Last Friday was the start of a full weekend of activities for alumni as part of Duke Reunions and the library was a popular destination for those visiting campus. A few of us in Conservation Services were able to participate in some of the events and share our work.
In the morning, Rachel Penniman and I partnered with some of our colleagues in Research Services, Technical Services, the Digital Production Center, and Exhibitions to talk about all the behind-the-scenes work that went into preparing the items currently on display from the Lisa Unger Baskin collection.
Each speaker took a few minutes to describe their role in bringing the exhibition to life. Rachel and I discussed how we assessed and treated all of the items selected for imaging and exhibition, giving an overview of general principles of conservation treatment and some of our workflows.
Over the course of an hour, the audience was able to learn more about the complex work that goes into cataloging, preserving, and documenting the items that the library makes available for scholarship. The event was very well attended and we even had time at the end to speak with some of the alumni and answer questions.
In the afternoon, Beth Doyle and I brought some of the new items for adoption up to the Biddle exhibition suite to share with visitors of the exhibition.
Many of the people who stopped by to talk with us had very personal connections with the items we had on the table. Several alumni commented that, even as students, they had regularly come to the library to see the “double elephant folio” copies of The Birds of America. The first editions of Tolkien were also a huge hit. We even had some items adopted on the spot!
It’s easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day challenges of supporting library projects and collections, but it is very rewarding to climb out of the basement once in a while to talk about our work with members of the campus community. I am reminded of how engaged both current and former students are with this university and their fondness for the library.
We have written here a few times about teaching bookbinding skills to local Girl Scouts so that they can get their Book Arts Badge (Post 1 and Post 2) . In addition to learning about preservation activities of cultural institutions, the workshop participants learn about the components of a book, and make three different book structures. Having done this workshop a couple of times, we thought it would be nice to change up some of the types of books that we make. Luckily, the recently acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection provided an object of inspiration: this movable book.
Also known as a metamorphosis or harlequinade, this item was made by Elizabeth Winspear, possibly a young woman of New England, in 1799. The book is composed of a single sheet, folded in an accordion style to form 4 panels. Each panel has a flap at top and bottom. The manuscript text and drawings tell a story using biblical figures and mythical beasts, ending with a kind of memento mori. The reader is instructed by the text to turn leaves up or down to see the transformation.
Although this item was made entirely by hand, the text and imagery are a very faithful representation of the genre. Examples of these movable books can be found from both Europe and North America, dating from the 17th to 19th centuries – and the story is remarkably consistent. See for example, this version printed in England in 1650.
I’ve said before that the most popular part of our Book Arts Badge workshop is the last hour or so, in which the scouts have time to decorate their books. This type of movable book seemed like the perfect format to let the scouts unleash their creativity. After talking about Elizabeth Winspear’s book and showing them how to make the folds, we let them design their own metamorphoses. Here are some examples:
(Click each image to enlarge)
The scouts had a lot of fun with this structure and we really enjoyed seeing what they could do with it. It is amazing how an item produced by a young woman hundreds of years ago can inspire young women today to create book art of their own. Watching students interact with and respond to items from the library’s collection really brings the importance of preservation of cultural heritage into focus. We will definitely make more books like this in our future workshops.
If historical movable books are a topic of interest, you can see more examples of metamorphoses like this one at Learning as Play, hosted by Penn State University. Jacquiline Reid-Walsh has also written a book on the subject, titled Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-Ups (2018). You may be interested in another genre of movable books, anatomical flap books, with many examples from Duke’s collection featured in this online exhibit. Highlights from the Baskin Collection are currently on display until June of this year in the Biddle exhibit suite, located just inside the main entrance of Perkins Library.
The folks in the Rubenstein Exhibits department are currently hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the exhibition “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection“. This exhibition provides a glimpse of the diversity and depth of the Baskin collection, revealing the lives of women both famous and forgotten and recognizing their accomplishments. Items from the collection will be on display in the Biddle exhibit suite until June 15, 2019.
The Conservation Services Department has contributed hundreds of hours of work in support of both this exhibit and the wider Baskin collection for the last few years. To highlight some of the behind-the-scenes efforts undertaken by our staff, we have put on our own small exhibit featuring conservation treatments and custom enclosures for the items on display upstairs. If you happen to be in the library, possibly attending one of the many public events surrounding the Baskin exhibition, we invite you to stop by this exhibit case as well. The case is located on Lower Level 1 of Perkins Library, across from the Conservation Lab entrance (Room 023).
Johann Theodor’s father, Theodor de Bry, was also prominent publisher and engraver, and many of his works on exploration of the New World can be found in Duke’s collection. Theordor’s 1590 engraving, The Trvve Picture of One Picte from the second edition of Thomas Hariot’s book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, appears in the same pose.
Over the past year, I’ve looked at a lot of print advertisements for Pond’s cosmetic products. Hundreds of them at least, maybe even thousands. The ads promote the properties of “Extract Cream”, “Cold Cream”, “Vanishing Cream”, lipstick, tissues, foundation – you name it! They span over 100 years, with the earliest printed in 1884 and the most recent from the mid-1990s. The work of well known photographers, such as Edward Steichen or Baron de Meyer, appear in some of the ads.
