Last year Sonya was contacted by a staff member from the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines with a request to conserve the institution’s treasured Guestbook. One of the house’s most important objects in it’s collection is their Guestbook. In it you can find the signatures of many artists, musicians, writers and public figures who had attended events at the Hoyt Sherman Place. The Guest Book was started in 1914, and the latest signature Sonya could find was from 1989. The Hoyt Sherman Place, built in 1877, is now a recognized historic house and theater, and draws big crowds for its musical acts. It also houses an art gallery.
The sections of the guestbook lay loose in its damaged binding and its original green box was frayed and falling apart. Conservation was required for the volume to be safely exhibited at the Hoyt Sherman’s August VIP public event. The volume required paper repair, resewing the textblock, and reattaching the weighty, leather-covered boards.
Tears and losses in the textpaper were mended and filled with Japanese tissue. The sewing holes in the damaged spine folds were reinforced with Japanese tissue patch repairs so the binding could withstand resewing. The textblock was resewed on linen binder’s tape using a French link-stitch sewing technique.
The spine was lined with transverse aerocotton and Japanese tissue panels, which served as the board attachment for the cover. Below, you can see the lifted pastedowns, under which the spine linings were inserted.
As the volume could not fit in its original cloth case after conservation, a new box was made to house the guestbook and case separately. A cloth-covered, collapsible cradle was made by Cynthia so that the book could be displayed at a 90° angle, enabling safer handling. Once conservation was finished, we were able to arrange dropping the book off and getting our own private tour of the space.
When we arrived, Executive Director Robert Warren was excited to see the final result of the conservation treatment, so we displayed the book with a brief description of the repair, and presented it on the custom cradle support. This setup would perfectly display such unique artistic signatures as the one above of “Mr Tweedy.”
Our first stop on the tour was the gallery. Robert pointed out several notable paintings, including Apollo and Venus by Otto van Veen. This particular painting had been found stuffed in the back of a storeroom closet during renovations. It was badly damaged and discolored, and would undergo conservation before it could be displayed. Speculation as to why the painting was thrown in the storeroom seems to hinge on the central nude form featured in the painting and the conservative nature of early 1900s America. Read more about it here.
Robert showed us a lawyer’s desk, which was specially made with a mirror in the center. No, this was not for the jurisprudent to stare into his own reflection at will. Rather, it allowed him to see if anyone was approaching from behind with a look of vengeance and quite possibly a knife!
During the renovation of the house, a conscientious team of historic preservation specialists found a square of the original mural painting when they were preparing the walls to be repainted. They decided to decorate the walls with the same design. True to principals at the heart of preservation, they left an original fragment behind, retaining a record of history and showing the changes the house had undergone.
Since its foundation was first laid, the house has worn many hats. It first served as the family home to the Sherman family, built by Hoyt Sherman, a postmaster and politician. At one point, Sherman rented out his home for two years to The Sister’s of Mercy of Davenport, Iowa to host a 52-bed hospital. From 1907 onward, the Des Moines Women’s Club, whose growing membership prompted the construction of the theater in 1923, held their meetings at the house. They still operate out of the Hoyt Sherman Place to this day.
The theater hosts a variety of events, including rock concerts, ballet, and stand-up comedy. It is a must-see if you are ever in the Des Moines area.