Professional Development

Preserving Objects and Artifacts: Conservation Science, Collection Care and Outreach

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 4:47 pm

On Friday, November 5, the North Carolina Preservation Consortium held it’s annual conference at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The theme was centered around the preservation care of objects and outreach efforts to enlighten viewers about these efforts.

The first speaker was Chris Petersen, a volunteer at Winterthur Museum’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory. What kind of person volunteers at a lab? In this case, a PhD in Organic Chemistry retired from Dupont. Chris showed analysis of various objects which helps with dating and dating these objects. Most of these objects, had a big question associated with them like the composition of the Liberty Bell or the date of manufacture of a Meissen (Germany) soup tureen. His explanations using organic chemistry diagrams were convincing, although puzzling to a non-chemist. He also had the comical duty of verifying a “Vampire Killing Kit” sent to him. All the Twilight and True Blood people’s ears perked up and a chill went through the crowd as he discussed this convincing fraud.

Jane Klinger, Chief Conservator at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC followed. As Chief Conservator, Jane is responsible of the conservation and preservation management of the museum, archives and library collections. Interestingly, Jane started by saying the materials in their collection have little real value-but these materials are invaluable for Holocaust denial and evidence for verifying historic events. Jane used a series of objects from the Holocaust to tell her story of the multiple issues involved in preserving these materials. She began with Selma Scharzwald and her teddy bear. Selma, who went by the name “Sophie” named her teddy bear “Refugee” and kept it with her throughout the war as she and her mother took an assumed identity to escape persecution. This teddy bear became so popular that efforts were made to protect it from being ‘loved’ to death. Now, reproductions can be purchased in the museum shop. Other unique items, like “Schindler’s Violin” and the Lodz Ghetto model were removed from exhibition to protect them from the elements such as humidity and dust. Klinger described lots of give and take as they tried to balance their patrons desires to see artifacts with conservation needs.

Emily Williams, Conservator of Archeological Materials at Colonial Williamsburg described her project: Conservation : Where Art and Science Meet. This exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg describes the process conservators use to preserve objects and attempts to explain the how’s and why’s of their process. The video and podcast backup the ideas in this exhibit of identifying the issues in conservation, treating conservators as heroes and using case studies of objects.

The final presentation was by Christina Cole, the Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Fellow at the University of Delaware Art Conservation Program. Cristina explained the “three-legged stool” concept of art conservation: 1. Art History, 2. Studio Art and 3. Chemistry to educate their students. Graduates from their program are working in the best museums around the world.

This was a great conference-as usual-and well worth the trip to experience, learn and network.

GBW Standards of Excellence- Presentations

Monday, October 18, 2010 12:05 pm

I attended three sessions this year and was delighted that these focused on binding and books.

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Martha Little spoke on “Evidence of Structure and Procedure in Books.” Martha has been the Head Conservator at the University of Michigan Libraries and Book Conservator at Yale. Her presentation was a kind of deconstruction of the historical book. It was partly taking books apart to understand them and partly examining stains, sewing and even pest damage. She literally took historic structures apart to understand them. This included a two-volume set of Homer which had been sewn together and a new leather cover applied to hide the fact. She told how two book scholars (Roger Powell and Berthe van Regemorter) examined an identical Ethiopian binding and came to very different conclusions about how it was made. Little made models of both these books to show us who was likely more correct in their theory (Powell). Martha tested adhesives using the reagent potassium iodide to show the presence of starch adhesives. She also made cord using linen thread which she plied together using a hand drill to make a heavy cord that could be used to sew signatures onto. Martha also examined how books were put together and successively re-sewn over time. She did this using a guide developed in England at Trinity College, by mapping sewing holes, saw kerfs, and tackets on the text block and book boards. Martha made a diagram from the sewing holes which showed the binding and re-sewing over time. A real lesson in book construction history!

Martha Little’s models of Ethiopian binding

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Jeff Peachey gave a great presentation on Late 18th century French binding structures. Peachey is a book conservator in NYC and the inventor of several machines for binding and also makes a variety of well-respected leather paring knives. Jeff is also a book conservator of the first order-hence, his project was bolstered by historical research and hands-on knowledge of binding. Peachey conducted research of the Diderot Encyclopedie (we have a complete set in our collection) to determine how bindings were constructed in 18th century France. The Diderot is not a traditional encyclopedia, but a how-to manual complete with diagrams and illustrations of various processes. During his session, Jeff demonstrated how to construct one of these bindings taken from the pages of Diderot. He used demonstrations and pre-made models to do this, along with illutrations from the pages of Diderot. It was fascinating to see Jeff, demonstrate binding, tool sharpening, ploughing (plowing) and leather paring, as well as his model of 18th century binding.

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Michael Burke presented the third session on Byzantine Binding. Michael currently teaches binding in England, but has also been involved in the San Francisco Center for the Book. His presentation used historic books from the Byzantine period (circa 300-1200 AD) to construct a model of this style of binding. The book has wooden boards, quarter-sawn and drilled. The text block is sewn up in halves and then joined together. This style of binding is beautiful, but and Michael was unsure why it was sewn in halves-no doubt a question lost to history.

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I had several meals with Tony Gardner, President of the GBW California Chapter and former Head of Special Collections at Cal State, Northridge. Tony has experience working with his library development officer and shared how his institution conducted outreach using their collection.

