Pictures of You: Kenyon College Rehousing Project

04. Box One layout top tray
An array of daguerreotypes from Kenyon College.

In 2018, Kenyon College came to Jamison Art Conservation with an interesting challenge. They hold a study collection of more than forty historic photographic images, mainly daguerreotypes in leather cases with missing or separated covers. The objects were stored in a manner that made them difficult for students to access. The college wanted them made secure but also available for research. Their request was for an archivally appropriate storage system that could be ready for the classroom by the start of the 2019 spring term.

Jamye partnered with Kenyon to submit a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant proposal to underwrite the costs of the rehousing. LSTA annually awards grants to libraries of up to $4,999 for a wide range of conservation and preservation projects. Institutions are given nearly a year to complete their work. They can also reapply in subsequent years and build on their accomplishments.

01. Inventory
Inventory in progress.

We began by carefully examining and condition reporting on each individual cased photograph. This gave us a sense of the overall size needs. We then laid out test trays in order to determine the optimal number of objects per tray, both for weight and spacing considerations. We determined that four archival boxes would provide light and roomy housing for the photos, and began to order supplies for building the customized enclosures.

08. Boxes two thru four laid out
Objects laid out for measurement on paper “trays.”

Kenyon also had a second grouping of tintype photographs from the nineteenth century without any exterior casings. JAC was asked to build individual protective enclosures for each one. For efficiency, we conducted both parts of the project—forty folders and four custom boxes—simultaneously.

A multi-part, hinged folder was built in which each metal photograph would be held in place by tiny magnets. The folder was created in such a way that the board on which the photo was mounted could be removed for student use. It also included a window mat so that the overall package could be framed if Kenyon so desired. Jamye worked with Art Forum Framing in Lakewood, Ohio, to get the hundreds of necessary component pieces cut to size from archival mat board, and we then assembled them by hand in the studio.

15. Taped board strips
Multiple components being assembled into protective enclosures.
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Fully assembled enclosures for the tintypes.

Meanwhile, work progressed on the cased daguerreotype boxes. We created “bumpers” lined with a soft polyethylene foam called Volara, and used the same material as a liner under each object. To secure all the covers of the photographic cases, and secure all the cases within the storage boxes, we tied each one to its tray using narrow, linen twill tape. As a final step, we built handling trays for each of the four boxes, lined with Volara foam and intended to hold a pair of cotton gloves. Each time a professor or student wishes to examine one or more photographs, the objects can be carefully placed on this tray and appropriately supported when they are removed from the box for use.

25. Box 1 done with ties
Completed box for daguerreotypes.

Kenyon was thrilled with the final results of the project. They are looking forward to many more years of studying these collections, now that they are safely and attractively rehoused.

Joan of Arc

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Before treatment.

When the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College was preparing to mount “Women Bound and Unbound,” the exhibition curators identified a striking object to include within the museum’s collections. But the piece needed conservation treatment before it could be placed on display.

Haskell Coffin’s vibrant and evocative Joan of Arc Saved France (1918) is immediately recognizable as a World War I bonds poster, encouraging women to support the war effort from home. As is the case with many posters of this era, the large sheet had been folded for storage sometime prior to entering the Allen’s collection. It was weak along the folds, and creases were visible through the subject’s face and body. There were tears and losses along the edges of the thin and fragile paper that extended into the image area.

To prepare the piece for exhibition, it was washed in a carefully regulated series of baths—deionized water conditioned with calcium hydroxide—to draw out the acids that cause paper to discolor and weaken with time. Once the washing process was completed, the sheet was lined overall with a thin but strong Japanese paper to support the fragile edges and consolidate the weak folds, tears and areas of loss.

 

Finally, the poster was placed in a blotter stack to dry under heavy weights for a period of several weeks. When it was completely dry, the losses were filled and any areas of media loss were retouched with (reversible) colored pencil.

“Women Bound and Unbound,” an interdisciplinary look at artistic representations of women, will run until May 26, 2019. The Allen Memorial Art Museum is free and open to the public.

