The magnetic board also works particularly well when slipped behind a torn book page for mending in situ, since it simultaneously offers a rigid, flat surface and a means of securing the tear in place during mending.
Once again, I find myself turning to the textile craft world for an assist in paper conservation. I have been experimenting with using a magnetic cross stitch board while mending edge tears, and have been really pleased with the way it has been working. Most recently, I have been mending tears along the edges of a couple of nineteenth century wallpaper friezes. The friezes are in good condition overall, and their primary support paper is fairly robust. However, the troublesome edge tears simply refuse to lie flat while I mend them. Ordinarily, I would strategically position a few glass weights near the edges of the tear to hold them down. However, the size and positioning of these tears require me to set the glass weights very close to the tears to tame their planar distortion, which then makes it awkward to lay down a clean mend. Magnetic board to the rescue! I position the magnetic board underneath the wallpaper frieze, secure the edges of the tear in place with flat, flexible strip magnets, and I can then apply my mends with ease.
To transform the magnetic board into an appropriate mending surface, I first wrapped it in absorbent chromatography paper, followed by a wrapping of Holytex nonwoven polyester. (And yes, I blinged out my magnets with scraps of my own hand-marbled papers.) To prevent the strip magnets from potentially abrading the surface of whatever I'm mending, I use a piece of Holytex as a barrier. The magnets are also easier to move and lift by using the Holytex. When I want to reduce the "pull" of the magnet for more fragile items, I additionally place a piece of chromatography paper or thin cotton blotter between the Holytex and the magnet.
The magnetic board also works particularly well when slipped behind a torn book page for mending in situ, since it simultaneously offers a rigid, flat surface and a means of securing the tear in place during mending.
Earlier this year, fellow book conservator Renee Wolcott and I attended an illumination workshop with calligrapher and iconographer Susan Kelly von Medicus at the Biggs Museum in Dover, DE. The focus of the class was the creation of “historiated initials,” the enlarged letter beginning a paragraph of text which was often illustrated with fantastical beasts, or other pictorial whimsy, in illuminated manuscripts. The Cathach of St. Columba of Iona, an illuminated manuscript dating to the 6th or 7th century, is arguably the earliest extant manuscript to use historiated initials. Susan brought examples of lettering styles from the Celtic, Roman, and Gothic traditions from which to choose.
A Few Words about Terminology
Historiated initials are sometimes called versal letters, although the latter term technically means any enlarged capital letter beginning a paragraph of text, whether illustrated or not. In medieval manuscripts, the term illumination specifically refers to the use of gold to reflect light, thus "illuminating" the text. However, in modern, vernacular usage, illuminated manuscript has become a catch-all term for any manuscript with colorful embellishments. Most surviving medieval illuminated manuscripts are liturgical books such as breviaries, antiphonaries, and psalters; and a type of Christian devotional book (dating to about the 13th century) known as a book of hours.
Working next to a bright window in the second-floor foyer to the galleries, our small group of participants copied letter forms from Susan’s printed sources onto tracing paper. We then used carbon paper to transfer our traced initials onto manuscript parchment. While the parchment or vellum available in most craft supply stores today is a cellulose-based paper (often called “vegetable parchment”), true parchment was prepared from animal skins, and is still available from specialty shops. Parchment for calligraphy is also prepared differently from parchment for bookbinding. The grain pattern is usually clearly visible on one side of bookbinding parchment, while the other side often retains the slight fuzziness of the flesh side of the animal skin, similar to suede. Manuscript parchment, by contrast, has been scraped thin and smooth on both sides of the skin, then buffed and coated with a thin layer of chalk to create a smooth writing surface.
We used a mix of traditional and modern materials during the workshop. While the calfskin parchment provided a traditional substrate, Susan opted for us to use a more beginner-friendly, modern, synthetic sizing fluid called “Instacoll” to prepare the parchment for illumination. We painted on the Instacoll with small, heavily loaded brushes. By “flooding” defined areas of our letters with Instacoll, we created a glassy-smooth, slightly domed surface to take the illumination. Once the Instacoll had dried and set, we applied delicate 23 karat gold leaf, gently brushing and burnishing through a piece of thin applicator paper to adhere the gold to the Instacoll. This may not sound like a lot of work, but each step in the process was painstaking and time-consuming. While most of the workshop participants finished illuminating their letters by the end of the day, none of us had time to move on to the next step of applying color with the traditional egg tempera paint Susan had prepared. Susan assured us we could finish the work on our own using any high-quality watercolors mixed to the consistency of gouache.
