There’s No Place Like Conservation Lab: The Wizard of Oz Ruby Slippers Scheduled for Maintenance

Smithsonian Institution Ruby Slippers
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

American popular culture’s most recognizable pair of shoes were removed from display and went into the Smithsonian’s conservation lab for some much-needed repairs on February 23. The famed ruby slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, will return to the Smithsonian Museum of American History display cases on April 5, where they have been featured on a nearly continuous basis since being anonymously donated to the museum in 1979. The shoes will be a part of a new exhibition entitled, “American Stories.”

Originally, the shoes were not supposed to be kept for posterity nor be the iridescent red color for which they are famous. In fact, the shoes designed by the film’s costume designer Gilbert Adrian, were intended to be used solely for the movie. Most film fashion props are just used for the short duration of a shoot, and not showcased for several decades afterward. During an earlier conservation treatment, it was discovered through tests that the shoes’ famous red sequins were made of gelatin, an organic material that would be damaged if cleaned with most cleaning solvents. Smithsonian conservators decided that their best course of action would be to use cotton dipped in ice water to complete the tedious process of cleaning each sequin individually.

PortaScope Digital Microscope In both L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, from which the film was adapted, and early variations of Noel Langley’s screenplay, the shoes were originally intended to be silver. However, with the advent of technicolor film, the shoes’ hue was changed prior to filming in an effort to catch the eyes of moviegoers. During the conservation treatment, the original silver color of the shoes was discovered after being examined with a hand-held microscope. Conservators also found a netting underneath the bright red sequins that originally allowed the film’s costume designers to stitch those sequins to the silver slippers. This netting was added to the shoes in an effort to make the process of stitching the sequins to the shoes easier.

Similar conservation projects could be accomplished with the following tools and equipment from University Products: precision miniature fiber-tipped applicators, stainless steel conservation work trays, and PortaScope digital microscopes.

Will You Be Our Archival Valentine?

valentine card archival storage and preservation university productsOn Valentine’s Day, let’s not forget about the Valentines themselves. Naturally, I’m talking about the cards, which besotted lovers exchanged for what seems like forever. In reality, the art of the Valentine Card migrated from England to the USA in the middle of 19th century, thanks to Esther Howland (1828–1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts.

valentine card archival storage and preservation university productsEsther was a daughter of a large book and stationary store owner, and after receiving a frilly Valentine card from one of her dad’s British associates, she began importing paper lace and floral decorations from England. She made dozens of hand-made card samples and with help from her salesman brother, got $5000 worth of orders on the first try. She developed and ran a very successful business, eventually becoming known throughout the US and is to this day called “The Mother of the American Valentine.”

archival quality valentine card memory albumWhether for sentimental reasons, because you are a serious collector, or just because you simply adore all the flowers, hearts and cupids, proper storage is the key to ensure that your beloved Valentines will last forever. University Products’ Oversize Memory Albums and Pages will protect and preserve the cards (or any other paper ephemera) while displaying them in an attractive and simple way. You can also choose from our many Museum Quality Boxes and/or Archival Storage Enclosures.

Also, for simple but effective advise on storage and preservation of your Private and Family Collections, we recommend Northeast Document Conservation Center’s excellent online resources.

Celebrating Thomas Edison’s Birthday

Thomas Edison in 1887 signed photo University ProductsToday, electric light bulbs, recorded music, and motion pictures are so integrated into our daily lives that we take them for granted. We can thank Thomas Edison for these revolutionary inventions. He was one of American history’s most prolific inventors having 1,093 US patents bearing his name. He would be celebrating his 165th birthday on Saturday, February 11, 2012.

