All posts by Henry Hebert

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!

Hidden Hornbooks

The humble hornbook:

Margarita Philosophica by Gregorius Ileisch (1504), depicting a hornbook

Long used as a primer in children’s education, the hornbook originated in England in the 15th century. The books commonly take the form of a wooden paddle inscribed with the alphabet or a piece of text, which is protected with a transparent sheet of horn. The materials of construction can vary, with the paddle made of wood, bone, leather, or stone. The text can be printed or in manuscript, on parchment or on paper. The protective transparent sheet might also be made from mica. The hornbook is referenced in literature as early as Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost  and is a format that was often used in both English and the American education until the late 18th century.

Woodcut vignette from the title page of Hornbyes Hornbook by William Hornby (1622)

We learned all this and more when a special edition of Andrew Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book came through the lab recently for boxing. The publisher’s use of the hornbook’s iconic shape in the decoration on the front cover and the spine label is quite appropriate.

Front cover of parchment covered book.

But while this parchment case binding looks fairly ordinary, it contains quite a surprise. The front section of the book has been glued into a solid block, which is quite heavy.

Adhered section at the front of the book

The blocked section features a textile flap along the tail edge of the front flyleaf.

cover of the hidden compartment with a label describing the contents.Opening the flaps reveals a hidden compartment with three facsimile hornbooks!

Small facsimile hornbooks in the hidden compartment.Don’t you wish every history book you picked up included little artifacts hidden inside a secret compartment? Thanks to Rachel Penniman for snapping some photos of this amazing object before it returned to the stacks in its new enclosure.

Quick Pic: Tips!

Erin Hammeke describes a wooden board repair to Mary Yordy and Rachel Penniman.

Caring for library collections often requires experimentation and ingenuity. In supporting the needs of library programs or researcher requests, we are regularly confronted with unusual objects or condition issues that have no obvious treatment solution. When you happen upon a novel or particularly effective approach to these complex treatments, it’s always nice to share what you have learned with your colleagues!

This week, the Conservation Services staff were treated to some tips in treating very large books and broken wooden boards by senior conservator Erin Hammeke. Hint: Both involve the liberal and creative application of clamps.

LIFE WITH CIPE

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

Occasionally an item will arrive in the lab that is so intriguing that I just have to know the story behind it. These five miniature photograph albums titled “LIFE WITH CIPE” caught my eye. The photographs were tiny but beautiful and I was curious about the meaning of the title. What is CIPE?

One book in hand, opened to show a small black and white photograph of a woman. to

The photographs mostly look like candid vacation snapshots but there are also some still life and city scenes.

Image of page with black and white image of woman and large desert plant. Page of album with black and white photo of woman walking through a doorway. Image of album page with black and white photo of a woman sitting in a chair on a beach, reading a book.

They are all so small and regular in size and proportion that they must have been printed from negatives as a contact sheet. One print even shows the holes from the film.

Image of album page with black and white photograph, featuring film holes in the print.

The images show a great sense of design and there is an eye to composition significantly better than your average family snapshots. They really felt more like an artist’s portfolio than a typical vacation album.

Image of album page with black and white photo of man at breakfast table, reading a book.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at outdoor market.

So it was no surprise when I heard back from archivist Rick Collier and Hartman Center Director Jackie Reid Wachholz that these are photographs from the personal collection of graphic design power couple Cipe Pineles and William Golden.

Portrait of man in a suit, leaning against a wall patterned with CBS logo.

While the Creative Director at CBS in the 1950’s William Golden designed the eye logo still used by the broadcaster today.

Image of album page with black and white photo of woman at work at a desk.

Cipe Pineles (pronounced Cee-Pee) was the first female art director of a major magazine and the first female member of the Art Director’s Club of New York in 1943. Working at big name publications like Glamour, Seventeen, and Mademoiselle she created magazines directed at young working women that appealed to their intelligence and independence. She is also credited as being the first to commission fine artists like Ad Reinhardt and Andy Warhol for work in mass media publications.

Front cover of "Cipe Pineles: A Life of Design"

In order to learn more about Cipe Pineles I borrowed a biography from Perkins Library and discovered it was written by none other than our very own conservation department volunteer Martha Scotford. Before becoming a volunteer in our lab, Martha was a professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University and is the reigning expert on Cipe Pineles. What a small world! I was so happy to be able to share this addition with Martha who recognized these albums from her visits to the Golden’s home when she was writing Cipe’s biography.

Duke Rubenstein Library also holds a collection of William Golden’s papers that I looked through for more insight into William and Cipe’s lives. One of my favorite discoveries in that collection was a letter with attached photographs that William sent to Cipe. The photos are from his time in Paris during WWII and illustrate the events he saw on VE day. The photos are the same size as the ones in LIFE WITH CIPE and I wonder if this was a precursor to the albums.

Two page layout with manuscript in ink and small mounted black and white photographs.

Rubenstein Library has also recently acquired a collection of Cipe’s papers too. I wonder if there are more tiny photographs there.

Tours, Tours, Tours!

It’s so nice when folks come down to the Perkins Library basement to visit the lab, and this week we had quite a few visitors from very different parts of the campus community. Early in the week, around 20 incoming freshman came to learn about the conservation program as part of Project Search, a program designed as an introduction to undergraduate research at Duke. Then this morning, we were visited by a tour offered through the Duke Alumni Association.

Sara Neel shows a damaged book to six individuals as part of a tour.
Technician Sara Neel describes circulating collections repairs.
Conservator Erin Hammeke describes the conservation treatment of a very large book to seven tour attendees.
Senior Conservator Erin Hammeke describes a recent conservation treatment.
Conservator Henry Hebert shows two bindings undergoing treatment to six tour attendees.
Conservator Henry Hebert describes some in-process conservation treatments.

It’s always a pleasure to share our work with Duke students (both current and former), because they are just so personable and naturally curious about the process of conservation and the library materials we have to show. Thanks for dropping by!