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.

Triangle Alliance for Response Forum, NC Museum of Art, Raleigh

Friday, October 23, 2009 8:33 pm

Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath
This forum was organized by Heritage Preservation to organize community groups to respond to disasters. First responders and cultural preservation groups from federal, state and local entities joined in the forum. This was the first such forum in North Carolina and focused on responders in the Triangle area. It was good to see fellow Preservation Librarians Andy Hart(UNC-CH) and Winston Atkins(Duke) before the event. During the morning break, I met with Alix Bentrud, Preservation Services Librarian for Lyrasis. She and I had corresponded about developing the ZSR Continuity of Operations Plan. We discussed our plan and what ZSR is trying to accomplish. Alix is mulling over the idea of a Lyrasis class on this topic, so I passed a copy of our template along to her. This was a good contact and discussion. Each presenter had only 15 minutes- so it was quick and dirty disaster preparedness all day.

Robert James, Executive Director of the NC Preservation Consortium led off welcoming everyone and thanking Heritage Preservation for their sponsorship. Larry Wheeler, Director of the NC Museum of Art also welcomed the crowd and talked about the new NC Museum of Art building (opening in April, 2010).
David Brook, Director, Division of Historical Resources, presented on “Why Protect Cultural Heritage?” He gave an overview of our cultural resources-their value and the threats to them.

Dr. Marty Matthews, Curator of Research, NC Historic Resources presented on “Triangle Cultural and Historical Treasures.” This was a quick summary of cultural resources in libraries, archives, museums, monuments, and State Historic sites in the Triangle.
Jane Long, VP of Emergency Programs, Heritage Preservation presented on ‘Risks and Response: How Emergency Systems Work.” The Alliance for Response initiative was formed to bring together cultural and emergency professionals before disasters occur. These meetings have been held in 9 cities since 2003. It consists of educational programs and training, and networks and policies are developed- (listservs, alert systems and contact systems).

Joshua Creighton, Dir. Wake Co. Emergency Mgt. and John McGrath, Chief Raleigh Fire Dept. presented on “How Emergency Systems Work.” Creighton spoke on threats- natural, technological and man-made; how you must evaluate your threats, and reduce risks to threats and overcome vulnerability. He said we must work with local responders. Chief McGrath spoke about the incident command system during a response to an emergency. He made the same point Creighton did: You have a place at the table during the emergency by interacting with the liaison officer. You should identify yourself to the scene commander, account for all personnel and mechanical operations. After the emergency, those with subject matter expertise must help establish salvage priorities. The Fire Dept. actually provides equipment-including breathing apparatus to allow trained staff into the structure for recovery.

April Cummings, Environmental Historic Team lead-FEMA presented on the federal response to a disaster. FEMA provides individual and public assistance and hazard mitigation after a disaster is declared. Assistance, insurance, disaster, housing assistance, and small business loans are provided. The National Historic Preservation Act takes into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties. FEMA funding for historic sites- reviews the scope of the work, and determines eligibility prior to work beginning. Have a disaster place in place to minimize damage and coordinate response.

Martha Battle Jackson, Curator, NC Historic Sites, presented on” Disaster Team Roles.” She reviewed the ideas of Preparedness(ready at all times, prepare in advance, stockpiling equipment, practicing); Response (fac. Mgt, communication, security, data collection-photographing the recovery process, logging the images, etc. ) and Salvage (review functions, sorting, recording, packing, develop a tracking system).

Bill Gentry, Program Director, Community Preparedness and Disaster Management School of Public Health, UNC-CH presented on “Health and Safety following a Disaster.” He urged us to follow safety personnel after a disaster-do not assume the building is safe, use common sense. Hazards can be electrical, structural, mold, hydration for workers, air pollution/residue, mental health concerns and stress.

Elaine Wathen, Asst. Director, Information and Planning, NC Emergency Management presented on preparedness training. The NCEM provides training: exercises, elaborate discussions, or full scale role playing in a scenario.

Sarah Koonts, Head of Collection Management, NC State Archives presented on bringing people together to protect our vital records and archival treasures. Preparation before a disaster is key and helps during an actual disaster. Council of State Archivists took the lead role in planning how to protect vital records after Katrina and developed new methods and procedures. IPER-developed after Katrina, is web based training and support.

Darryl Aspey, NC Protective Security Agent, Department of Homeland Security presented on strengthening the infrastructure of the state against threats. Homeland Security has developed the National Infrastructure Protection Plan to detect threats, mitigate outcomes and recover. Their plans include protection plans for water, dams, monuments, state and federal facilities, etc. Protective Community Advisors advise local communities.

Carolyn Freitag, Emergency Management Assistance CompaCoordinator (EMAC) presented on mutual aid agreements in NC. All 100 counties have signed agreements supporting aid and assistance among local governments. EMAC is a national agreement developed after Hurricane Andrew. It facilitates efficient sharing of resources between member states during times of disaster or emergency. This is done with response teams.

David Goist, a professional conservator presented on model networks for cooperation and response. He introduced AIC Collections Emergency Response Team (CERT). This group advises on disasters.

Frank Thomson, Curator, Asheville Museum of Art and Andy Hart, Preservation Librarian, UNC-CH, discussed their networks: MACREN(Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network) and the Triangle Research Libraries Network Disaster Team. These networks respond to emergencies in their areas to recover cultural materials.

It was a day that covered so much, it was hard to absorb it all. The concept of a response team is a great one and I hope the Triangle area is successful in establishing a team.

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 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!