Paper Treatments


 

72ppi-GW-photocons-materialsThanks to generous support from ISU Library’s staff development funds, I recently attended Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen’s Photograph Conservation Workshop for Book and Paper Conservators, hosted by Head of Conservation Beth Doyle and her team at the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.

Duke University proved to be a wonderful workshop location, boasting a spacious conservation lab, beautifully landscaped campus, sunny weather (after that first day of rainstorms!), and lots of great eateries.

A few years ago, ISU Library hosted one of Gawain Weaver’s excellent Care and Identification of Photographs Workshops, so my expectations were pretty high for this week of study. Gawain and Jennifer did not disappoint: they came armed with an impressive arsenal of photographic materials for us to experiment on, as well as tools, specialized equipment, chemicals, and resource materials.  I appreciated their balanced approach, which included some instruction in the history of photography, the chemistry of photographic print processes and their deterioration, broad trends in the fine art photography market, the ethics of treating photographic materials, and — of course — plenty of hands-on treatment activities.

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Jennifer Olsen demonstrates filling and inpainting techniques on an albumen print.

Our group of twelve workshop participants hailed from all over the U.S., and represented institutional labs, regional conservation centers, and private practices. The workshop targets “mid-career” book and paper conservators, and assumes a solid knowledge base in paper conservation techniques.

 

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Clara Ines Rojas Sebesta monitors photographs in a solvent bath under the fume hood (left). Testing methods for removing silver mirroring, including solvent-dampened swabs (right).

Our hands-on instruction included some controversial “don’t try this at home” demos to impress upon us the irreversible and extreme repercussions of some types of chemical treatments, followed by dry and wet cleaning methods, silver mirroring removal techniques, separation of photographs stuck to glass, and tape removal.  We also learned to mount and unmount photographs with various types of drymount and various mechanical, heat-based, and solvent-based techniques. We practiced resin fills on albumen prints, and inpainted with watercolors. Throughout it all, Gawain and Jennifer were on hand to discuss our questions and concerns, encourage us, and share stories of their real-life photograph conservation successes and challenges.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

(Left to right:) Gawain Weaver, Jennifer Olsen, and Beth Doyle.

Four days, thirty-plus pages of lecture notes, and countless hours of hands-on practice later, I will certainly not be putting any photograph conservators out of business.  On the contrary, I believe my fellow participants and I all left with a healthy respect for the risks and challenges particular to photograph conservation. Even so, I’m grateful to have spent the week in the company of talented and generous colleagues, and to have acquired some new skills and resources to help me more judiciously care for the photographs in our collections at ISU Library.

Inpainting resin fills on albument prints.

Inpainting resin fills on albumen prints.

Visit Preservation Underground to read Beth Doyle’s summary of the workshop from the perspective of the host institution.

 

The main focus of my three months here at ISU is a collection of family documents titled the Van Zandt Family Papers. The collection contains documents from 1838-1990. The Van Zandt family started out in North Carolina, with some members of the family moving to Iowa in the mid-1800s. There are a couple significant portions of the collection: correspondence during the Civil War, during which time members of the family were located in both the North and the South, and correspondence during World War I. The collection contains a variety of objects, including letters, postcards, photographs, and legal documents. The photographs are my main focus. More information about the collection can be found here.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

Surface cleaning photographs in an album.

My treatment of this collection is ongoing, but so far, the work I have carried out includes: surface cleaning using a soft brush to remove debris, mending tears and infilling losses on both the photographs themselves and on their backing boards, and removing accretions with a poultice made of methyl cellulose. Some of the work to still be done includes: building up areas of loss on backing boards, repairing bindings on Daguerreotypes, and treating photographic albums.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

Using a methyl cellulose poultice to remove an accretion on the recto of a photograph.

One issue the treatment of this collection has brought up is time management. As the internship only lasts three months, and I have other projects to complete in addition to the Van Zandt Family Papers, I knew I needed a treatment plan which would allow for various stages of completion depending on the amount of time I had available. What I came up with was a way to break down each type of treatment into levels of importance. Once the first level of importance is reached, I can go back and do the next level if time allows. This way, each photograph receives at least enough treatment to ensure its stability.

Before and after tape removal on the top, and an image of my tape removal set up in the fume cupboard.

Before and after tape/adhesive removal on the top, and an image of my tape/adhesive removal set up in the fume cupboard.

My treatment plan looks like this:

Surface cleaning:

  1. Surface clean all photographs, using only a brush (no aqueous treatment) unless otherwise needed.

Mending:

  1. Repair any tears and infill all losses on every photograph, including the backing board. This will give necessary support to areas which need it.

Tape Removal:

  1. Remove any sticky adhesive, leaving carriers as they are. This will prevent the photograph from sticking to its enclosure, potentially causing further damage.
  2. Remove all carriers, and any residue beneath the carriers.

