Category Archives: Conservation

Duplicate Dukes: Your Eyes Don’t Deceive You

By Rachel Penniman

As part of the planning process for the Lilly Library renovation, Beth was invited by librarian Kelly Lawton to consult on moving and storing the artwork. I had previously helped plan moving and storing paintings from the Gothic Reading Room during the Rubenstein Library renovation so Beth asked me to come along. The great people over at Lilly Library had already made an inventory of the artwork in their building so we had a solid idea of what we needed to manage.

I have been in Lilly Library dozens if not a hundred times over my 7 years working at Duke. They hold some of my favorite collections (DevilDVDs, graphic novels, and art books). But like most people I just never spent much time looking closely at the artwork that makes up the wonderful atmosphere of Lilly. However, I had gotten to know the Gothic portraits really well during the Rubenstein renovation. I had to find wall space throughout Perkins to hang them all temporarily while the Rubenstein building was under construction and most of them ended up in staff office spaces. I had the portrait of H. Keith H. Brodie keeping me company in my cubicle area. So I was surprised when I saw thumbnail pictures of a couple paintings in the Lilly artwork inventory that I was certain were actually up in the Gothic reading room. I actually ran up two flights of stairs to the Gothic to be certain I wasn’t losing my marbles and yes, those portraits were upstairs exactly where I remembered them.

Washington Duke by John Da Costa in the Gothic Reading Room
Washington Duke by John Da Costa in the Gothic Reading Room

 

Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in the Gothic Reading Room
Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in the Gothic Reading Room

A C1 bus ride over to East Campus and I walked into Lilly Library only to have deja vu all over again. The same portraits were in Lilly too.

Washington Duke by John Da Costa in Lilly Library
Washington Duke by John Da Costa in Lilly Library

 

Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in Lilly Library
Benjamin Newton Duke by C.S. Wiltschek in Lilly Library

 

It’s not surprising that Duke University would have multiple portraits of prominent Duke family members, but it was a little surprising to find that the library had multiple copies of the same portrait reported to be by the same artists. This required research! I mean, I work at a library, of course my response to any mystery is to do research.

An article in the Duke Chronicle from November 4, 1925 details the acquisition of a Washington Duke portrait by John Da Costa from the Duke family with plans to hang it in a parlor in the East Duke Building. Interestingly this article is right next to an article about construction of the Lilly Library building. The next trace of the Da Costa Washington Duke portrait comes from a 1929 letter from the Frank C. Brown papers where it is listed among paintings that need to be varnished.

In the University Archives Art and Artifacts records there is an inventory of portraits in the University library (now Perkins Library) from 1943 that lists a portrait of Washington Duke by Da Costa and Benjamin Duke by Wiltschek. But another inventory from 1957 of the Women’s College Library (now Lilly Library) also list the portrait of BN Duke by Wiltschek. So there have been duplicate Dukes for decades!

I finally came across an undated note about a J.B. Duke portrait painted by Da Costa that indicated Doris Duke had the original but that additional copies by the artist were in the Board of Trustees room and in Perkins Library. There is no date on this note so it’s hard to fit into the timeline but based on some other clues I suspect it was from sometime in the 1970s. Importantly, it does verify that John Da Costa made multiple copies of at least one Duke portrait.

It was Assistant University Archivist Amy McDonald that shed light on the big key detail about these portraits. She recognized the paintings as being copied from photographs not painted from life. Check out the photos in our collections. They look very familiar.

https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/washington-duke

https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/benjamin-newton-duke

It makes me wonder how many other duplicate Dukes might be out there. In my research I found at least one other JB Duke portrait by Da Costa at Rough Point, the Rhode Island mansion of Doris Duke. I also found a reference to another BN Duke portrait by Wiltschek that hung in the East Duke Parlor but I haven’t had a chance to go over and check if it’s still there. Perhaps I’ve been passing more Da Costa Washington Dukes and Wiltschek B.N. Dukes around campus and never even noticed.

Spot the Difference

This letterpress book has been on our shelf for a very long time, too long admittedly. Mea Culpa. Letterpress books can be challenging. This one has paper as thin as Kleenex (TM) and as brittle as any mid-century newsprint. The iron gall ink has degraded and taken the substrate with it, leaving lots of tears, holes, and losses.

James Redpath was the Head of the Haitian Bureau of Emigration in Boston. I would tell you more about these letters but you literally cannot turn a page without breaking something. After a lot of consideration and consultation with Rubenstein Library we have decided the best thing to do with this item is digitize it so researchers can actually use it without destroying the original.

All the lovely brittle tissue paper you could ask for.
A little humidification can go a long way. More flattening is needed but taking this treatment slowly and in stages will yield a better result.

