Around Iowa State University campus you will see many works of art created by Christian Petersen.  Petersen emigrated from Denmark to the United States at the age of nine with his family.  At Newark Technical School he learned die-cutting, sculpting designs into metal models, and then in 1920 apprenticed with sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson learning the beaux-arts style used in sculptures honoring war heroes.

After the Great Depression under President Franklin D. Roosevelt the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was created for artists to work on strictly supervised projects for the American Public and he was invited by Grant Wood to come to Iowa State College and worked on two funded projects, the murals for the college library and a fountain for the Dairy Industry Building.  Petersen was Iowa’s PWAP only professional sculptor and was able to make his assignment into permanent employment.  Petersen became one of the best Regionalist artists with works from the 1930s and 1940s embracing the Midwest culture and history.  Christian Petersen was the nation’s first permanent campus artist-in-residence at Iowa State College and taught classes from 1934 through to his retirement in 1955.

Recently I received three archival boxes with Christian Petersen’s sculpting tools and needed to construct one box to house all items.  Chisels, a wooden mallet, a vase, a magnifier, and several Italian Caselli sculpting tools were the items Petersen used to create his sculptures.  I have my own set of Caselli tools I use in fine work at the Preservation Lab but they are nothing compared to the master’s tools.  I constructed a light weight box using corrugated blue board with trays at different levels.


IMG_20180122_074444111 (1)


Today Morrill Hall’s Christian Petersen Art Museum houses his works of art, which can also be found all across the Iowa State University campus.


The end of the year is nearing and things are winding down – oh wait – are they really? For some maybe but for others it is the end of the year push trying to meet deadlines and wrapping things up before the holidays.

How are we wrapping up the year in the ISU Preservation Lab?

Mindy Mc.: Assessing (and removing staples) collections to digitize and wrapping up 2 digital projects.

Mindy Mo.: Getting caught up on general collections repair.

Jim: Making LOTS of wedges and mounts for an upcoming exhibit.

Sonya: Working on the constant flow of Special Collections items coming through the lab.


And finally we want to wish Drew well on his graduation! We have had the privilege of having him as a student employee for 3 years! He has had many duties with us and really got to experience preservation as a whole – from working on book repair, doing marking & binding, and working on digitizing numerous collections. We will miss you Drew!


From all of us here at the ISU Preservation Lab – Happy Holidays!



Since I have been working more on artifact rehousing, some of the items I receive are very interesting pieces and I like to do a little investigating on them while making new enclosures.  Recently the 1827 General Geddes Sword  came into my hands looking for a new enclosure.


James Lorraine Geddes was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 19, 1827 and migrated to Canada in 1837 then returning to Scotland in 1843.  After studying at the British military academy in India and serving he was awarded the title Colonel of the Canadian cavalry.  From there he moved to Vinton, Iowa to farm and teach at a country school.  Upon the start of the Civil War he resigned from school to become a Private (1861) in Company D of the Iowa 8th Infantry the after several promotions to Brevet Brigadier General (1865).  Geddes was a prisoner of the Confederate Army and after release went to Mississippi and Texas then landing in Memphis, Tennessee as he became Provost-Marshall until he resigned from service on June 30, 1865.


Geddes returned to Vinton to become Superintendent of the Iowa Institution for the Education of the Blind (1867-1868) then ventured to Iowa Agricultural College (later Iowa State University) as Steward (1870-1882)  and Professor (1871-1883) of Military Tactics and Engineering.  During his time on campus Geddes also served as Acting President (1877-1878), Treasurer (1880-1883), and Treasurer, Records, and Land Agent (1885-1887) until his death February 21, 1887.  Geddes served this university and country well and was respected by many.

Below is General Geddes’ 1827 Sword in its new housing enclosure cradled in protective Volara and now resides in the Special Collections and University Archives at the Parks Library at Iowa State University.

1827 swordIMG_20171106_064236211

My two short months as the 2017 Lennox intern in the preservation lab have quickly come to an end! Even though it feels like I just started yesterday, I have had the opportunity to participate in so many projects in the lab which allowed me to stretch myself and exercise skills in many different areas. Here are a couple of the highlights:

One of my treatment projects was working on two WWI photographs with major losses.