So what is the cause of this cosmetic ad obsession?
If you are curious about the name of the collection, here is a little history: Pond’s Cream was originally invented by Theron T. Pond in 1846. The original product included extracted witch hazel and was called “Golden Treasure”, but was shortly renamed to “Pond’s Extract”. The Chesebrough Manufacturing Company was founded in 1859 by Robert Chesebrough as an oil business which produced a petroleum jelly product called “Luxor”, eventually known as “Vaseline”. Chesebrough Manufacturing Company and Pond’s Creams merged in 1955, but were acquired by Unilever in 1987.
The collection is stored in 22 metal-edge boxes, and each box contains many folders. Some of the folders were too small for their contents and the advertisements were susceptible to sliding around as the box was handled. These small folders were replaced with a size that fit the box exactly to reduce the likelihood of damage during transport and shelving.
Each folder contains many magazine or newspaper advertisements, all different sizes and printed on different papers. They were likely retained by JWT as “tear sheets” and many are mounted to heavy black cardstock. Some of those black cardstock pages have many advertisements mounted in layers.
The black paper mounts include hole punches and remnants of textile tape, suggesting they were once the pages of large scrapbooks or albums and were disbound and cut down before entering the library’s collection. The advertisements printed on newsprint have become very brittle. The larger sheets were folded down to fit on the album page and many of them have cracked along the folds.
Items in this condition were repaired along the folds with thin Japanese paper, toned to match the newsprint. They were refolded along the original creases (now reinforced) and placed in clear polyester envelopes to protect them from further damage as researchers page through the folder.
Unfolded and unmounted newsprint ads were fully encapsulated in clear polyester, using our ultrasonic welder.
The adhesive mounting many of the advertisements to their album pages has failed. Several of them were remounted or repaired with pressure sensitive tapes, which have since oxidized and discolored the paper. Sometimes the tape adhesive had crept out from under the cellophane tape carrier and was causing the ad to stick to its neighbors. These taped items were treated by removing the tape carrier and reducing the adhesive to prevent further sticking. Unfortunately, stain reduction was outside the scope of this project.
Some of the ads that were detaching from their mounts had not come away completely. As a result, it was very easy for them to tear or to have parts torn off during normal use. The example below is pretty typical, where just the top-left corner is still attached to the cardstock mount. I was able to repair scarf tears, rejoin the separated parts, and/or re-adhere the page to the mount with wheat starch paste.
Many hours have gone into stabilizing and addressing the housing needs of this collection. While the treatment has been fairly low-tech and the decisions straightforward, the results go a long way to making this advertisement collection more usable in the reading room.
Two of the building’s elevator shafts are getting some renovations this week. Unfortunately they are right on the other side of the wall from the lab. So this is what it sounds like inside Beth’s office today:
While these two books look very different, they are actually the exact same edition. They were both printed with the same setting of type and on the same paper. The book on the left is in a later binding than the one on the right, with some added edge gilding. But why the difference in textblock thickness? The one on the left was pressed very hard by the binder. It’s pretty incredible how compact a textblock can become with enough pressure -and pressing is not without its downsides. These books were letterpress printed and the dimensional impression of the type, which is an artifact of the printing process, has been completely pressed out of the thinner copy.
What do you when your anatomical flap book has gone all to pieces? This book arrived with every flap piece detached from its page but all still in good condition. Having the flaps detached actually made it easier to see the usually hidden backs of those parts, but what is a flap book without a flap?
To maintain access to the individual parts but still retain the interactive and movable essence of the book, we decided not to reattach the loose parts to their pages. Instead they were put in Mylar pockets hinged to a Mylar backing sheet. So the flaps move in a way similar to what was originally intended while still allowing the back of each part to be more accessible.
As part of the Rubenstein Library Renovation Project a few years ago, the Special Collections Hallway Gallery was enlarged and rebranded as the Rubenstein Photography Gallery. The 67′ by 25′ space features a different collection from the Archive of Documentary Arts every few months. Because it still functions as a primary route through the building, the gallery provides an inviting environment for visitors to experience the library’s photographic collections.
We have been monitoring the environmental conditions within the space continually since it reopened in 2015. Although the temperature stays very stable in the building throughout the year, we do see some fluctuation in the relative humidity (RH) for the gallery. In the coldest winter months, public spaces tend to become very dry because of the heating systems. The question has been lingering in our minds: what are the environmental conditions that the artwork is experiencing inside the frame? Last fall, a small working group from Conservation, Exhibitions, Preservation, and the Archive of Documentary Arts gathered to design a simple experiment to try and answer this question.
As part of this experiment, we wanted to not only measure the temperature and RH within our normal frames, but see if there was something simple we could do to buffer any changes to those conditions. While there are many options available to change the conditions inside a frame, we determined the easiest (and cheapest) option would be to seal frame contents in a relatively impermeable package.
