Conservation


Recently I was given four pictures that were copies of original paintings that needed to be housed in custom built portfolios.  We have a wide variety of sizes of portfolios but none that would fit.  I don’t mind making custom portfolios as they are fairly quick to construct and look professionally made.

But this wasn’t the first time I had seen the portrait of Petrina Jackson, Head of the Special Collections and University Archives here at Iowa State University.  Last August while I was at the Iowa State Fair Petrina and Eric Schares, Science & Technology Librarian, had their portraits painted on site by artist Rose Frantzen of Maquoketa at the university’s state fair exhibit booth in the Varied Industries Building while people strolled by.  The completed paintings themselves become a part of the university’s booth exhibit.  I had stopped by the day Petrina was having her painting made and chatted with her for a moment while Rose painted away and does a nice job of capturing the individuals on canvas.  So five months later I see the completed painting.

And it’s a perfect custom fit!

Those of you of a certain age might remember in your early years at school the long metal tube with the large roll down map that hung on the wall of your classroom.  

Recently the Stanford’s large school series Map of India 1914 by James L. Barton came into my hands to construct an enclosure for safekeeping.  This map arrived in the Preservation Department as a folded 10” x 9” piece from a 62” x 54” map and with careful conservation efforts by our conservator, Sophia (Sonya) Barron, the map is now viewable again.  It was next handed off to me to construct a box.

The challenge in making this box was its size and I wanted a lightweight product.  I used the corrugated blue board for its length and light weight, Ethafoam for cradles that were easy to carve with a knife to the size I needed, Velcro straps to hold the box together, and Velcro coins to hold the end caps on.  I am pleased with the end product.  Stay tuned as there will be more on the Map of India in a future post from Sonya and her conservation treatment.

This past week a new exhibit opened in Parks Library’s Special Collections and University Archives reading room. It is called “For Married Students”: Building a Community in Pammel Court, 1946-1978. The exhibit tells the story of a housing development that was built on Iowa State University grounds to accommodate  student veterans of WWII  and their young families, as part of the GI bill.

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The Preservation Department staff worked hard to fabricate mat board exhibit mounts for the items to be displayed. Jim Wilcox and I set out to make a simple slanted mat board book cradle. We were attracted to using mat board because it is easy to manipulate and recycle afterward.  It turned out the task was not actually that simple! The slanted cradle needed to be quite strong to withstand the weight of the heavy book.

We looked at an article that provided details for construction of a cloth covered slanted cradle. (Andersen, Jennifer, Cloth Covered Book Cradles, Abbey Newsletter, Volume 17, Number 7, December 1993, http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/an/an17/an17-7/an17-715.html).

This is an excellent design, which has been used by many institutions for years,  but we still hoped to find a solution that was a little less labor-intensive.

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We started with the tried and true model of two wedges on a base, using museum-grade mat board and double-sided 3M 415 tape. Then Jim added another wedge to the bottom of the base to slant the cradle forward.

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A small triangular ledge is built into the base, it keeps the book from sliding  off the cradle. The tricky part was to keep this ledge securely attached to the rest of the cradle. The answer was…..drum roll….wait for it –  yes, book cloth! Not so revolutionary after all, I know!

But in this version, the book cloth is almost entirely concealed in between the various parts of the cradle. Pale tan Cotlin book cloth was attached to the cradle itself and to the wedge base that elevates the cradle, then wrapped around the ledge. Cloth is only exposed on that narrow triangular support ledge on the front of the cradle.

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I used PVA to adhere the book cloth to the mat board and let the cradle off-gas for 2 weeks prior to installing it into the exhibit case.

Aside from the fun and excitement with the cradle, I became acquainted with a wonderful piece of equipment – the rotary cutter. We had lots of exhibit labels to cut out and the rotary cutter was excellent for making 90 degree cuts without the combined effort of lining up the paper, holding down the ruler and minding the scalpel. A plastic bar holds down your paper and a sharp blade makes the perfectly straight cut for you. It’s like a mat cutter for paper! The roatry cutter comes in a large size too, so for lightweight materials it can be a good alternative to a board shear.

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Learn more about our new exhibit by checking out the links below.

Publicity article:

http://www.inside.iastate.edu/article/2017/01/19/pammel

Article about curating the exhibit:

http://www.iowastatedaily.com/ames247/article_e6b0e76c-bc29-11e6-83b2-c72d80011232.html

Photos from the exhibit reception:

http://www.iowastatedaily.com/ames247/collection_884277bc-ddfe-11e6-9272-6f8ae44f9de6.html#1

You never know what you are going to get. As an artist myself I can appreciate art books and books with unique characteristics but let me tell you that when they enter the lab we usually groan. These books are often neat and unique and creative but more often than not they just don’t hold up well. Take for instance the most recent one to enter the lab – and funny, check out the title.

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This book looked fine on the outside but when we opened it we realized the cover of this book had separated itself from the text block. A fairly easy fix by our technician and she also constructed a box for it to give it some protection since this item will be in our general collection and may get used a fair amount.

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Curious if you see items like this in your repair work and how you feel about them.