But before we can digitize it we need to flatten out some of the heavy creases to uncover the writing, and do some very minor stabilization so we can turn the pages without tearing off chunks of text. The goal is digitizing, not a full treatment. This book will still have page tears and losses when it leaves Conservation, but putting in hundreds of hours of conservation time to repair every tear, sinking letter, or loss isn’t practical or feasible. We want to get it ready for the camera, and help our camera operators handle it as safely as possible while they are turning the pages.

It feels good to have digitization in our toolbox as a way to increase access to this item. It will go from completely unusable to readable. What better outcome for a primary resource that is so fragile?

 

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.

Intern Update: Getting It Done

It’s been a really busy two weeks for Garrette.  Her last day is next Friday, so we are trying to finish up projects and fit in any last minute training that we can.

Garrette has been working with the TRLN Disaster Interest Group team leads to research shared disaster recovery agreements, updated our training presentation, and has sent out a survey to TRLN libraries. The survey will help us understand our training needs and our readiness should disaster strike one of our consortium members.

Garrette attended the TRLN Annual Meeting last week. The meeting always starts with an inspiring speaker. This year the keynote was Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center. Dr. Bernard discussed the thought processes behind designing the Obama Presidential Center and showed some preliminary site drawings. Her vision for this building and its programming is ambitious and on a scale not seen with other presidential libraries.

Garrette with Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum
of the Obama Presidential Center

We toured several conservation labs this week. We appreciate our colleague’s time and energy. It’s always fun to visit other labs and talk with conservators about their space and what they are working on. Not pictured is our visit to the N.C. Archives conservation lab. Emily Rainwater toured us through her space. We geeked out a little in their disaster supply room.

Garrette with Kesha Talbert, Associate Paper Conservator, Etherington Conservation Center (Browns Summit, NC).

 

Jennifer French, Objects Conservator, Garrette, and Paige Meyers, Textile Conservator, North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh, NC).

Today we did a tabletop disaster recovery demo. Garrette and Kelli Stephenson, Coordinator in Access and Library Services, set up a recovery area for items that got wet in our imaginary pipe leak. They set up items for air drying, and prepped several for the freezer. We also learned how water soluble yellow highlighter can be.

Garrette and Kelli working on wet books and papers.

 

Garrette and Kelli get wet books into the freezer.

Garrette has also been spending a lot of time in the Lilly Locked Stacks identifying items that need enclosures. This building will be renovated soon, and we need to prepare the medium-rare materials for moving offsite during construction.

Flagging fragile items for enclosures.

Garrette is working on her final presentation that will cover what she did this summer. She is finishing up  work for digital imaging prep and the Ortiz posters. She is also learning how to make corrugated-clamshell boxes this week.

Garrette repairing posters from the Ortiz collection.

These seven weeks have flown by. One more to go. We are really impressed with how much work Garrette has accomplished so far.

Welcome to Our New Intern: Garrette Lewis-Thomas

Our new intern, Garrette Lewis-Thomas, has arrived and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Garrette is our second HBCU Library Alliance conservation intern. Like last year, she will spend eight weeks with us learning everything from minor repairs to making heat set tissue to preparing materials for digitization.

Garrette is a student at Fisk University where she is studying psychology and sociology.  She works at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library assisting the Access Services Desk. Her interest in John Hope Franklin fits in well with our collecting areas and we are excited to work with the Rubenstein John Hope Franklin Center to find some projects for her to work on.

Garrette folding boxes.

Day 1

The very first thing we did is take Garrette to a job talk by a candidate who applied for a library position. She got to see first hand what a job interview looks like in an academic library. The interview was at another location on campus, so she also got to learn how to get across campus during the summer on the bus. Day 1 was a little chaotic but it all worked out. She got a tour of a part of campus that we didn’t expect would happen on Day 1. It is a good reminder that not everything goes as planned.

Day 2

Day 2 brought another problem…something smelled terrible in the lab. It’s still unclear what the problem is or where it is coming from. Because we couldn’t be in the lab for any length of time we decamped to the Disaster Supply Room next door. We took the CoLibri machine in along with the newly-arrived shipment of vendor-supplied corrugated boxes. Garrette spent the day covering New & Noteworthy books and folding boxes. In the afternoon we hopped the bus to East Campus and toured through the Music Library and the Lilly Library. Lesson learned: there is always something to do to be productive even when you can’t get to your bench.

Day 3

It still smells in the lab, but it is getting better. Current theory: something dead is in the tunnels below the building and there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are airing out the lab and doing our best to ride this out. Garrette is  working on minor repairs and enclosures. We started the day in the Disaster Supply Room, but have moved back into the lab with all the fans running and doors open. Garrette has already proven to be very flexible, adaptable to change, and eager to learn. We can’t wait to see what the summer holds for her and for us.

Thanks to our supporters

These HBCU Library Alliance internships would not be possible without the help of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Delaware College of Arts and Science, the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (DE). Thanks also to Debbie Hess Norris and Melissa Tedone at the University of Delaware. A big thanks to We also wish to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for supporting this internship.

