Category Archives: Exhibits

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.

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).

Rubenstein Materials on Display at the Nasher

Today I traveled over to the Nasher Museum of Art to install an item from the Rubenstein Library for the upcoming Portrait of Venice exhibit. A hand-colored map of Venice from Georg Braun‘s 1572 edition of Civitates Orbis Terrarum (below) will be on display alongside the mural-sized woodblock print by Jacopo de’ Barbari.

Map of Venice from Civitates Orbis Terrarum.

The Nasher exhibit runs from September 7th until the end of this year. If you did not have a chance to see the Barbari print during the Glory of Venice show at NCMA, this is another good opportunity. The sheer size and detail of the piece is just incredible. The exhibit will also feature interactive multi-media displays produced through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research at the Wired! Lab at Duke.

New Conservation Exhibit: How a Book is Made

Our new exhibit focuses on how a book is made “from the ground up.”  In the exhibit you will see examples of binding structures dating from the 4th Century C.E. to the 21st Century C.E. Also in the display is a selection of tools used by bookbinders, and an overview of how a book is made.

The exhibit is open during regular library hours. It is located on the first lower level of Perkins Library, just outside the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (Perkins Library 023). Please stop by and let us know what you think.

 

NCMA Field Trip!

An upcoming exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, titled The Glory of Venice: Renaissance Painting 1470-1520, will include some really beautiful examples of early printed books from The Rubenstein Library here at Duke and Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill. Earlier this week, our conservator colleagues at UNC and I traveled to Raleigh to install the volumes.

The installation was very similar to our workflow here at Duke. We had already constructed custom book supports for each volume using a clear, inert plastic resin called PETG. After unpacking everything, I was able to simply position each volume on its cradle and secure the pages at the opening with clear polyester strapping.

Once the books and labels were all correctly placed inside, museum staff stepped in to install the vitrines.

The curators and museum staff at NCMA were so great to work with and I really enjoyed being part of a collaborative effort between cultural institutions from around The Triangle.  I haven’t shared any images of the paintings that will also be on display, but I was able to get a peek at many of them. They are absolutely incredible! The show will be on display from March 4th – June 18th and I would encourage you to go visit if you are in the area.

The Road to the Conservation Lab…

… is (often) paved with good intentions.

Last year the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History acquired a small collection of fashion design drawings from the 1940s and 50s by Vivian Gauld. Gauld was West Coast-based commercial artist whose drawings were used in retail advertising campaigns for companies like Rose Marie Reid, Jantzen, and Carr’s Fashions. Some of the drawings are currently on display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, highlighting recent acquisitions to the collection.

Hartman01

Before coming to Duke, each drawing had been mounted to foam-core board with double-sided tape and then shrink-wrapped. I can see why this packaging method was done. While it does reduce the risk of mechanical damage from handling and shipping, the tape and sealed package are not the most stable environment for long-term storage. Curators and conservators always assess items with our Exhibitions Coordinator before they go on display. Because the items going on exhibit needed to come out of their shrink wrap anyway,  the team made the decision to rehouse the whole collection.

Hartman02

I was able to carefully cut and remove the shrink wrap from each package. The few drawings with friable media (like pastel or charcoal) actually have it applied to the back of the thin drawing paper, so there was little risk of disruption from the static charge of the plastic film. I was able to separate each drawing from the backing board by heating a very thin metal spatula with a hot air pencil and passing it between the drawing and the tape carrier, however, residual adhesive still remained on the verso of the drawing and needed to be removed prior to rehousing (image below, left).

HartmanBeforeAfter

The double-sided tape appears to have been applied fairly recently and had not yet penetrated the paper or crosslinked. I was able to remove it without disturbing the paper fibers by gently rolling the adhesive off with a crepe eraser (image above, right). 

HartmanBeforeAfter2

These drawings will now be stored in either clear polyester L-sleeves or paper folders, depending upon the drawing media. The collection had been placed into two metal edge boxes, but removing the foam-core backing has significantly reduced the required storage space. We can now fit them all into one box. While the shrink wrap package probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I am glad we were able to rehouse the drawings before they were visibly affected by it.

A Day in the Life of a Library Conservator

It’s hard to say what a typical day in the conservation lab might be, or what skills you will need when you show up for work in the morning. What makes library conservation challenging is that you need to know about not only books and paper objects, but paintings, art on paper, furniture, sculpture, indigenous and folk art, photographs, analog and digital A-V materials, media of all kind from the dawn of mark-making, etc. The list of what we need to know is endless because libraries and archives collect broadly, and the conservation needs of these collections can be complex. This list doesn’t even cover the parts of library conservation that include budgeting, planning, managing people, environmental monitoring, attending meetings, and all those things that keep the Conservation program running smoothly.

Yesterday I was reflecting on the life of a collections conservator as were doing some out-of-the-ordinary work.  I was asked to write condition reports for the three portraits in the exhibits suite. I’m not a paintings conservator, but I do know how to look at an object and describe its condition in enough detail that someone can understand the state of that object now, and determine if any changes occurred in the future. I found the Canadian Conservation Institute’s excellent reference materials online regarding evaluating paintings to be very helpful in my evaluation. I have also collected condition data on the two historic pieces of furniture in that room. I didn’t find a CCI document on writing condition reports for furniture, but they do make available a lot of furniture care and handling information. We have no paintings or furniture conservators on staff, but my skills are such that I can describe them for our records and help facilitate their conservation should the need arise.

When they were ready to go back on the wall, Henry Hebert from Conservation, and Ben Bridgers from Exhibits, rehung the portraits.

Photo Feb 04, 10 24 04 AM
Hanging Dr. Mott’s portrait.

Photo Feb 04, 10 36 47 AM
Hanging Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle’s portrait.

Once the portraits were hung, Henry and Ben, with Val Gillispie, Duke University Archivist, helped reposition the Virginia Woof desk in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery. The desk is part of the newly acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection and is now on display as part of the “Heralding The Way to a New World” exhibit. The final thing to do was to help get the lighting levels adjusted for the desk.

woolf desk move
Repositioning the Virginia Woolf desk.

This morning, we helped put the book collections on the shelves that line the exhibits suite. It took about an hour and a half and eight people to finish the job. The exhibits suite is now ready for the weekend’s events.

 

New Exhibit: Help Wanted

Banana
The banana book makes its first public appearance in our new exhibit. Don’t miss it!

“Help Wanted: You Can Help Keep Our Collections In Good Condition” focuses on what our patrons can do to keep our books on the shelf and usable for everyone. The exhibit is intended to support reinforce the information we present at our annual Care and Handling training, which will be scheduled for late September or early October.

The exhibit is open during regular library hours. It is located just outside the Conservation Lab, Room 023, Perkins Lower Level 1.

Come see the banana book in person. There is another little surprise in there, too.

Last Chance To See “What’s Missing From Your Video History”

This week will be your last opportunity to see our exhibit “What’s Missing From Your Video History” sponsored by the Preservation Department and the Digital Scholarship and Production Services.

Audio-visual materials’ rapid deterioration (relative to print media), its wide adoption for commercial and personal use, and the range of formats and playback equipment that rose and fell around analog videotape, have profound implications for preserving those pieces of our 20th century history that were captured on videotape.

The exhibit is on Perkins Lower Level 1, outside the Digital Production Center, near room 023. Open during library hours.