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!
It’s that time of year. The time to rush around frantically looking for gifts for your friends and relations. If you need some last minute ideas, any of these would be a lovely gift for your conservator friends
What’s On Your Wall?
“Bitten by Witch Fever” is a beautiful book about the history of arsenic in wallpaper. The book contains 275 facsimile samples of wallpapers that were tested and found to contain arsenic. The book explains the manufacture, uses and effects of arsenic. Arsenic, it’s not just for silking documents anymore.
Shanna Leino makes wonderful tools. This little steel micro chisel is a workhorse of a chisel. It can be used on paper, leather, binder’s board, and wood. Henry says, “I use it all of the time!” Can’t argue with that.
Steel micro chisel (the website says “sold out” but there’s always Ground Hog Day to shop for).
“Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections” is a companion catalog to a multi-institutional exhibit of illuminated manuscripts that is taking place this fall. Gorgeous reproductions of over 260 manuscripts from the collections of Harvard University’s Houghton Library, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, and more.
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. You don’t grow up in that city without knowing two things: the Wright Brothers invented the airplane there and thus Dayton was “first in flight” (sorry North Carolina); and the city suffered a devastating flood in March of 1913. The Great Miami River flooded downtown Dayton killing almost 400 people and displacing tens of thousands. You can still see remnants of the high water mark if you look closely at the historic buildings that survived.
Which brings me to my very true story. The other night I had a nightmare that seemed to combine just about every worst-case-scenario event that could happen to a conservator. The scene: the conservation lab. I am in my office and I hear a loud noise above my head. All of a sudden out of the ceiling comes a huge circular saw and it is cutting through my office walls sort of like how Bugs Bunny cut Florida off from the United States.
“No one told me we were under construction,” I said to myself. At the same time, there is water coming from everywhere as if a live water pipe had been cut. It’s coming up fast and we are scrambling to get things out of the way. While all of this is happening, I am trying to conduct a tour through the lab. I said under my breath, “This is about three times the number of people Development told me would be here,” but I carried on because that is what we do, right? I was trying to ignore what was happening around me and get the thirty or so people on the tour to focus on the amazing projects that my conservators were working on. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well. The last thing I remember is thinking, “How will I represent this on our statistics.” Then I woke up.
What does it all mean? Have you had conservation nightmares?
Every now and then we take some time to practice new techniques we learn at conferences and workshops. At the 2015 AIC Annual Conference, Erin learned how to use an airbrush and how it could be applied to conservation. Last week she showed us what she learned, and gave us all time to practice with the airbrush. Erin has experimented with tide line removal and tissue toning with the airbrush. We brainstormed other ways we could use this method, too, including consolidation and perhaps spot washing on the suction platen. Have you used an airbrush in your lab? Let us know in the comments how and to what effect.
Written by Rachel Penniman, Senior Technician for Special Collections
When two copies of a newspaper arrived in the lab I didn’t expect then to be terribly exciting.
They were folded and as is typical with old, acidic newsprint it had become brittle and split along the folds. After discussion with curator Andy Armacost we decided to carefully unfold and repair the one copy that was in slightly better condition.
Unfolding the newspaper revealed something quite unexpected: the paper was gigantic! What I expected to be multiple issues folded together was in fact a single extremely large issue.
The Constellation: Illuminated Quadruple Sheet claimed to perhaps be the largest sheet of paper ever made and printed when it was published in 1859 in New York. Created as a one-time, limited edition of 28,000 copies, it had taken ‘eight weeks of unceasing labor of nearly forty persons to produce this MASTODON PAPER!’ To generate one issue, a single sheet of 70X100” paper was printed and folded into four leaves of 35×50” each. In comparison, the massive double elephant folio Audubon Birds of America volumes currently on display in the Mary Duke Biddle room are a paltry 26×39”.
In total each copy of The Constellation has 49 square feet of paper! It is made up of 8 pages with 13 columns of text per page, and 48” per column totaling 416 feet of printing. Along with historical articles, essays, stories, and poems, there are four pages with numerous portraits and illustrations. Originally sold for 50 cents an issue, this copy was marked down to only 15 cents. This seems like a really good deal for what adds up to a small book’s worth of reading material.
Unfolding the paper also revealed the full extent of the damage. The main folds separating one leaf from another had degraded so badly that each leaf was held to the next with only a few inches of weak paper.
In order to allow for safer handling and easier storage, I got approval to completely separate each leaf. Working with individual leaves of 35×50” was much more manageable; though I still had to work on two folding tables pushed together with board across the top in order to have a large enough flat work surface.
Very carefully, bit by bit, I flattened the creases and mended the tears using a very thin toned Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste making the repairs almost invisible. Wherever possible, I reattached loose fragments of paper that I found loose in the old folder. With 49 square feet of paper work on, I did mending on and off for many weeks.