We will continue sharing more about this internship as it progresses, but for now: Welcome to Duke,  Garrette!

A Tool That Sucks On Purpose

We love getting new equipment. In fact, we celebrate Equipment Day on April 9th each year. This is the day that the book presses and board shear arrived from Germany in 2003, almost a year after Conservation became a unit.

Fast forward 16 years and we are still giddy about getting new equipment. A couple weeks ago we received our brand new suction table from Museum Services. It was the best of all the gift-receiving-holidays rolled into one. Big boxes, some assembly required, and a button to push to make it move. Awesomeness in three crates.

The crates arrive!

Included inside were the base, table, dome lid, vacuum unit, humidifier, and an airbrush. It also included really great assembly instructions.

One crate unpacked, two to go.

The table has a removable lid and an electric tilt function. These will come in handy if we have to move it inside the dirty room to do major solvent treatments. It also adjusts from a very low to a very high height, which means anyone can use it safely and comfortably.

Plug it in and take it for a tilt.

The table is assembled and ready for its first project. We plan on doing some refresher training later in the year. Until then we are resisting using the arm holes in the dome as an arena for epic thumb fights.

Ready to go.

A Fleet of Futons–Yours for the Making

Book futon in use.
Book futon in use.

I first heard about book futons in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. It may be that the futon originated there. I am unsure of their provenance but I am fairly certain the conservators at the Harry Ransom Center made book supports of various kinds and likely futons were in the mix.

Making Futons

My first memory of finding instructions for making futons was in Book Displays: A Library Exhibits Handbook by Anne C. Tedeschi (Highsmith Press, 1997). Her depiction of how to make a futon was pretty good, but there were things about her futons that I wanted to change. So I embarked on a mission to make my own version. I even recruited my mother, an expert seamstress, to help. We have made a lot of futons over the years.

A fleet of futons ready for use in the Rubenstein Library.

Together we perfected our methods and ultimately wrote our own instructions for constructing three sizes of futons.  You can access a PDF of our futon instructions here. This PDF includes sewing instructions, laundering information, and an illustrated guide on how to use them. The instructions should be easy to follow if you have a basic understanding of sewing or quilting. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

What’s So Great About A Futon?

What I like about the book futon is they are:

  • Fairly easy to construct, especially for those that have quilting or sewing experience
  • Inexpensive to make. Craft stores often have sales or issue coupons for 40-50% off fabric and batting.
  • Easy to use, and easy to teach patrons to use
  • Highly customizable
  • Machine washable

We use futons in the reading room, the conservation lab, the classroom, and even for temporary exhibits and show-and-tells. Do you know the history of the book futon? Have you made your own futons? Share your futon story in the comment section.

Working on Women’s Work

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.
Treatment documentation on display in exhibition case
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).

It Came From The Bowels

I work where?

I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer used the word “bowels” to describe a library or archive. At best it conjures an image out of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes haphazardly put down anywhere on the floor just waiting for some researcher to miraculously stumble upon the one box they need to complete their research. At worst, well, I won’t finish that thought.

Yeah, it’s exactly (not) like this.

How did we get here?

Margaret Sartor and Alex Harris recently published “Where We Find Ourselves–the Photographs of Hugh Mangum 1897-1922.” They are also the curators of an exhibit of Hugh Mangum’s photographs on display now at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art (through May 19, 2019).

The New Yorker recently published a review by Sarah Blackwood (February 14, 2019) that once again trots out the familiar trope of materials disgorged from the “bowels” of the library, saved from certain obscurity or worse. The kerfuffle started with this description of the provenance of the collection:

They were rescued once, in the nineteen-seventies, only to be relegated to the back-yard greenhouse of Mangum’s nephew; they were rescued again, in the nineteen-eighties, when they were donated to Duke University. As recently as 2013, more boxes of negatives turned up, this time from the bowels of special collections and marked “discard.” The negatives have passed through the hands of family members, neighborhood activists, local photographers, librarians, archivists, and scholars.

Where to even begin unpacking this quote?

Deteriorated glass plates with dirt and paper stuck to them.

First, while we do not recommend storing family records in a chicken coop one could argue that “benign neglect” kept these important documents and images from the landfill. My guess is these plates were handed down through the family, perhaps put aside and forgotten. But for whatever reason the family did not throw them in the trash bin. As vaguely alluded to in the article eventually other people realized the importance of these plates and actively decided to find a permanent repository for them.

The original Hugh Mangum Collection came to Rubenstein Library in 1986 (now part of the Archive for Documentary Arts). Additional materials were discovered and added to the Mangum collection in two rounds. The latest came around 2013. I believe these were the ones found in the chicken coop/barn mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Paper stuck to glass plates.