Photo Albums:

  1. Surface clean all photographs in the album, re-adhere any photographs which have failed adhesive, and interleave the pages with photograph-safe paper.
  2. Consider removal of the photograph from the album, especially in albums which have heavily degraded the photographs. One possible solution would be to place each photograph in a Mylar enclosure, and adhere the enclosure to the spot the photograph originally was adhered.
Working on an infill for a missing corner.

Working on an infill for a missing corner.

In addition to learning more about the conservation of photographs, I am learning what it is like to juggle numerous projects with a time restriction. Taking the time to create a treatment plan like the one I have outlined has helped me organize my workflow, and has allowed me to complete the most imperative tasks first. I then have a plan in mind in the event that I have additional time to finish other treatments as well. This is a skillset, in addition to improving my bench skills, which I can carry with me throughout my career as a paper and photographs conservator.

Today is the first day of the 2014 Lennox Foundation Internship for Preservation Education, Outreach, and Training.  Our Lennox Interns often come during the summer months, but this year a Fall semester internship worked best for everyone. We have two Lennox interns this year, each specializing in a different aspect of preservation.

2014 Lennox Interns Nicole Monjeau (left) and Gloria Diez (right).

2014 Lennox Interns Nicole Monjeau (left) and Gloria Diez (right).

Nicole Monjeau is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Photographic Materials. Nicole is from Minnesota, and just graduated with an MA in Paper Conservation from the Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London. Nicole also has a BFA in Photography from the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, MN, and within the context of her paper conservation training,  focused as much as she could on photographic materials.  She also recently attended a Professional Conservators in Practice short course in photograph conservation with Susie Clark at West Dean College in Chichester, England.  Nicole will be working on photographic collections from our University Archives, including some lantern slides and glass plate negatives which could use some TLC.

Gloria Diez is our Lennox Intern for Preservation of Audiovisual Materials.  Gloria is from Argentina, and just graduated from the certificate program at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House. She also has a BA in Art History and Theory with specialization in Cinema Studies from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Her goal after completing her training in the U.S. is to return to South America and work toward preserving and making accessible Latin America’s audiovisual heritage. During her internship at ISU Library, she will assess our audiovisual collections in Special Collections and University Archives and devise a detailed preservation plan for them.  In addition, Gloria will be training with me and technician Mindy Moeller in the conservation lab, where Gloria will learn basic paper and book repair techniques which may prove useful in her future work in a film archives.

We are delighted to welcome Gloria and Nicole to the ISU University Library. Be sure to check the blog for updates from the interns themselves about their projects in the coming months!

Some of the tools we rely on in the Conservation Lab look a lot like everyday items you probably have around your house.

Irons

Top: lining iron from Talas. Bottom: modern iron for more traditional ironing tasks.

We sometimes use an iron for applying large-scale heat-set tissue and adhering linings on robust flat paper items. We also use it to iron the wrinkles out of our gray wool photodoc backdrop, and to smooth out toned, air-dried textile or bookcloth.  We use a blow-dryer to dry toned tissue quickly during color-matching, and sometimes to hasten the drying of spine linings on General Collections materials.

Blowdryers

Since our ancient, brown Vidal Sassoon blow-dryer has been showing its age, we decided it was time for an upgrade.  We also decided to purchase a more modern iron with steam for tasks like ironing the photodoc backdrop cloth. The iron we have from Talas works beautifully for linings because it is compact, heavy, and sensitive to fine temperature adjustments.  However, its naked metal body heats up all over, making it a bit of a hazard for more mundane ironing tasks, and it doesn’t steam.

These are the sorts of odd lab purchases that makes our Purchaser look slightly askance at us upon delivery, but they really are necessary tools for our everyday work!

 

During a recent digital preservation meeting, our conservator, Melissa, brought up the need to safeguard our treatment documentation now that the written and photographic parts are electronic.  Currently, all documentation is managed through an Access database and stored on a networked drive.  According to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), proper storage, backup and active management of these records is essential for long-term preservation.  The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation even provides some basic background information on hardware, software, standard practices and terminology.  Let’s just make it easy and say we want to meet National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation.

So the first question to you all is:  how have you gone about doing this?  Is this an activity that you have charged your IT department or Archives with managing?  Does this process at least meet NDSA Level 1?

The Access database is a fine management tool to organize all of our treatment reports and their accompanying images, but it is not that easy to guide the user or the curator to treatment reports.  Do you use local bibliographic records to indicate the existence of treatment reports, or perhaps a content management system that links directly to treatment reports from the item records?

snippet of a treatment report

snippet of a treatment report

Finally, even though the cost of storage space continues to decrease, the cost still exists and it is not simply the cost of the storage device.  Our campus IT charges us for space which does not include digital preservation services. Considering how large TIFF and RAW (or DNG) files are, how difficult RAW files are to use and the fact that they are proprietary, have you chosen to keep all RAW files?  DNG files?  What was your rationale in making this decision?  What does the cost benefit analysis and future use of these image files look like?TR350bt04

Sharing your experience with managing electronic treatment documentation and decision making would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

1091map1As our regular readers know, the 1091 Project is a collaboration between Iowa State University Library and our conservation colleagues at Duke University Libraries. Well, this week, thanks to Kevin Driedger of the Library of Michigan, we have been participating in the 5 Days of Preservation project, a week-long collaboration among preservation professionals and institutions across the nation.  Kevin’s idea was simple but powerful: use social media to post a photo each day for five days of whatever preservation looks like for you that day.  Kevin then collected all those posted images in one place, the 5 Days of Preservation Tumblr blog. The collected photos showcase an impressive range of preservation activities that really illustrate the rich diversity of our  field.  So, this week, I encourage you not only to pop over to Preservation Underground for their 1091 post, but also to check out #5DaysOfPreservation, via Tumblr, Facebook, and/or Twitter. And kudos to Kevin for a fun and informative project!