Framed photographs in our galleries include several components inside each frame. The glazing of our frames is a UV-filtering acrylic. Beneath that is a window mat cut to the size of the artwork. The print is mounted to another piece of mat board underneath. At the back of the package is a piece of corrugated board made of white plastic (polypropylene). We hypothesized that by taping the outside edges of this “package” of material with polypropylene tape that the air exchange inside the frame could be significantly reduced and therefore reduce the change in RH. We decided to set up two identical frames for comparison, one with a sealed package and one without.
We acquired two HOBO MX2300 Temp/RH dataloggers with external sensors and I set to work fitting them into two of our standard gallery frames.
The datalogger sensor is much thicker than the art that usually goes inside one of these frames, so I had to build up the thickness of the package with several layers of mat board. I created a central stack of mat board with a window cut to fit the sensor. I chose not to use full sheets of mat board for a couple of reasons:
We have a lot of small scrap pieces already and I didn’t want to waste materials.
Frame packages typically only have one full mat board sheet and window mat inside. Adding five or more full sheets to the package seemed like a lot of additional material, which might act as added RH buffer.
The rate of change between the two frames was the important variable. As long as each package was constructed with the same quantity of material inside, we should be able to get a representative comparison.
An inkjet print with a cut mat and the glazing was placed on top of the sensor. The sensor cable was passed through a hole cut in the corrugated plastic, allowing me to mount the logger to the back of the frame. The contents were all stored in a stable 45% RH environment for several weeks before installation. With the package all together, I sealed up the outer edges as well as the hole in the plastic backing with clear tape. The sealed package was then placed inside the metal and wood frames.
We installed our sealed and unsealed experiment frames in the gallery in early December 2017, along with a new show. The frames were mounted on a small wall, next to the window to our reading room, so as to be less of a distraction from the rest of the exhibit and to be in close proximity to the data logger which monitors the gallery space.
The inkjet prints we included in each frame had a short description of the experiment so that curious patrons would understand the the purpose of their unusual positioning.
After five months, we took the frames down and compiled all the environmental data. In the graph below, the gallery conditions are marked in grey, the unsealed frame is marked in yellow, and the sealed frame is marked in blue. Temperature values are displayed on the left, while RH values are displayed on the right.
The data confirms that the space maintains temperature very well, staying right around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The RH in the gallery space does bounce around quite a bit throughout the winter months, fluctuating between around 50% and 20%. Late January 2018 seems to have been particularly volatile.
We were very surprised at how well each frame responded to the conditions in the gallery. Even inside the unsealed frame, we see a significant smoothing out of the RH graph: the over 30 point spread of the gallery RH is reduced to around 12% change in the unsealed frame and the contents did not drop below 30% RH. The sealed frame package performed very well, with only about 6% overall RH change in 5 months.
While the methodology of this experiment does have flaws, it is an inexpensive and adaptable approach to measuring environmental conditions. We can be reassured that our normal framing practices protect prints from drastic changes, even in the most volatile months. We can also take the relatively simple and cost-effective step of sealing the frame package to provide additional protection for more sensitive materials. This experiment has raised questions of how other methods, such as sealing the frame package differently or adding pre-conditioned board, might compare. It is likely that our investigations will continue, so that we can make the best choices for our collections.
In conservation there are so many different materials to learn about and each one has specific and unique properties that can impact how we approach a treatment. It’s impossible to know everything about every material. So any opportunity to cross-train or broaden a skillset can allow a conservator to better manage a wider range of objects.
About a year ago I had the opportunity to attend Sheila Siegler’s Parchment Conservation workshop offered by the International Preservation Studies Center. It was a weeklong intensive on the history and preparation of parchment, parchment identification, and various treatment techniques.
We often get items made from parchment in our lab and I was especially interested in learning more about treatment methods for this finicky material. In the workshop I learned new methods for flattening and drying and came back to the lab eager to put those new skills to use.
Last week I had the opportunity to pass on some of those skills to North Carolina Museum of HistoryObject Conservator Jennifer French. She had a parchment document in her collection in need of flattening and was looking for advice on how best to manage it. Our lab has previously collaborated with NC Museum of History when Textile Conservator Paige Myers visited our library to provide advice about a silk banner in our collection and we were happy to return the favor. I took a field trip over to Jenifer’s lab and we got to work.
The document was very cockled and uneven making it difficult to handle and house. Using a vapor chamber we created a high humidity environment to soften the parchment and ease out some of those wrinkles. While the parchment humidified we prepared our materials for drying. The humidification was a slow process so we had plenty of time to talk shop, sharing tips and tricks for an assortment of other treatments.
Once the parchment had been humidified for many hours the larger wrinkles were relaxed and it was much flatter already. We transferred the document to dry between felts and blotters under plenty of weight (those heavy conservation books come in handy).
A little over a week later Jennifer checked on the document and found it had flattened considerably. It still has some areas of minor undulation but it’s so much better, and more than good enough to be handled and rehoused.
For now the parchment will stay under weights until Jennifer and I meet up again to create an enclosure that will ensure the parchment stays safe and flat in the museum’s storage.
This kind of cross-institutional collaboration on projects was not only great fun but a rare opportunity for hands on information sharing and skill building. As conservators we get by with a little help from our friends.