After mending, each leaf was encapsulated between sheets of Mylar using our ultrasonic welder. See this previous blog post for a video of our encapsulator in action.
Now that it’s finally finished, this huge newspaper is the perfect candidate for storage in the Rubenstein Library’s new super oversize cabinet drawers. It actually looks tiny in comparison to this large flat file drawer.
Part of a description of the newspaper on the back page reads:
The Publisher does not wish to conceal the honorable pride which he feels in presenting this magnificent sheet to the public. It is the off-spring of Invention, Taste, Enterprise and Herculean Industry; it is without a compeer or rival; and he believes it will never be excelled. It cannot be surpassed in typographical beauty – in its artistic splendor – in its general imperialism of thought and design. It will be the pride of every true-hearted American, and the wonder of the world; and those who are so fortunate as to obtain a copy will obtain a curiosity which they will keep and treasure with the utmost care.
I am very proud to have been able to help provide this curiosity with the utmost care its publisher desired. Though to be honest I would be happy to take a break from such oversize items and work on miniatures for a while.
When I first arrived at the library the repair unit was considered the place where “things went to and never came back.” That, of course, wasn’t true then and it certainly isn’t true now. Here are a few lovely repaired items going back to the general collections thanks to Mary and Tedd.
Recently we contracted with object conservator Susanne Grieve Rawson to work on some objects from the History of Medicine Collection. These are being prepared for exhibit in the renovated Rubenstein Library.
Rather than sending her the objects as you normally do when you contract conservation services, Susanne came to the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab to do the work.
Susanne started the first day evaluating the condition of the objects with Rachel Ingold, History of Medicine Collection curator, and Meg Brown, Exhibits Coordinator. Her examination included looking at a few of the objects under UV light.
She also met with Rachel and Andrew Armacost, Head of Collection Development in the Rubenstein Library, to discuss the condition of the items and potential treatment options.
Susanne brought an amazing kit of tools with her. We geeked out a little, asking her questions about the special tools and supplies she had. It was a fun and educational to have an outside contractor working in the lab. We learned a lot from each other. I hope we have this opportunity again.
Equipment Day is our lab’s official birthday. While the conservation lab as we know it began in July 2002, our large equipment didn’t land on the loading dock until spring 2003. It was then that the lab felt “real.”
We’ve come a long way since 2002. We’ve expanded our staff, purchased additional large equipment, and even spent some time in the old nurses’ dormitory during renovation.
The Content, Context and Capacity Project (CCC) was a multi-year collaborative digitization project of archival collections that documented the civil rights movement in North Carolina and the triangle. Josh Hager of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Production Center scanned several collections and approximately 66,000 individual items to contribute to this important project.
Some materials required minor repair before digitization, but since they are relatively modern, most of the materials were in stable condition and could be safely handled for scanning. There were some instances when items weren’t fragile, but because of format issues they needed attention before they could be imaged. These items included documents with attachments or bindings with restricted openings.
The Basil Lee Whitener Papers, 1889-1968 contains several government issued documents that were side stapled to form quick bindings. These bindings didn’t open freely and some had text positioned so far into the gutter that they could not be scanned as they were. In some cases the staples were rusting and damaging the paper as well. With input from curatorial staff, we decided to alter the bindings in order to better capture the content and to ensure their long term preservation.
This process involved Conservation staff removing the heavy duty metal staples — sometimes with a microspatula, and sometimes with every tool we could get our hands on — from wire clippers to vise grips. We then replaced the metal staple with a loop of linen thread that was tied very loosely to allow for unrestricted opening during scanning. After scanning, we cinched and tightened the loop of thread to form a linen “staple.”
After treatment: Metal staples replaced with thread.
I am always on the hunt for useful tools. The other day I had a large number of books and I needed to record the bar codes and transfer them into an excel file. I don’t have a laptop at work, but I do have an iPad. I searched the app store and found “Bar-Code.” It looked like it would do what I needed so I downloaded it. Within a couple of minutes my project was underway.
First, I scanned each bar code with the iPad camera:
Each bar code is scanned as an image and is transcribed on the right-hand column.
When you are done, you have the choice of what to do with the data. I chose to email the list to myself so I could put it easily into an Excel file.
Using this app beat writing down all the bar code numbers and retyping them into a spreadsheet when I got back to my office. It saved a lot of time. The free version, which I used, does not save the data once you email it. I believe the paid version of this particular app will allow you to save your data.
I think this app, or a similar one, could be very useful during a disaster situation when you needed to track items going offsite for freezing. You could scan each item going into a crate, then send each crate’s inventory to yourself as an email. I think I would make each crate a separate email in case the network or app crashed unexpectedly. I would hate to record hundreds of bar codes then have the network crash or an email not go through for some reason.
What apps have you found useful in your preservation or conservation duties and how have you used them? Please share ideas in the comments section.