I also had the opportunity to meet several suppliers:
Marge Salik and her daughter from Talas.
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Nancy Morains from Colophon Book Arts Supply.
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All in all, I attended a great series of sessions on book structure and history, made a number of good contacts and had some invaluable discussions with other professionals interested in binding.

Leslie at SEMLA 09

Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:33 am

I’m back from this year’s annual meeting of the Southeast Music Library Association, held Oct. 8-10 in New Orleans, hosted by Loyola and Tulane Universities. Highlights of the program included a visit to Tulane’s famed Hogan Jazz Archive, and a tour of Tulane’s main music library, which during Katrina was submerged under 8 1/2 feet of water. After a 3-year restoration project by the Belfor firm, and donations from other libraries, our Tulane colleagues have a large portion of their music collection back, albeit now housed in much more cramped quarters.

Presentations this year showcased excellent historical research on the music of New Orleans and the South. This year’s meeting was a joint one with TMLA, and we enjoyed getting to know our colleagues from Texas better. I was able to do other productive networking, including querying my music colleagues about faculty-status systems at their schools.

And, four years after Katrina, librarians are still remembered in New Orleans as the first group to hold their convention there after the storm. When a colleague’s taxi driver learned she was a librarian, he recalled the ALA meeting and repeated the refrain many ALA’ers will remember: “You’ll never know how much that meant to us…”

Leather Bookbinding Finale

Saturday, March 28, 2009 12:58 pm

I was able to complete two re-backs from start to finish this week. The two leather spines had dried over night. On the final morning, I still needed to paste down the inside joints or hinge of the books. I had lifted the paper a day earlier. so I tore strips of Japanese paper which I glued underneath the paste down on the covers. I overlapped this paper onto the text block. When both joints were set, we cut a piece of card with a notch in it and used this to hold the boards open while the joints dried.

joints drying

When both joints were repaired with Japanese paper(Okawara), a piece of card held the boards open to dry.

Drying Joints

A finishing touch was to tool the spine. A heated metal tool is rocked across the spine to incise a “blind stamped” line which makes the spine lok more finished.

Blind stamping on the spine

My books are now done! It feels really good to have slogged through all these steps and have a good final result that will last for years to come.

Finished books

Preparing the Leather – Day 4

Thursday, March 26, 2009 7:23 pm

We’re almost home-honest! This stuff takes time folks- I mean it is important, one of a kind, historical material and must be treated like your pet bunny rabbit when you were 6. The first order of business today was to sew the headbands. To do this, two colors of silk thread are sewn around a core of twine. This stabilizes the the text block to which it is sewn, and forms a very attractive counterpoint to the text.

Sewing headbands

When the sewing is completed, the ends of the cord are trimmed and the headband is glued down. A piece of Japanese paper covers the sewing.

Finished headband

I cut pieces of leather to match the tone and the size of each book it will be used to repair. Using leather dye and cotton balls, the leather is dyed to match the existing color of the book boards and allowed to dry.

Leather Dyeing

Using a very sharp “skiving knife”-the edges of the pieces of leather are pared down very thin. This is hard, very hard-no amount of holding you mouth in a certain way will help. Practice, practice, practice!

Paring Leather

The leather spine piece is then put on the book and reinforced by string, which reinforces the raised bands.

Pressed book drying

After a half hour, the ends are turned in and the book is left to dry under a weight.

Leather spine drying under a weight

Leather Bookbinding – Getting Close on Day 3

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:58 pm

Fraying the ends of the cords

This morning, we used a small tool to fray the ends of the cords we glued to the spines of our books yesterday. The tool is a small wooden peg with 3 sewing needles attached which separates the strands of the cords. These frayed ends will be glued to the boards of the book later.

Making paste

Then, we mixed paste to use for the days work.

Glued down frayed cords to boards

The ends of the frayed cords were then glued down onto both book boards. I slid a piece of release paper on top of it and pressed the books for about 20 minutes.

Lifting leather from the cover

I used my lifting knife to lift the leather off the cover boards of the book.

Applying Japanese paper and pressing

All the books were then placed in a press. The spaces between the cords were lined with two layers of Japanese paper and allowed to dry.

Attaching a leather lining

A leather lining was made and pasted to the spine. This leather piece was pressed onto the spine and the space around the raised bands on the spine reinforced with string tied to the press.

Tomorrow-rebacking the spine with new leather.

Leather Workshop – Day 2

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 10:43 pm

Glueing out the spine

I’ve lifted the spine of my leather books and cleaned off all the residue. Next, the spine is glued out and either cords or tapes are glued onto the spine as sewing structures. This allows you to re-sew the parts of the book that are weak or broken-and let’s face it, after 300 years, you’d be a little worn too!

Books with sewn cords

Sewing is done inside the signature sof the book, and when you reach each cord or tape, you exit the interior of the book and sew out and around the tape or cord.

Cords sewn onto the spine
Next, paper tears and loose signatures are also re-attached to the text block. Tomorrow, we’ll fray the ends of the cords and attach them to the boards with glue. This will make a very strong bond which will hold the boards onto the book. All of the books I brought to the workshop had loose boards-which means, the were not attached to the book at all. When I’m done, they’ll not only be well bonded to the book, they’ll look good too. Stay tuned!


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