For reference I used Victoria Binder’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’

Ex-servicemen working on engines, before and after treatmentThese two silver gelatin photographs showing ISU’s part in post-war rehabilitation of WWI veterans were selected as part of a group of objects which will be shown in an upcoming exhibit by Special Collections/University Archives. Since the photographs will be on display, the large losses to the image area were determined to be distracting for the overall interpretation. I used Adobe Photoshop and a digital image of the photograph to create a fill for each loss that matched the surrounding image area.

Beekeeping, before and after treatment

Each fill was then printed out on glossy photo paper, which gave it a shiny finish that matched the original photograph nearly perfectly, a feature that is very difficult to reproduce manually with traditional materials. Another great feature of creating fills this way is that the color and exposure can be manipulated quickly and easily to match the original photograph exactly, cutting out a lengthy inpainting and color-matching process. One thing to be careful of while making digital fills, which was discussed at length with the curator beforehand, is that the recreation of lost information can easily go too far, verging on suggesting imagery that may not have existed. Therefore, the fills are very nondescript, focusing on light-dark contrast and overall texture instead of completion of objects or figures.

Another great blog post, “Digital Fills to the Rescue” by Rachel Pennimen, can be found on Duke University Libraries blog Preservation Underground.

Throughout my time here Sonya was working on updating the library-wide disaster response and recovery plan. These plans are a crucial part of the institutional planning, and can help significantly reduce response time and overall damage to the collections in the case of an emergency such as a flood or fire. I helped with the updating process by making sure vendor contact information was current, filling in missing sections, and sifting through extant and potential format options to pull useful information and organization ideas and put them together into a streamlined, yet thorough, plan.

Sonya and archivist Laura Sullivan recording information about priority collections in the stacks

One step toward a helpful disaster plan is identifying collection priorities, both in terms of value and sensitivity. To this end, Sonya and I did walkthroughs of Special Collections stacks with the curators to pick out certain items or collections that were especially important to the University. Knowing this information and the inherent sensitivity of the materials in the stacks can help pinpoint objects that should be salvaged first in the event of an emergency. This project taught me a lot about how disaster plans are actually built and are meant to function within a large institution like ISU Library.

My time at ISU was  busy! But I am so happy with all that I learned and accomplished over these two months, and know I will put that experience to good use in my upcoming projects!

This program for the ISU vs. University of Minnesota football game, held on October 24, 1896, has seen better days. After being used as a scorecard, presumably by a fan who attended the game, rolled up (possibly by the same nervous fan), nibbled on by insects, and hastily put back together with two separate campaigns of pressure-sensitive tape, this object has finally arrived at the Preservation Lab for treatment prior to digitization.


Back cover with notations

The treatment involves removing the tape holding the covers and leaves together and then reassembling the fragments and mending with tissue and wheat starch paste. The tape removal has been tricky so far, accounting for the majority of the treatment hours. Since there are two different types of tape, the ideal method for removing the carrier and reducing the adhesive residue has to be found separately for each kind.


Removing the plastic tape carrier with a heated spatula.

The plastic carrier is removed using heat (or peeled straight off, if the adhesive is degraded enough), and then the remaining adhesive is removed from the surface of the paper using a combination of erasers, heat, and mechanical reduction using a scalpel blade. In some cases, the staining from the tape adhesive can be removed with solvents. For this archival object, however, the aesthetic outcome of the treatment is less important than the physical stabilization, and the staining will be left untreated.


Emilie working on a few pages at a time

It was hoped that the booklet could be reassembled after mending, but it appears the individual leaves are too fragile for that level of manipulation and will be individually encapsulated in polyester sleeves.


Encapsulated pages in a 4-flap enclosure

This program is one of hundreds in the University Archives’ ISU Dept. of Athletics Football collection that have been digitized for public viewing online. Early films of ISU football games will be showcased at a tailgating event, hosted by Special Collections and University Archives at the November 11th football game with Oklahoma State. Visitors to the library’s tent will be able to view objects from the collections, such as football programs from years past, banners, buttons, commemorative beanie hats and early photographs and learn more about the history of the University and the Athletic Department.