Fast-forward seven busy months… and I finally found myself with a little free time on a sunny Saturday morning to sit down and finish my historiated letter using my long-neglected set of Windsor-Newton pan watercolors. Watercolor has never been my medium, but I am fairly satisfied with the result of my first-ever attempt at parchment illumination. I certainly had fun, and look forward to someday exploring these techniques further. Participating in this workshop also developed my connoisseurship skills and deepened my appreciation for the amount of labor that went into creating medieval illuminated manuscripts. While such manuscripts were functional books made to be used, they are also truly magnificent works of art.
According to book history scholar Richard Wolfe, “Few people today are aware of the considerable role that marbled paper played in the everyday life of Europe and the Western world from late in the seventeenth century until late in the nineteenth. And even fewer – mainly those who work in or have had a great deal of contact with large research libraries or the antiquarian book trade – are in a position to appreciate the enormous contribution that marbling has made to the overall history of the book” (Wolfe 1). The creation of marbled paper long predates its role in Europe and the West. The art of suminagashi (“floating ink”) was practiced in Japan from at least the 10th century. Ebru, the Turkish art of marbling paper using pigments floated on a thickened gum bath, emerged sometime in the 15th century before eventually migrating to Europe. These decorated paper were prized as art and also used extensively in bookbinding, both as endpapers and as a covering material.
At the University of Delaware, an important part of teaching art conservation is the development of connoisseurship skills, and a key component of building these skills involves exposing students to traditional methods of art creation and craft. On Wednesday, I was delighted to teach a workshop on paper marbling to Brian Baade’s undergraduate art conservation students at UD as part of his course “Studio in the Materials and Techniques of Drawing in the West.”
Given the educational objectives of the course, I focused the workshop on the creation of traditional paper marbling patterns popular in Europe and the United States in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. We also discussed the challenges of researching and learning historical paper marbling patterns, since there is no single, agreed-upon lexicon for describing the patterns.
Brian mixed up two bath solutions for us – one boiled from Irish moss (carrageenan) in the traditional method, and the other a more modern version mixed from commercially available carrageenan powder. He also had both traditional ox gall and a modern, synthetic surfactant available for mixing colors. We used Golden acrylics – another modern material, and one without handling hazards – for the colors themselves, since this workshop was an initial introduction to marbling, and we wanted to ensure a successful experience for the students.
The students had a great time experimenting with color and trying their hands at traditional patterns such as nonpareil, peacock, and French curl. I was impressed by their work, and enjoyed watching their process. Two students learned the hard way that adding surfactant directly to the bath would disturb the delicate surface tension that allows the marbling colors to float on the surface. Other students speculated on reasons for the behavior of the different colors, and experimented with adding more or less water and more or less surfactant to each color. Still others spoke of their surprise that marbling was a monoprint process, and that every hand-pulled sheet was unique. Seeing the students in action and listening to them share their ideas and revelations was a powerful reminder that the most successful learning involves creativity, experimentation, collaboration, and enjoyment – all key components of the Art Conservation Department curriculum at UD.
Top row from left: (1) Annalivia McCarthy pulls her sheet with a French curl pattern; (2) Raychelle Osnato displays the bird wing pattern she created; (3) Hunter Klena shows off his brilliant peacock pattern. Bottom row from left: (1) Kaitlyn Raker uses a rake to put the finishing touch on a double nonpareil pattern; (2) Taylor Pearlstein displays her creative chevron/stone overlay pattern; (3) marbled papers drying on a rack.
The hand binding and conservation of books requires “book weights” in a variety of shapes, sizes, and hefts, for restraining repairs or holding binding components in place during active work and while adhesives dry. As experienced bookbinders, book artists, and book conservators know, commercially available book weights can be surprisingly expensive. While I appreciate the Library Lab’s sturdy, functional, commercially purchased book weights, I also enjoy the whimsy of DIY options. And when it comes to my home studio, affordability is key.
Some of my favorite book weights are repurposed, old-fashioned, cast-iron irons, a tip I learned from book conservator Laura Larkin. These irons can be found at most antique stores for as little as $6 apiece. I’ve also seen some shops charge as much as $30, but if you come across a price tag as hefty as the iron itself, keep looking. One of the best features of these weights is the ergonomic handle, which makes them easy to lift and move. Rusted irons can be scrubbed with steel wool and then painted with an iron-bonding product, or lined with felt along the bottom to prevent them from transferring corroded iron particles onto the books.
