Objects are invariably changed by the hands of those charged with their care. Traditions have been built on the question of how to properly repair damaged artifacts. Some cultures have developed historic traditions like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Bookbinders have even experimented with this idea in their personal work (See an interview about Kathy Abbott’s work) and as a collective of bookbinders in an exhibit called Tomorrow’s Past, which explores ways of rethinking conservation from the bookbinder’s perspective.
As conservators, however, we follow a set of professional ethical guidelines when determining the best course of action. Conservation is not a renewal—it is not restoration. Conservation seeks to make stable, make accessible, an object for use. In book and archives conservation, aesthetic is not always a point of accessibility in the way that art on paper tends to be. Books are primarily tools to impart information. However, the history of the book has many examples celebrating the importance of aesthetics, not to mention the sensibilities of the eye.
So when I was deciding on how to repair two large, thick set of volumes that were from a 3-part set, I had some choices to make. Both sets of volumes were missing an endband each. They had both been bound in the same way, with the same style of stuck-on endband composed of pale creamy tan and creamy white linen thread sewn over a linen cord and through a strip of parchment. Both had tooling on the spine. Even the paper appeared to be largely from the same papermill based on the watermarks. I could remedy the loss of the original endband by constructing a conservation endband—choosing a simple pale paper over a linen core—or I could resew a stuck-on endband to mimic the current endband.
In no way would I try to reclaim the former glory—like a localized Benjamin button phenomenon–of sewing a new-looking endband on this book. That would not be congruous with the current state of the binding. (And again, conservation is not restoration.) In conservation I aim for an inconspicuous, functional repair. I want to preserve a book’s current faded state and the methods with which it was made in order to retain the truth of the object while restoring (ha!) it’s function.
In-painting Paper repairs
There is a certain comfort and security to toning repair paper before using it in any given situation. You have complete control over the pigment’s location until it dries. If, despite having made several practice swatches, the toning job doesn’t come out exactly as desired, you can start again. Not so with in-painting.
After my first experience with in-painting, I have come to appreciate its merits. You can mimic the variations of color found in deteriorating leather bindings more easily than if you had tried pre-toning the repair paper . I make several color mixtures matching the main hues of the leather near the repair. Another position note: the pigment will only sit on the repair paper, instead of sandwiched in between the paper and the leather on the covering boards.
In the course of my experience, I have discovered several things:
- Wheat starch paste on top of tissue makes for a great size, and thus will inhibit the absorption of paint and cause weird tidelines, or streaks, in the acrylic pigment. See the image below. Try not to get any errant paste where you want your acrylic to go!
- Speckle several shades. See the image below of an outer join repair using Okawara Japanese repair paper on a leather binding.
- Dilute the paint with deionized water until it is slightly runny. It shouldn’t be thick like on the left side of the tissue in the example photo below of Okawara tissue. Additionally, too many layers of paint will create a plastic-like look.
- Use SC6000 to achieve the amount of sheen you’d like, if required to match the sheen of the leather. You can even burnish the repair further.
- Building up the joints with too many layers of tissue, paste, and acrylic pigment causes the paper to loose its flexibility, and increases the chance of the repairs cracking upon flexing.
Conservation Binding at a University of Iowa Visit
I had the chance to study some bookbinding structures at the University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections, attend their sixth annual William Anthony Conservation Lecture with Maria Fredericks, participate in a historic long-stitch class with maria Fredericks, and visit their conservation lab. It was a happily busy two days! By chance, I happened upon this awesome, simple and effective conservation binding while browsing bindings in special collections.
As a viewer of this binding, I had no way of knowing its previous state. Did it ever have a cover? Was there any evidence at all of its previous structure? All I could know is its present state. The pamphlet was sewn to a set of endleaves with two bifolios each.
Aside from the subtle guarding of the pamphlet, no adhesive touched the little binding. It is unclear to me if the structure was sewed through existing holes. There was a cloth spine piece that lay loose against the textblock’s spine and was adhered between the pastedown and thin cover boards. The color of the covering material was an alum-tawed white.