Category Archives: Conservation

Quick Pic: Women’s Work

Women’s Suffrage sign and pin cushion

Several items came down for boxing this week. These two items are from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. The top is a metal “Votes for Women” sign in a delightful bluebird design. Below are two sides of a small sampler pin cushion that is stitched on the finest linen ground I’ve seen.

These objects represent two aspects of women’s work. The work of the hand, that was/is often taught as a useful life skill. And the work of women as full citizens of their country…the work of standing up for your rights and exercising your right to vote. The Baskin Collection is full of objects like these and it is a real thrill and honor to have them come to the lab for custom enclosures.

See one. Do one. Teach one.

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

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.

Rachel Penniman

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.

A sample of true parchment (left) versus ‘parchment paper’ (right) through the microscope
A sample of true parchment (left) versus ‘parchment paper’ (right) through the microscope

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.

Stretching a parchment document after humidification
Stretching a parchment document after humidification

Last week I had the opportunity to pass on some of those skills to North Carolina Museum of History Object 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.

Parchment document with planar distortion.
Photo credit: Jennifer French

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.

Humidification chamber in action
Humidification chamber in action

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).

Parchment document in weighted blotter stack

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.

Flattened parchment document
Photo credit: Jennifer French

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.

Farewell Phebe!

lab staff and Phebe
(L to R) Beth Doyle, Henry Hebert, Phebe Pankey, Rachel Penniman, Sara Neel. Not pictured: Mary Yordy and Erin Hammeke

Today is the last day for Phebe Pankey, our HBCU Library Alliance/University of Delaware Winterthur intern.  The past two months have flown by. We have thrown a whole semester’s worth (maybe more) of information at Phebe in eight weeks. She has learned a lot of new skills and has applied those skills to projects in the lab.

Some of the skills she has learned include:

  • Minor book repairs in the circulating collections
  • Minor paper repairs in support of the Section A digitization project
  • Custom enclosures including 4-flap boxes, corrugated clasmshell boxes, and CoLibri covers
  • Humidification and flattening of rolled plans from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens drawings and designs collection
  • Condition survey of the Bobbye S. Ortiz Papers
  • Mold removal
  • Photographic and written conservation documentation
  • Selection for conservation for general and special collections
  • Disaster planning and recovery of bound books
  • Environmental monitoring
Coptic binding
Phebe’s Coptic Binding model.

Henry taught Phebe how to sew a Coptic binding. Isn’t her first book beautiful? Phebe completed 494 repairs and custom enclosures during her internship. She completed work for the general collections including Perkins Library, Music Library, and Lilly Library. She also completed 119  repairs for Rubenstein Library  in support of our digitization project to scan the collections in “Section A.”

A big shout out to Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian in the Sallie Bingham Center, for hosting a show and tell of artist books. These really made an impression on Phebe, who is an art major. It’s great to see someone get inspired by our collections and our people.

We also scheduled tours all over the library and across the greater Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro areas. Some of these were:

  • Rubenstein Library stacks tour
  • Duke Libraries Technical Services tour
  • Duke Libraries Library Service Center tour
  • UNC Chapel Hill special and circulating conservation labs
  • NC State Archives conservation lab
  • Etherington Conservation Services
  • HF Group (commercial bindery)
  • NC State University Preservation Department
HBCU Library Alliance interns Miranda Clinton (L) and Phebe Pankey (R)
HBCU Library Alliance interns Miranda Clinton (L) and Phebe Pankey (R)

As we wrapped up this week we were lucky to have lunch with Miranda Clinton who is a student at NC Central University. She interned at the Library of Congress. We asked her to lunch to hear about her experience. Sounds like she had an amazing time there.

If you want to look back at some of the other work Phebe did, here are the blog posts:

HBCU Library Alliance Internship Announcement

Welcome Phebe

Poster Assessment

Internship Update

Tooling Workshop

Everyone in the lab helped Phebe learn new skills. Thanks to Erin Hammeke, Rachel Penniman, Mary Yordy, and Sara Neel for being so giving of your time and expertise. Thanks to everyone at Duke Libraries for being supportive of Phebe and generous with your time. Thank you to all the organizations that gave us tours. It’s always educational to see other labs and how they compare to ours. Thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for awarding us a grant to help support this internship. And a big thank you to all the student interns who made the first year of this program successful. We can’t wait to see where you all go next.

 

FY 2018 By The Numbers

It’s that time of year again when we report our annual statistics to our administration. We thought we would share these with you, too.