Some of the easiest and heaviest fill materials for DIY book weights are lead shot (take appropriate safety precautions for handling lead) or stainless steel ball bearings. I prefer the latter, so I don’t need to worry about lead contamination in case of a mishap and spill.
In a pinch, you can make a simple sack weight by filling a zip-top polyethylene baggie. I strongly recommend taping or gluing the baggie shut, as insurance against the zip-top popping open at an inopportune moment and spilling the bag’s contents all over your workspace. Another good insurance measure is to sew a fabric sleeve to fit over the baggie (or repurpose a clean sock) and then stitch it shut, like a little pillow cover.
Equally functional weights can be made by filling small plastic bottles, which can be staid, like this plastic film canister, or whimsical, like this dinosaur-topped bottle fabricated for bubble soap.
When I was at ISU Library, we would regularly turn “Beanie Babies” or other small, stuffed animals into book weights by ripping open a small part of a seam, removing their original stuffing, and then refilling them with ball bearings. The nice thing about using plush animals is that the incision can be sewn shut easily and discreetly.
I purchased this little shoe, which had been repurposed into a pin cushion, at the Alexandria Farmer's Market. I replaced some of the stuffing with ball bearings, and the shoe now functions as both a weight and a pin cushion, the perfect choice when I am resewing textblocks.
Finally, on a recent trip to the zoo with my nephew, I was smitten by a squishy rubber alligator. I liked his size and the drape of his body, so I decided to try turning him into a book weight, too. I cut an incision in the alligator’s belly (which felt like the thinnest part of his skin). Removing the plastic beads was something of a hot mess, because static made them cling to everything – hands, tools, surfaces. It finally occurred to me to vacuum out the alligator’s innards using a micro-nozzle attachment on the vacuum hose. Success!
Next, I used a small spatula to hold the incision open while I fed stainless steel ball bearings into the hollow cavity with my other hand.
I used superglue to seal the incision. I also adhered a patch of thinly pared scrap leather over the incision, as added reinforcement.
Now, every time I use this alligator weight at work, I smile and recall a fun day spent with my sweet and smart little nephew.
Cultural heritage conservators are always borrowing and jerry-rigging tools from other trades and industries. We also benefit from exposure to the tools and methodologies of our conservator colleagues in other specialties. My latest favorite new acquisition for the Library Lab is this humble, disposable seam ripper (stitch cutter) blade. The blades seem designed to snap onto some sort of handle (much like disposable scalpel blades), although the place I bought them from didn't sell handles. To make the blades safer and more comfortable to hold without needing a special handle, I wrapped some blue painter's tape around the end for better grippiness and modest cushioning.
My undergraduate intern, Yan Choi, has been working on a number of circulating collection books which need resewing. In order for Yan to pull (disbind) the books quickly, without damaging the fragile inner folds of each textblock gathering, I picked up these disposable seam ripper blades for her to try. The back of the curved blade is flat and blunt, while the cutting edge is inside the curve only. She can swiftly and easily slip the blade under even the tautest stitch of thread, and deftly cut through it with a small flick of the wrist, eliminating the risk of puncturing the paper that comes with using a straight-bladed scalpel or scissors.
We'll definitely be keeping a box of these blades on hand in the future, and may even loan some to our textile conservator colleagues down the hall.
I heartily agree with the posting below that the history of libraries holds merit as a distinct field of scholarship, albeit one intimately tied to other fields. I expect to read some fascinating and fruitful scholarship in these pages -- please spread the word to potential contributors and readers alike!
Libraries: Culture, History, and Society
We are delighted to announce that Libraries: Culture, History, and Society is now accepting submissions for our premiere issue to be published in Spring 2017. A semiannual peer-reviewed publication from the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association and the Penn State University Press, LCHS will be available in print and online via JSTOR and Project Muse.
The only journal in the United States devoted to library history, LCHS positions library history as its own field of scholarship, while promoting innovative cross-disciplinary research on libraries’ relationships with their unique environments. LCHS brings together scholars from many disciplines to examine the history of libraries as institutions, collections, and services, as well as the experiences of library workers and users. There are no limits of time and space, and libraries of every type are included (private, public, corporate, and academic libraries, special collections and manuscripts). In addition to Library Science, the journal welcomes contributors from History, English, Literary Studies, Sociology, Education, Gender/Women’s Studies, Race/Ethnic Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Architecture, Anthropology, Geography, Economics, and other disciplines.
