A few years ago, the mansion received considerable attention when Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim listed it through Sotheby’s for $80 million and it became one of the most expensive public listings in New York.

Behind the Scenes of “500 Years of Women’s Work”

Tomorrow is your last opportunity to visit an exhibition of select items from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection at the Grolier Club. This exhibition opened at the beginning of December 2019 and has received a great deal of attention from media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine , and New England Public Radio (just to name a few). We have been so pleased to hear all the positive feedback and see images of the Grolier’s ground floor gallery packed with visitors.  Many of our staff put a great deal of work into making this exhibition happen, and, as we prepare to travel back to New York to pack up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the “behind the scenes” photos of installation.

The week after Thanksgiving, a team of Duke Library staff braved sleet and snow to begin our installation at the Grolier Club. We arrived to a brightly lit exhibit gallery and lot of carefully packed collection material on temporary work tables. We had five days to install five hundred years of women’s history – and it was going to be a busy week.

The Grolier Club exhibit space, filled with packed boxes.
Day 1: Head of Exhibition Services, Meg Brown, surveys the exhibit space… and the large pile of unpacked boxes.

After a short huddle and review of our work plan, we broke up into two teams and dove right in. The first team was assigned the task of unpacking all the signage and large reproduction images that would be hung at the tops of the case walls and in the gallery alcoves.

Open exhibit cases with reproduction images placed on shelves.
Senior Library Exhibition Technician, Yoon Kim, matches reproduction image panels with the proper exhibit case.

After locating each hanging piece and placing them in the appropriate exhibit case or location, the process of actually hanging began. Some objects, like the life-size reproduction suffrage banner (pictured below), required a special platform so that staff could safely access hanging hardware above the wide table case vitrines.

Grolier Club and Duke Library staff hanging a large reproduction banner
Grolier Exhibitions Assistant, Bee Hughes (left), Meg Brown (center-right), and Grolier Exhibitions Manager, Jennifer Sheehan (right) hang a large reproduction banner.

As the hanging continued, Lauren Reno, Head of Rare Materials Cataloging at Duke, and I began the process of unpacking and checking the condition of over 200 collection items that would be going on display. Each object needed to be accounted for, unwrapped, and reviewed for potential changes in condition. Last summer I wrote about our new method for documenting exhibit loans. I was able to run some small field tests last fall using the new method and computing hardware, but this was the first time it had been employed for such a large loan and with such a time crunch. The new documentation system performed very well and we were able to finish condition reporting ahead of schedule. I plan to share more about the documentation system in future blog posts.

Library materials spread out on a table.

With the hanging complete and each item unpacked and checked off, it was time to sort out the exhibit supports. Yoon Kim had spent many months fabricating the custom cradles, upright angles, or support boards needed to safely support the wide variety of collection materials. During packing, we affixed small labels printed with the item’s Aeon transaction number to the underside of each piece of the support. Using a wire frame diagram of each case layout, it was easy to assemble each book cradle and place it in the correct location inside the exhibit case.

Empty book cradles arranged in an exhibit case
Empty supports (with labels) placed inside the exhibit case.

At this point the teams converged to begin mounting each item to it’s support and installing them inside the correct exhibit case. Objects were secured to their mount using polyester or polyethylene strapping.

Books and photographs being strapped to their custom supports

While we were all working to ready the physical materials, Grolier staff were setting up the large digital display, which would rotate a gallery of images from the collection. Despite the crowd of tables and equipment on the floor of the gallery, you could really see the exhibition beginning to take shape.

Tables and equipment out in the space during installation.

Sometimes because of the weight distribution of an item, a cradle needed to be attached to the glass shelves or metal case decks. In those situations, we were able to use stacks of neodymium disc magnets to secure the cradle. The printed exhibit labels were also attached to the case backs and label rails with small magnets.

The same case after installation is complete and lighting has been adjusted. With all the items in place, we began the final step of lighting the space. Going case by case, we took light readings at each object and then added, removed, or adjusted LEDs to an appropriate level. It is such a challenge to achieve lighting that is bright enough for visitors to clearly see an object and is also appropriate for the light sensitivity media or photographic materials; however, after many rounds of review and tweaks, we were finally ready!