Here is a quick recap of our ISU Library Conservation Lab posts for the week:

 

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MONDAY: Preservation looked like this humidified and flattened Depression-era letter.

 

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TUESDAY: Preservation looked like our student employee, Nicole, repairing books from the General Collection.

 

Photodoc5days-01

WEDNESDAY: Preservation looked like professional photography lamps set up in front of our magnetic wall for imaging large-format architectural drawings.

 

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THURSDAY: Preservation looked like committee work for the AIC Sustainability Committee. Melissa and her fellow committee members are performing their annual link maintenance this month on the sustainability pages of the AIC Conservation Wiki.

 

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FRIDAY: Preservation looked like Preservation Assistant Mindy working on the departmental budget (a *very* important part of preservation indeed!)

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A newly acquired 1930s letter in the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

For the past two months, I have been preserving hundreds of newly acquired items of correspondence for the ISU Library Special Collections Department’s Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.  The collection includes handwritten and typed letters on paper ranging from high-end, monogrammed stationery to lined notebook paper to index cards; newspaper clippings; photographs; decorative stickers; pressed flowers; envelopes; and postage stamps. It’s a wonderful collection rich with evidence of daily life during the Great Depression, and has been a delight to work on in spite of the repetitive nature of the conservation work: humidify, flatten, rehouse, humidify, flatten, rehouse…

After being stored folded up in their original envelopes for 80 years, these letters require humidification and flattening before they can be safely handled by researchers. Note the letter in the lower right corner, which is very acidic and brittle.

After being stored folded up in their original envelopes for 80 years, these letters require humidification and flattening before they can be safely handled by researchers. Note the letter in the lower right corner, which is very acidic and brittle.

This collection is being treated before it is processed by our archivists, because the majority of the letters are folded up and still tucked inside their original envelopes.  Many of the letters have been written on acidic paper which is now quite fragile and could break apart simply by being unfolded without humidification. Even the items which are not brittle benefit from gentle humidification and flattening between blotter and boards in a press.  So far, I have worked through about half (I think) of the newly acquired collection. I have humidified, flattened, and rehoused 448 items, and have sorted and rehoused another 281 items which did not require humidification (mostly envelopes and photographs).  A few pages required mending, and about 60 particularly fragile items required encapsulation in Mylar/Melinex; the rest of the items were re-foldered and housed in archival document boxes.

Items from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection being flattened between blotter and boards in a press after humidification.

Items from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection being flattened between blotter and boards in a press after humidification.

There are several challenges when working through a project of this size. One is simply time management: I can’t drop everything else to work solely on this one project, even though it is a high priority. I have done my best to schedule a minimum of 2 hours of active treatment time per day to keep the project moving forward, and at least once or twice a week, I devote nearly an entire day to it. Furthermore, humidification takes as long as it takes; it’s a process that involved a lot of  “down time.”  So, if a batch of letters needs an entire day of humidification, then I simply have to wait until they’re ready for flattening.

Another challenge is keeping the collection materials organized so as not to compromise their archival order.  My low-tech organization solution is to keep a mini-streamer with each item.  On each streamer, I write a code at the top indicating which box and original folder the item came from [for example, “B2 F4 (29)” means Item 29 from Box 2, Folder 4]. I then make abbreviated notes indicating whether the item is one page of a multi-page letter, whether it pairs with an envelope, and whether any other ephemera were grouped with it [“3 pp., no env., 1/3”]. I am very careful whenever moving items (e.g., from the humidity chamber to a blotter stack for pressing) to make sure each mini streamer stays with its correct item.  The system works well, and after the items have been rehoused, I retain the streamers so I can double-check the accuracy of the statistics I have been keeping.  In addition to the mini-streamers, I also maintain a project statistics sheet with the date, items treated that day, types of treatment, and the amount of time I spent on the project.

Envelope with 3-cent stamp from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

Envelope with 3-cent stamp from the Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

Beyond time management and organization, the biggest challenge with this type of project is to stay fresh and focused. With such repetitive treatment tasks, there is always the danger of zoning out and putting an item into the humidity chamber that cannot safely be humidified. It’s important to watch out for coated papers, highly water-soluble inks, and paper with pressure-sensitive tape on it.

I’m looking forward to wrapping up this project in the next few weeks, so this fascinating collection can be archivally processed and made available to the community.

 

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