 

One thing that is very important to have in a Preservation Lab is weights.  Whether you are using them for constructing a clamshell box, help in tissue mending, flattening an adhesive bind, or weighing down a book you need some kind of weight that is versatile and portable besides a book press.  I have below the different varieties we have in our lab from sizes, heaviness, and purpose.  First I have several common ones we use in Preservation.   In the back left is an old brick covered in book cloth and next to it is an acrylic “brick.”

The rest are all filled with either 4.5 mm BBs or mini BBs.  On the right is another acrylic “block” with mini BBs in it and to its left shows a BB box, one covered in binder’s board, and the middle one covered with book cloth.  In front are 2 oz. bottles filled with both mini and 4.5 mm BBs.  The mini BB bottle weights much more than the 4.5 mm BBs.  The little flat top 2 oz. bottle are the latest additional to our weights.  We like these as they are small for little jobs yet we can stack them for more added weight.  What we don’t like is when an acrylic block is dropped to the floor, it shatters, and BBs roll everywhere in the lab and you find them for months afterwards!

Next we have cloth covered BBs, metal washers, and flexible metal strings for more sensitive work and holding down pages in a book.

Then we have heavy metal plates with handles that remind me of a bacon press, nickel-plated steel bars that are small and extremely heavy, and glass blocks with safe edges which you can see your work through.

Lastly is my collection of weights filled with 4.5 mm BBs.  Something as simple as a Beanie Baby toy can be gutted and filled, a plastic Minion toy, and even my duck needle holder has BBs in it to help hold it upright but also can be used in a very small area needing weight.  I like using the Beanie Babies when I am sewing the folios of a book back together.  This also gives you something fun to look at on your lab table and also for entertainment when guests come for a tour and I tell them to pick up a Beanie and they are surprised by the heavy weight.  And of course I must have a Baby Cy weight too!

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I went over to a meeting of the local Doll Collectors’ Club to talk about preservation issues. I was in for a treat! Yes, Halloween and Thanksgiving are past now, but  I am thankful that these creatures are only dolls and not alive. I am sincerely hoping they won’t come and haunt my dreams, ever. The theme of the meeting was “Off the Wall Dolls”, the really weird dolls, that is.

There were 13 people present at the meeting, and all of them had lots of questions about how to best preserve their many many dolls. A variety of materials were involved: plastics, paper/clay compound, textiles, wood, paper, leather. I came armed with a bag full of archival supplier catalogs and product samples, ready to  advise on storage options. As in all collecting, it is important to preserve original packaging that the dolls came in.
In most cases I ended up recommending archival boxes and buffered tissue. If the doll packaging was already opened, the doll could be taken out of its original packaging and wrapped in buffered or unbuffered tissue.

 

The original packaging could also be wrapped in tissue. Then both things could go into an archival box and packed with balled up tissue to fill up the empty spaces in the box. Another solution is to use an archival polyethylene zip-locked bag for storing the doll. A sheet of Volara foam or Ethafoam can be inserted into the bag for support.

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My favorite dude

This is the transparent middle-aged man. He even has little audio transmission holes on the back on his head, so apparently he used to have a sound component and batteries were meant to be inserted someplace. If only we knew what he used to say!

About a month ago, the Preservation Lab hosted a group of students taking an upper level class in Public History. In this course the students use archival materials as primary sources for the research they are conducting, drawing from the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Spending time in the Preservation Lab gives them a behind the scenes look at what it takes to stabilize  original materials so that they can be viewed in the reading room.

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As part of a practical  introduction to preservation, I demonstrated some hands-on conservation techniques that are often used to repair archival documents. Working on a discarded photoreproduction of Marston Hall, I removed some tape with a heated spatula and mended tears using wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

An interesting inter-disciplinary discussion happened around a group of WWII propaganda posters that were in the lab for conservation treatment. The posters were approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. They were staple-bound into a pad that was attached to a foldable easel made of cardboard.

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The instructor and the students talked about the use of this object as a presentation tool, a 1940’s PowerPoint presentation of sorts. The speaker could take the easel-pad  along with them to give encouraging talks to the public about wartime efforts at home. As you can see from the photos above, the top poster had gotten torn and became detached from the pad.  If I were to take this object out of its historical context and to consider only its physical characteristics, I would want to take it apart, repair it and store all the components separately. The posters would go into one folder, while the easel and the staple binding would go into a different folder. Stored in this way, the posters would be safe and easy for scholars to handle  without the assistance of an archivist or a conservator.

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However, the research value of this presentation pad lies in its format, which tells the story of its use as a WWII propaganda tool. So, my approach will be to disassemble the structure, repair the components and then to reassemble the binding using thread loops in place of the damaging rusty staples. The binding will be recreated, but slightly altered  to provide more stability and longevity to the object, ensuring the preservation of both its physical self and its contextual meaning.

This class discussion brought home to me the point that historians and conservators have an important conversation to carry out. In order to adequately preserve historic collections, we need to share our distinct areas of knowledge with each other, enriching each other’s understanding of primary source materials.

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