Submissions for volume 1, issue 1, are due August 29, 2016. Eric Novotny and Bernadette A. Lear of Penn State University Libraries are co-editors.
Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through LCHS’s Editorial Manager system at http://www.editorialmanager.com/LCHS/default.aspx. They must also conform to the instructions for authors at http://bit.ly/LCHScfp1.
We are excited to see this journal become a reality and welcome your thoughts (and submissions!) as we create a new platform for studying libraries within their broader humanistic and social contexts.
For further questions, please contact the editors:
Bernadette Lear, BAL19@psu.edu
Eric Novotny, ECN1@psu.edu
[Originally posted on the SHARP distlist.]
I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to taking treatment notes at the bench. I like to take notes by hand, in pencil, on paper. I do so for a number of reasons.
First, when I am in “benchwork” mode, I am all about tactile information. As I tap into a part of my brain that is gathering as much information from my fingertips as from my eyes, I find the tactility of holding a pencil and writing on paper keeps me in that mental mode better than repeatedly switching to typing and looking at a computer screen. My notes also tend to consist of fragmented phrases punctuated with lots of quick sketches, rather than well-constructed, complete sentences. Again, this probably has to do with the mental mode I’m in during treatment. I don’t want to be held up by lexical and syntactic choices when I’m in the midst of benchwork. Notes and sketches provide a serviceable first draft, and then I can massage the language for clarity when I am typing my report into our treatment documentation database (KE Emu) later.
Second, my computer resides in my office, which is across the hall from the Library Lab proper, where I do my benchwork. My lab does have a laptop I could use to log in to our treatment documentation software, but the laptop is large, heavy, and clunky, taking up valuable real estate on my workbench. I’m also not the tidiest of conservators when my work is in process, and I don’t want to have to worry about splattering the laptop with adhesives or consolidants, or getting dry-cleaning eraser crumbs or other detritus lodged in the keyboard.
I used to take notes on a printout of the treatment proposal, which I liked because it meant all the identifying information for an object in treatment was printed right there on the same page. However, more times than not, I would run out of blank space and move onto a legal pad for additional notes. I found I liked writing on the legal pad better, because it was easier to keep track of than shuffling back and forth among a sheaf of printed proposals when I was working on multiple treatments at once. However, the legal pad ended up getting pretty beat up over time, with crumpled corners, creases, and notes for different treatments all jumbled together, so I tended to discard these handwritten pages after typing up the reports.
Now, however, I have settled on the solution that seems to work best for me, both practically speaking and in terms of my archival sensibilities. I take all of my treatment notes in a hardcover lab notebook, of the sort used in research laboratories. I like that the notebook is tidily bound and covered in a smooth, coated paper that wipes up easily should someone accidentally splatter something on it. I like the index section at the front of the book, where I can easily note my treatment IDs and corresponding page numbers. I like the graph paper, which facilitates sketching as well as written notes. I like that the pages are already numbered. And finally, I like that the notebook is a neat and convenient way to save my notes, should anything untoward ever happen to the digital report in our database, or should I want to return to the source to clarify something in the final report. What can I say? I’m a library and archives conservator to the core: I still believe paper is a more stable technology than digital in the long term, as much as I love the ease and vast storage capacity of digital formats. For me, my work life benefits from continuing to embrace both.
While this is the method that works for me, there are many paths to note-taking nirvana -- what's yours?
In the art conservation training program where I teach, one of the skills we help students develop is connoisseurship. During the course of conservation treatment, conservators draw on their knowledge of art history -- or, in my case, book history -- to make educated deductions about an object. This involves a bit of detective work, as we examine and interpret details of an object's construction and materials. Just as the actual physical treatment of an artwork or bookbinding combines skills in lab science and studio art/craft, so too is connoisseurship a balance of scientific analysis and the art of interpretation. Thus, books tell a story that is embedded in their construction, materials, and the marks of use and of damage they have sustained over time which goes beyond the information they contain in the text on their pages.
There are many such clues to extra-textual information in a book I have been treating this week: Archaeologia graeca: or, the antiquities of Greece, by John Potter, published in London, 1764. The book is an octavo covered in finely sprinkled, tan calf. Its decoration is modest but attractive, with a double-fillet, gold-tooled border on both boards and accenting each raised band on the spine. The boards have been laced on with three of the five sewing cords.