These “chicken [expletive]” plates as Blackwood describes them came to Conservation sometime around 2016. The plates were very dirty, gritty, and many had paper stuck to them. We cleaned about 250 of these glass plates in house and sent several to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for more in-depth treatment. Henry Hebert, Special Collections Conservator, even consulted with and helped install a few of the Mangum plates at the Nasher. The Digital Production Center digitized this collection a few years ago including the 2013 addition. The people in Digital Collections and Curation Services worked on the metadata and building the website. The collection is available online and is worth looking at. The images are amazing.

People from collection development, technical services, research services, conservation, and the digital production center all played their part in making sure this collection was described, housed, and preserved so that Sartor and Harris could write about them and curate their exhibit. I won’t even start on how many Nasher staff worked on the exhibit.

Why words matter

Look, I get it. Authors need to write compelling narratives and simply finding materials already described and housed in a library isn’t very interesting to most people. Story trumps details, which can get lost or worse willfully ignored. But herein lies the problem with using “from the bowels of special collections.” There is a lot of hidden labor in libraries and archives. People more eloquent than I have written about this issue. We talk a lot in Technical Services about how we can best tell our stories because what we do is often invisible to the public. Our day-to-day work isn’t sexy or glamorous. Most days are made up of very routine and frankly boring work (hello mold removal!). The work also takes its toll physically and often emotionally. Don’t even get me started on salaries in a female-dominated education-related profession. That is why it is hurtful when our work is ignored to make the story sound more miraculous than it is.

At least Sartor acknowledges (pp 157-158) many of the people that had a hand in making this collection, book, and exhibit a reality. She appropriately thanks Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator, who spearheaded the conservation project. Except Sartor uses another sad trope, “magic,” to describe the conservation of these materials. As if the conservation of these plates weren’t done by a collective of highly skilled people but rather by the wave of a magic wand. Poof! Conservation Managed! Erin, Henry, Rachel Penniman, and Emma Kimmel, then our intern, spent many hours painstakingly cleaning and housing all those plates.

Mangum housed in the (not bowel-like) stacks.

The hero of this story is not the creators of this book and exhibit (although these are wonderful). The heroes should  be the people behind the scenes working really hard every day to collect, describe, house, digitize, preserve, shelve, and retrieve collections so that when their user appears these collections can be pulled from the shelf and handed to them (hello Ranganathan!). The fact that you can walk into a library or archive, request something, and a few minutes later it shows up on your table feels like magic. I assure you it is not.

As I write these thoughts we are preparing for the grand opening of “Women’s Work,” our first exhibit of materials from the newly acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. This collection focuses on women in publishing, art, medicine, literature, society, and so much more. It helps uncover work that is often unseen, unacknowledged, or simply ignored. I wish Blackwood would have taken some time to acknowledge the hard work so many have done to make sure that the Mangum collection didn’t fade into obscurity. At least Blackwood seems to be listening to the archivists on Twitter. Maybe she realizes now that repeating the phrase “it came from the bowels” is demoralizing to those of us who work behind the scenes to make our amazing collections usable now and in the future.

Thanks to Kate Collins, Rubenstein Library Research Services Librarian, for speaking up about the Mangum Collection in response to Blackwood’s review, and for sending me a link to Blackwood’s response on Twitter.

Beth Doyle is the head of the Conservation Services Department and the Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator at Duke University Libraries. She can be reached via email at <b.doyle@duke.edu>.

10 year Challenge: The Lab Edition

“The 10 Year Challenge” is a current meme making its way across the interwebs. Whether it is a harmless bit of fun or some brilliantly concocted bit of AI facial recognition training is hard to say. But what the heck, we will play along with The Lab Edition.

About ten years ago we were nearing the end of the Perkins Project. We moved out of Perkins in January 2007 to Trent Hall, the former nurses dorm on the medical campus. Preservation occupied one hallway of the dorm. We shared the hallway with the Preservation Officer, the Bindery Unit, and the Digital Production Center. Conservation had two rooms for the lab, and one dorm room for the Collections Conservator’s office.

Trent Hall was an adventure. It allowed us to learn another side of campus and we logged a lot of steps in going back and forth to meetings in Perkins. We evicted one bird (just like in our old space), had a Chinese restaurant one floor down, and the lab had beautiful windows. The space was cramped, but we made it work.

Trent Hall lab (L) and the Verne and the renovated Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (R).

In August 2008 we moved back to the renovated Perkins Library and into the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. The newly renovated space was large, bright, and chock full of ergonomic furniture and specialized conservation equipment. What a difference it was from Trent and our old original lab space. Ten years later it feels like we have been here forever, yet some days if feels like we just got here. We are so thankful for the Roberts family and their support of our lab. That support has enabled our program to grow in incredible ways. We look forward to what the next ten years will bring.