During treatment: group photo of the 1896 team from the football program


From the University Archives: image of the 1895 football team


In July I went to a course titled Design and Construction of Mounts for Exhibit at the International Preservation Studies Center, Mt. Carroll, Ill., aka “museum camp”.  Students in attendance came from Texas, Ohio, Washington D.C. (National Air and Space Museum), Boston (Peabody Museum), Kansas City (Nelson-Atkins Museum) and Iowa City (UI Museums).

Here are some images illustrating my experience.

The classroom

The shop/fabrication area with the power tools

Slanted acrylic display with shelf

The acrylic was bent using a hot wire bender. The display shelf that holds the object was attached with Weld-On 4. Pieces were cut on the table saw with all edges filed, wet-sanded and polished.

Acrylic wall mount for a small bell

Curves were cut on the band saw, straight cuts were made on a table saw. The small piece that fits in the slot in the base of the object was cut on the band saw. Pin holes were drilled on a drill press. All edges were filed, wet-sanded and polished.

Demonstration: Braising brass rods with silver solder

A student braising under the fume hood

“Spider mount”

4 pieces of brass rods joined together, covered with either Polyolifin Heat-Shrink Tubing or surgical tubing.

Basket on spider mount from the front

Basket from the back

This basket wasn’t exactly round so I had to keep track of its orientation when mounting it.  By noting where the accession number had been written on the bottom of the basket and lining that up with the support, I got it into the same position every time. Since the basket is a woven item, this mount would not be a good option for long term display, as the rods could distort the basket over time.

Hat form carved from Ethafoam and covered with polyester batting and cotton stretch fabric

Bottom of the hat form with the brass rod and plate

The metal plate is there to keep the rod from being inserted further. A circular slit is cut in the base of the form to tuck in the edge of the covering fabric, so that it is held in place.

My hat with pins from an LA to DC bicycle ride.

This is not the final base for the hat, since I ran out of time in the class. Most people felt like they finally had the braising  down just in time for the class to end. The metal-working  was complex enough that it could have been a class by itself.

A shaped brass mount for a medallion

A piece of flat brass was bent to confirm to the shape of the medallion. 3 tabs were braised onto the flat piece to fold around the medallion’s edge.  The disc holder was then braised to another brass rod and inserted into a two-layer acrylic base. The wood piece was the original base that came with the piece.

Lined with Angel Suede

Another name for this material is Deccofelt. It cushions the object and protects it from being scratched by the mount. It is almost, but not quite finished. The wood base still needs to be pinned on and the rod may need to be shortened. To color the base or to cover the base? This was something that was touched upon in the class but the topics of in-painting and finishing are extensive enough that they could also be covered in a separate  class.

 On August 8, Sonya and I attended a staff tour of the Library Storage Building (LSB) here at ISU. The offsite storage building holds mostly general collections, with a small number of lower use or larger size special collections items. The tour was a sort of “after” view of the building and storage area, although I was not here to see the “before” tour. The building had been having environmental control issues from leaks in the roof to non-functioning HVAC. “Before” pictures hanging on the wall showed how the staff had to deal with these problems with large tarps and hoses to catch and drain the water away from the collections materials and the electronics powering the compact shelving. After extensive work and repairs including a brand-new roof and HVAC system, the collections storage area now looks amazing!

It was so interesting to hear about the activities that go on behind the scenes at the LSB every day, including interlibrary loans, shelving and organizing newly arrived collections, and working to maintain order of the materials so they can be accessed easily for library users. One interesting thing that I came away with from the tour was just how much environmental control issues can affect workflows. As a conservator, my mind is always on the collections and the impact of inappropriate temperature and humidity on the physical materials. However, the leaks and other problems causes huge problems for the staff as well, who had to wear headlamps at one point just to do their jobs!

Another highlight of the tour was seeing some of the amazing collection materials on display, including trade catalogs with dyed fabric swatches, still vibrant because of the protection from light, as well as some beautiful atlases and architectural sketchbooks. So, go and explore the online catalog, because you never know what treasures are hiding in the LSB!

Next Page »