Inside the front board (cover), the acidic leather has burned the paper of the paste-down, making visible an imperfection from the leather-manufacturing process which would originally have been hidden on the turn-in, under the paste-down, when the book was newly bound [see white arrow in image above]. This gross imperfection in the leather is one indication that the binding is not of the best quality, and therefore may not have been a bespoke binding, which would have been bought in sheets and bound to the taste of an individual customer. The more closely I examined the materials, the more I saw signs that the materials themselves were not the finest quality, and the binding construction also showed signs of shortcuts. The high acidity of the leather suggests a quickly-produced product of inferior quality, further supported by the imperfection on the turn-in, which would have made this a "second-quality" skin. The textblock is constructed from handmade, laid paper which is coarse, has an uneven pulp distribution when examined in transmitted light, and shows no watermark -- all signs of a lesser quality paper in the mid-18th century.
The binding has abbreviated sewing (two-on), a less sturdy but faster-to-produce sewn structure than all-along sewing. The endpapers are not of any special paper stock; the pastedowns and fly leaves are the first two and last two leaves of the first and last textblock gatherings, respectively. So, while some care has been taken to make the book appealing to the eye (sprinkled leather, gold tooling, red skiver label), the craftsmanship evidence here strongly suggests this book was a trade binding, marketed ready-bound by the publisher to customers of lesser financial means, (perhaps even a student!)
If you're interested in reading more about trade bindings, I highly recommend Stuart Bennett's Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800, published by Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2004.
It's exam week at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. As I proctor the Library & Archives Major Qualifying Exam, I'm taking the time to reflect on the recent AIC/CAC-ACCR joint conference which I attended in Montreal, Quebec. This year's conference was particularly meaningful for me, since it commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Florence Flood, the event which catalyzed the creation of the modern library conservation field. The flood and its aftermath also revolutionized traditional approaches to art conservation, spurring research and development of new treatment methods and materials, and sparking the development of preventive conservation strategies. The conference theme, appropriately enough, was "Preparing for Disasters and Confronting the Unexpected in Conservation." As AIC's engaged membership grows, there are more and more session choices at the Annual Meeting. This is a wonderful problem to have, but it also means missing a lot of talk which I wish I could have seen.
While the Specialty Groups will eventually publish postprints, the General Concurrent Session and Special Interest talks (Collections Care Network, Health & Safety, Sustainability) have no formal publication outlet. I sincerely hope that some of these authors will find other publication venues for their work, since many of them shared extremely valuable insights and information which deserve to be recorded for posterity. Fortunately, not all is lost: thanks to the heroic efforts of AIC e-Editor Rachael Arenstein and her intrepid crew of volunteer bloggers, almost all of the sessions will be summarized and shared in the coming weeks on AIC's Conservators Converse Blog.
These were some of my favorite talks, which I look forward to revisiting as they are reported on at Conservators Converse:
Irene Karsten, "When Disaster Mitigation is a Priority: Evidence from risk analysis of rare events"
John Childs, "Preserving Trauma: Treatment challenges at the 9/11 Memorial Museum"
Book and Paper Group
Debra Mayer, "Challenge of Scale: Delivering high end treatments on a large collection of illuminated manuscripts"
Crystal Maitland, "Careful Consideration: Learning to conserve a Kashmiri birch bark manuscript"
Amy Hughes and Michelle Sullivan, "Targeted Cleaning of Works on Paper: Rigid Polysaccharide Gels and Conductivity-Adjusted Aqueous Solutions"
Sheila Waters, "Post-1966 Florence Flood Mass Treatments at the National Library: the Roots of Library Conservation"
General Concurrent Sessions
Sanchita Balachandran, "Race, Diversity, and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis"
Back home at the bench and in the classroom, I continue to mull over what I learned at #AICCAC and strive to incorporate these practical and ethical lessons into my professional practice -- and I am already looking forward to the AIC 45th Annual Meeting in Chicago in 2017.
For the past five years, I have written about preservation and conservation on the Iowa State University Library Preservation Blog, Parks Library Preservation, which I created in my role as the ISU Library Conservator. This Friday marks my last day at ISU, as I move on to a new career opportunity as Library Conservator at Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library and Affiliated Faculty in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
I'm now transitioning my professional blogging here to B(ook)log, which reflects my own perspective on library and archives preservation and conservation.