The Grolier Club exhibition space, ready for opening. Even though we had already exhibited this same collection of items at the Rubenstein Library in early 2019, this somehow felt like a totally different exhibit. It required a great deal of planning and preparation to travel and install a loan of this size at a partner institution and we all learned so much throughout the process. In the end, I think all that work really shows in the final product and I’m glad that we were able to contribute to the mission of our institution by sharing and bringing awareness to a small sample of the cultural heritage we look after.

Don’t Do Crimes in Front of Monkeys

For a more adept criminal, it is probably obvious not to commit a crime in front of another person, as they can be called as a witness in court. Thanks to the scrapbooking efforts of Virginia Clay-Clopton in the late 1800s, today we learned that animals can be witnesses, too!

This scrapbook of Virginia’s (included in the C. C. Clay Papers, 1811-1925) came into the lab the other day for rehousing. It mostly includes correspondence from members of the Clay family in the post-Reconstruction period, but one little newspaper clipping caught our eye.

The clipping describes the murder of a traveling showman in India, which was apparently witnessed by one of his monkeys. I could not determine what eventually happened in this particular case, but the monkey was being detained as a witness.

The clipping’s mention of the Dog of Montargis lead us down a rabbit hole of stories about animal witnesses, historical and contemporary. In addition to monkeys and dogs, we read about legal proceedings involving a parrot named Echo, and a cat named Sal Esposito.

Here at the library, our primary position is that you shouldn’t commit crimes. I will leave it to experts in animal law to debate the admissibility of an animal witness – but if you are going to do some crimes, at least make sure there aren’t any monkeys around.

Quick Pic: Frightful

Hand-colored plaster relief sculpture that demonstrates fetal fractures of skull and clavicle. Created by Charlotte Holt.
Sculpture of infant (1961)

Today We Learned: Always read the label before opening a box from the History of Medicine collection. Moving aside the tissue paper packing, we were greeted by this sculpture a little too early this morning. We were not prepared for such a creepy surprise! Made by medical illustrator and sculptor Charlotte Holt in 1961, this hand-painted plaster relief sculpture depicts treatment of fetal skull and clavicle fractures. Holt’s attention to detail is excellent… which makes it all the more disturbing.

What Will Publishers Do Next?

We regularly see book publishers’ attempts to set their products apart from the rest of the market here in the conservation lab – usually because the novel materials or structures they have chosen don’t hold up so well under normal use. We often find ourselves asking, “What will these publishers try next?” This week the answer to that question came in the form of robots.

Front Cover of Robots 1:1

This very large and weighty volume depicts over 100 space-themed toys held by the Vitra Design Museum. Much like our copies of Audubon’s Birds of America, the book is so large because the toys and their original packaging have been photographed and printed at a scale of 1:1. And I will say the images are wonderful.

Interior double page spread of of Robots 1:1, Showing robot toy packaging and the toyThe unique feature of this book, however, is a USB memory stick that has been integrated into the headcap. The stick contains a film by Luka Dogan, showing a selection of the robots in action.

 

Headcap of the spine with USB stickWe often see volumes with additional media included, usually as a CD or DVD inside a paper or plastic pocket that has been adhered inside one of the boards. Other types of media are too thick to be handled in the same way, so the location of this USB and it’s “holster” are interesting and unobtrusive. It includes some nice design elements, like a small magnet to hold the stick securely in place.

USB out of holder

The problem comes when you actually try to get the stick out. Grasping the stick and pulling it free puts a lot of stress on the headcap and joints, some of the weakest areas of the binding. As you can see, the front joint has already started to tear. Additionally, the glue holding the metal USB holster in place has failed and it now easily slides out from the spine piece.

USB stick and holder detached from headcapIncluding additional media with a publication can provide a lot of additional value to the reader. It also means loose components can easily become lost. As technology ages, it can be a challenge for readers to actually use the media. For example, the laptop I’m using to write this post doesn’t have a disk drive of any kind, so reading a CD or DVD would be a problem. I guess it’s only a matter of time before a USB Type-A port becomes scarce as well. The added media might become less accessible, but at least you don’t need a machine to read the book!