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After treatment.

Rigid Gels for Paper Conservation

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A workshop participant in the process of making thin cast rigid gel

Jamye recently attended a workshop at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania to learn more about working with rigid gels. This was the first time such a course was offered for paper conservators, and Jamye received a professional development grant from the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) to support her attendance. While gels have long been used by paintings conservators, they are a relatively new addition to the paper conservator’s toolkit.

A rigid gel is made by mixing a small amount of agarose or gellan gum–an edible, non-toxic product used in food manufacturing–into purified water. Calcium acetate is added in minute quantities to gellan to stabilize the solution. When the components are mixed and heated, the conservator must work quickly to pour/flatten the gel, by pressing it down with a piece of glass or plexiglass for thin cast gels (seen in the image above) or allowing it harden in a tray for thick cast gels (below). Once the gel sets, it is very stable and will last a few weeks in refrigeration.

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A sheet of thick cast rigid gel with an object for “washing”

Rigid gels are a controlled method of applying moisture locally or overall to an object for the purposes of “washing” or removing attachments. The conservator can adjust the amount of moisture introduced by altering the proportions of gellan gum to water. The gel can be cut to the exact shape of a discolored area, for example, and its capillary action will work to pull out the discoloration. In the images below, you can see an example of Jamye using a gel to remove the oddly shaped black paper that was adhesed to the back of an object with gel cut to match. While some mechanical (i.e. manual) action is still required to fully remove the black paper remnants and the adhesive, it is dramatically reduced and so causes less wear on the fibers of the object being treated.

The non-toxic gel is safe for both conservators and the environment and furthers the goal of finding more planet- and people-friendly methods of treatment in our field. More testing is needed to understand all of its applications, but it appears to be an extremely promising method of treatment for paper conservators moving forward.

Adopt An Artwork

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Jamye Jamison examining a study for a stained glass window by Elihu Vedder, entitled, “Morning” (ca. 1888). Image courtesy of the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.

Since 2017, Jamison Art Conservation has collaborated with the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky on their Adopt An Artwork program. The curators at the Speed, working with conservators like Jamye, assessed their collections and identified objects in particular need of care. The museum then created a website that allows members of the public to review a list of the objects, together with a description of the type of conservation each item requires, and its estimated cost. The Speed invites its supporters to “adopt” an individual piece by underwriting the cost of its conservation. Those who adopt works in the Speed collection receive:

  • A short dossier on the work chosen.
  • An opportunity to discuss with the curator the issues surrounding the object, why it needs repair or restoration, and the conservation process.
  • A color photo of the sponsor with the adopted object installed in the gallery.
  • A credit line on the gallery label giving recognition to the adoptive sponsor, good for five years.

Nearly 20% of the objects initially identified have already been adopted. The Speed Art Museum has crafted an innovative program that both ensures the long-term health of its collections and also engages the public as stewards of our common cultural heritage.

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Protecting the Past

 

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A few months ago, a wonderful object came into the studio. It is an early 19th-century register used to record the ear markings of livestock from Vienna Township, Ohio. Over the century-and-a-half since its creation, the volume had been rebound into a modern case binding. The original paper covers had become significantly damaged and additions of new material had been inserted. The Vienna Township Historical Society wanted to explore their options for long-term preservation of this unique part of their history.

Jamye suggested a two-fold approach. The original object would be disbound, repaired, and resewn into a more sympathetic binding structure, namely a simple paper cover. All more modern materials would be retained but housed separately from the original manuscript. In order to keep all the items together, Jamye would construct a custom-built protective enclosure.

As a final preservation measure, Jamye recommended that the entire object be digitized. The Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Hub offers free access to very high quality scanning equipment. Members of the public may use the hub privately, or by appointment they may have the free assistance of a digital technician. While the object was disbound for conservation, we were able to produce high resolution images of every page within this fascinating volume.

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The Vienna Township Historical Society has ensured not only the long-term survival of the original register, but also easier access to its contents by future researchers and residents.