Edison was born and raised in Michigan, but by the 1870’s, he made the home of his inventions and research in Menlo Park, N.J. This facility was an innovation in itself as it was the first research laboratory of its kind stressing teamwork and scientific collaboration. The Menlo Park lab was built with the money Edison received from Western Union for selling his quadruplex telegraph in 1874. The entire lab was relocated and can be currently seen in Greenfield Village, part of The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

thomas edison signed photo in polyester sleeve by university productsEdison’s additional inventions include the phonograph, electric light bulb, kinetoscope, and the carbon telephone transmitter among over a thousand others. The transmitter was still being used in telephones until 1980. Edison also helped advance film-making by pioneering the practice of copying films and widely distributing them. In an effort to better protect his copyrights and to ensure preservation of the films, Edison deposited prints of them on long strips of photographic paper with the U.S. Copyright Office.

University Products proudly owns several photographs of Edison, signed by the man himself, and we featured one of them on the cover of our catalog a few years ago. To protect your own photographic treasures, polyester sleeves offer a great storage solution. Our hand-held magnifiers with LED illumination give you an opportunity to get a closer look at your photos, and our white cotton gloves are essential in the handling of your collection.

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. In 2011, the original manuscript was given new life and extensive treatment from New York’s Morgan Library and Museum‘s crew of conservators at the Thaw Center for Conservation.  The manuscript restoration was done in anticipation of the bicentenary of the famed author’s birthday which is being observed around the globe today.

Charles Dickens, seen here in an 1860's photograph taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Each page, written word, and the binding itself were carefully examined before the treatment of the manuscript could begin. The initial steps of this process began with the removal of each page from the book’s binding. Each of these separated pages is then bathed in a combination of water and alcohol solution.

Soaking the paper in this solution caused a previously used adhesive to dissolve. According to Morgan conservators, the adhesive coating was probably applied sometime between 1910 and 1920. This now-antiquated technique, called “silking” was once used to strengthen and reinforce paper. The sheer silk coating tends to become brittle over time and loses its effectiveness.

The washing process was completed by a second bath in a combination of  calcium carbonate-enriched deionized water and alcohol. This bath has a neutralizing effect on soluble acids and adhesives. Dickens, like many other writers of the age, wrote in black iron-gall ink (iron gall ink test paper), which is water-resistant and adhered permanently to the paper’s surface.  However, with its high acidity, this ink caused the pages to deteriorate drastically and the ink itself changed to a dark brown tone over time.

After this washing, each page of the manuscript was air-dried and then humidified. To gently flatten each sheet, the pages were placed on blotting paper for several days. Each page was examined further  for tears, rips and holes, and those were repaired with Japanese tissue and a diluted wheat starch paste. Thanks in large part to the high quality paper that Dickens used, The Morgan’s conservators were pleased to report that the manuscript’s pages were in remarkably good condition after the conservation process and have incredibly similar color and flexibility to the original document penned by Dickens.

Reversing Water and Moisture Damage in Traditional Photographs

Photographs are the most common way to hold onto memories. However, water damage can both distort your photos and cause them to adhere to one another.

archival method for separating stuck photosThe gelatinous emulsion of a photograph acts like an adhesive when it becomes moist. As a result, pictures may adhere to one another when they are exposed to moisture or high levels of humidity. Trying to separate them can result in tearing and loss of portions of the image.

A photographic conservator will be able to separate most photos without damage. However, there is a technique that can be used to separate most photographs that doesn’t require a professional conservator. There is risk of further damage involved in the process, so it should only be used as a last resort – and never with any one-of-a-kind, valuable, or irreplaceable photos.

Place the stuck photographs image side up in a bath of room temperature distilled water (which can be purchased at most grocery stores or pharmacies) for a period of 15 to 30 minutes (longer exposure to water can result in distortion).

Remove and gently pull apart the photos with your fingers. A thin, silicone coated spatula inserted between may be required for stubborn cases.

Finally, shake off any excess water and place the photos image side up on paper towels or blotting paper to dry. Weight down the edges to minimize curling as they dry. This process can also be effective for photos that become stuck to glass while framed.