1,093 Book Repairs (down 38% from last year)
1,066 Pamphlets (down 38%)
1,392 Flat Paper (down 87%)
5,975 Protective Enclosures (down 15%)
66 Disaster recovery
8 Exhibit mounts (down 64%)
746 hours of time in support of exhibits (includes meetings, treatment, installation, etc.) (up 452%)
1,002 items repaired for digital projects (down 90%)

38% of total work was for Special Collections
62% of total work was for Circulating Collections

74% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete]
23% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete]
3% of work was Level 3 [more than 2 hours to complete]

Looking at the three year trend you can see the impact of two things. First, we had a steep decline in paper repairs because last fiscal year we were working on a mass digitization preparation project (dark red line). Those numbers skewed our stats for FY2017. In February, Tedd Anderson resigned as our conservation technician, and Mary Yordy reduced her hours. You can see their impact on the stats. Tedd did the majority of custom enclosures (green line) for Rubenstein Library. And both Tedd and Mary repair general collections materials (light red line). We  had a huge exhibit project this fiscal year that included a lot of complicated and time consuming repairs. You see a marked decrease in the percentage overall of items repaired for Rubenstein Library, but there was a marked increase in length of time we spent on those repairs. So the percentage is down, but the number of Level 3 repairs are up.

Not Everything Is A Statistic

We hope you enjoy looking back at the year that was FY2018 as much as we did. We can’t wait to see what FY2019 brings.

Welcome Our New Staff Member: Sara Neel

Sara Neel
Sara Neel, Senior Conservation Technician

Please help us welcome our newest staff member, Sara Neel. Sara recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Art History and a minor in French (which has already come in very handy).  Sara worked in the KU Libraries Conservation Lab from 2015 until graduation this year. She has studied abroad in Italy and France;, and recently gave a paper at the Missouri Western State University & The Albrect-Kemper Museum of Art Second Annual Undergraduate Art History Symposium titled “The Assembly of the Tejaprabha Buddha: Removal, Restoration, and Religious Reduction.”

So far this week she has gotten her bench in order, helped edit some lab manual documents, learned to make corrugated “pizza-box” enclosures, and discovered that the Parking Office is really far away from our building. We are so happy she is here!

Welcome To Our New Intern: Phebe Pankey

This week the Conservation Services Department was joined by our first ever HBCU Library Alliance Summer intern, Phebe Pankey! Duke is one of five library conservation labs participating in this program to host an eight-week internship in preservation and conservation this summer.

Phebe is a junior at Winston Salem State University and has been involved in libraries most of her life through volunteering and community activities.  She is excited to learn more about conservation and this internship is a way to continue developing and expanding her library skills.

Phebe has jumped right into the lab workflows, learning to construct some of the quicker enclosures like CoLibri sleeves and 4-flap boxes. She has also been gaining experience with basic paper treatments, like humidification and flattening.

Phebe works with Conservation Specialist Rachel Penniman on humidification of paper.

At the conclusion of the eight weeks, interns are expected to take some of the skills they have learned back to their home institution to implement a library preservation project, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.

These internships would not have been 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. 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, Phebe!

Microfade Testing Seminar

On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).

Seminar room showing title screen for Microfade Testing Public Seminar

Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.

Microfade testing equipmentIt was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.

Nothin’ But Net

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections

We recently treated and housed a collection of 19th century photo albums documenting travels in China by Charles Davis Jameson. Most of the albums had very degraded leather covers that we treated by consolidating with Klucel G, making Mylar wrappers for some, and simply housing in protective enclosures for others. One accordion album posed a particular challenge with its shaped wooden boards and silk covering. The silk cover was shattering and had become completely detached from the front board. We decided to make a wrapper for the loose front cover and house it in an enclosure with the book.

Before treatment photo of photo album front cover.

The back cover, however, was still extant but very tenuously attached.

Before treatment photo of photo album with original silk cover cover shattered and separating from the wooden board, making it vulnerable to damage during handling. We wanted to find a quick and simple solution to stabilize the rear covering and decided to use a lightweight Nylon netting, toned with acrylic, and wrapped around the silk covering and wooden board to contain and protect it.

Photo album after treatment photo showing back cover with acrylic toned nylon netting wrapped around pillow-shaped board and adhered to material cut to the size of the inside cover.

After treatment detail image of nylon netting over album boards.

The netting was adhered to a Mylar insert, cut to the size of the front cover with 3M ATG transfer tape. A leaf of archival paper that matched the tone and quality of the album paper was adhered with double-stick tape on top, sandwiching the netting between layers of archival material and protecting the facing photograph from abrasion from the netting.

After treatment photo showing netting wrapped around back covered and adhered to a Mylar insert; a sympathetic archival paper is adhered on top of that.

The netting is stretched over the pillow-shaped wooden board and the cut end of the Nylon is left open at the board hinge. We were very happy with this quick and easy solution.