Though there are several ways to repair water-damaged photographs, the Image Permanence Institute recommends both blotting and air-drying in a very comprehensive guide on the subject. Blotting is the most widely recommended practice in drying wet photographs. Placing the wet prints in between sheets of blotting paper, while also applying constant pressure, ensures drying and consistent flattening of the photos. Air-drying can also be used, but be aware that this method has the potential to show cockling, wrinkling, and distortion.

For stuck photographs of high historical, sentimental, or monetary value, it is highly recommended that a photographic conservator be consulted.

University Products offers a wide variety of photo products that are sure to help you with your photo restoration and preservation projects.

His Songs are Our Songs: NEDCC Conserves Woody Guthrie Scrapbooks

In anticipation of this summer’s 100th birthday celebration of Woody Guthrie, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in concert with the Woody Guthrie Archives, (curated by Guthrie’s daughter Nora) began the process of conserving and digitizing (made possible though a grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)) six of Guthrie’s scrapbooks and notebooks. The process of conservation included cleaning, digitizing and encapsulation.

Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942.
Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942. Photograph by Robin Carson. Encapsulation of photographs and fragile scrapbook pages in polyester film provides excellent protection during handling.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952. Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s daughter and Archives Director, personally delivered materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA, for conservation treatment and digitization.

These materials showcase the ideas, illustrations, and songwriting techniques of one of America’s musical treasures. All of these items are in Guthrie’s own handwriting and include lyrics, poetry, artwork, and photographs with handwritten captions. These books captured road trips that Guthrie and his family took through Oklahoma, Texas, California, Florida, and New York. The scrapbooks date back to the 1940’s and 1950’s and even include rejection letters from major record labels.

NEDCC’s process for conserving the scrapbooks included the removal of photographs for cleaning. Found on the back side of these were handwritten captions that shed light on the setting and subjects of the photos. “It has changed the way we research,” says Guthrie Archivist Tiffany Colannino. “And solved more than a few mysteries,” she added. The condition of some of the volumes was so poor that researchers at the Guthrie Archives had not been able to fully examine them. Through conserving these scrapbooks, NEDCC conservators were able to introduce new resources to the Guthrie Archives’ collection.

Included in this set was a 230-page book that contained details about Guthrie’s 27-year stay in New York City and his friends, associates, and collaborators there including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Allan Lomax, and Sonny Terry. This scrapbook is now a cornerstone of a book project from Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives entitled My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s New York Town; A Walking Guide that is slated to be published by PowerHouse Books in May, 2012.

With Woody Guthrie’s indelible influence on making music to bring about change, successors like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen have kept his message alive and with this conservation project and the resulting archival discoveries, more artists will continue to follow in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps.

If you have a special collection of photographs or documents, see University Products’ selection of photo products and archival storage folders & enclosures.

Washington Conservation Guild Meeting

New product for textile restoration - Miniature Suction ToolThe Washington Conservation Guild January Meeting took place on Thursday, January 5th at the S Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian, 1100 West Jefferson Drive.  A reception began at 5:00 pm with talks starting at 6:00pm.  Among the sponsors of the event was University Products.  John Dunphy, who was representing the company, displayed a varietyNew Product - stylish and convenient lighted magnifying glasses of new items including a new miniature suction device, lighted magnifying glasses, and the new publication, Health & Safety for Museum Professionals, a joint publication of the Society of the Preservation of Natural History (SPNHC) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  University Products is the official distributor of SPNHC publications.

New Product - Health & Safety for Museum Professionals book.While in Washington, John also visited the Lunder Conservation Center. Paper Conservator Kate Maynor was kind enough to show him around.  Like other visitors here, John had the unique opportunity to see conservators at work in five different laboratories and studios. The Center features floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow the public to view all aspects of conservation work— work that is traditionally done behind the scenes at other museums and conservation centers. Interactive kiosks and special displays make it easy for visitors to learn about the importance of conservation and show how to take an active role in caring for public art and monuments, as well as how to care for personal treasures at home.smithsonian institution museum

During his brief visit to D.C., John also had the opportunity to visit friends at the Preservation Department of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.