Preserving New Hampshire’s Past for the Future

One of America’s earliest and most successful operetta composers, George W. Stratton (1830-1901), was one of the few to compose and self-publish operettas entirely for children. He and his wife never had children, but instead brought joy to youth through their widely performed showpieces with chimerical plots and advanced choruses, solos, duets, and even recitative. Mrs. Stratton worked with her husband to write lyrics and draw cover artwork. In 1885, they sought a final resting place for their legacy, and gave to their native town of West Swanzey, New Hampshire, the “Stratton Free Library and Art Gallery.”

Stratton provided the library some 2,000 of the best books in the English language, over 200 pictures selected in Europe to be educational in the lines of art, history, or architecture, and music volumes by the finest classical composers to that date. His family trust maintained the library until 1914, when it was given to the town. Alas, much of the artwork was sold in the 1920s to raise funds for the library. At the moment, library has 5 of Lucy Stratton’s oil paintings, and as it happens, they have just heard from someone, whose parents bought one of the paintings by Lucy and he is going to return it to the library.

Upon visiting the Stratton Free Library, one would find only two rooms with minimal belongings. A marble bust of Stratton stands in the main hallway along with neat rows of brown leather-bound books arranged in glass cases. The once-filled gallery is now left with only two landscape paintings. An old trunk contains various operettas and sheet music with exquisite detail. Every booklet includes specific stage directions, costume descriptions, and previews of new operetta releases. One of Stratton’s most notable works, Fairy Grotto, written in 1872, has a plot reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with a whimsical musical overtone.

Anne Meyer, a “generalist” conservator with a wealth of knowledge, works in the library taking care of the remaining artifacts of the library’s benefactor and his wife. She began as a curious child with an interest in antiques and personal history, and now focuses mostly on restoring textiles, costumes, and period pieces. Her work at the library includes removing over a century worth of dust, finger oils, improper storage damage, and mold with Groom-Sticks, Hydrophilic Sponges, and Wishab Dry Cleaning Sponges. She also spends a lot of time advising visitors on how to preserve their own historical treasures.

Along with the collection of operettas found in the library, many works have also been donated or purchased by the town or Stratton trust. The music that once brought joy to countless children and adults is now being restored in hopes of continuing Stratton’s legacy of great American children’s music.

For more information on the life and works of G.W. Stratton please call (603) 352-9391 or visit the Stratton Free Library, 9 Main St, Swanzey, NH

Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum Comes Back From The Brink

In the spirit of their namesake, the Barnum Museum in Bridgport, Conn., has made the effort to ensure that the show will go on after sustaining heavy damage when an EF1 tornado ripped through the city on June 24, 2010. The museum, named after famed Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus showman P.T. Barnum, has been a landmark in the Southern Connecticut city since 1893. The museum’s over 25,000 artifacts reflect both Barnum’s life and personal items in addition to artifacts focusing on the history of the Greater Bridgeport area.

The Barnum Museum, pre-tornado.

Last month, The Barnum Museum reopened on a two-day-a-week schedule. Upon re-opening, the museum started a new and unique exhibition called Recovery in Action. This exhibition is presented on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and allows visitors an opportunity to see the challenges of disaster recovery. The museum will showcase a unique array of artifacts including Tom Thumb’s miniature carriages and very ornate furniture owned by Barnum. However, these items will not be displayed traditionally. Instead, these pieces will be shown in their “evacuation” spaces. They were transfered from the museum and housed temporarily in the People’s United Bank Gallery. The museum’s visitors will see conservators work on artifacts while the recovery is in process. “The historic building itself is a work of art and the collection it contains is part of the overall restoration process,” Barnum Museum Executive Director and Curator Kathy Maher said about what’s taking place at her museum. “It’s now time to let everyone witness this tremendous effort as it unfolds,” she added.

The 2010 tornado caused millions of dollars in damage to the museum. A portion of the repair costs will focus solely on the museum’s collections. The American Institute of Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team in concert with both FEMA and the Institute of Museums and Library Services assessed the damage to these artifacts. The museum’s biggest problem has been elevated moisture levels that threaten pieces housed on the museum’s first floor and in basement level archival storage area. Amazingly, just one artifact was completely lost from the museum’s collection, a Barnum autobiography from 1870’s. Maher explained to New England Cable News that the tome was completely saturated and quickly molded over in the wake of the tornado.

According to initial estimates, well over 800 items in the museum’s collection will be reviewed, and many from that number will require some sort of conservation treatment. Included in the items that underwent this process was one of the museum’s pair of carriages built for Tom Thumb. The paint on the carriage had been stripped away by tornadic winds and debris as if it were scraped off by sandpaper. In fact, many of the painted surfaces in the museum experienced hydrothermal shock due to the drastic humidity and temperature changes from the storm. Conservator Chris Augerson coated the carriage with a thin layer of varnish before applying infill painting. Keeping with the tenets of conservation, these measures were taken so that this process can easily be reversed in the future. The fabric elements of the carriage are currently awaiting treatment.

In addition to the damage incurred by the museum’s collections, many structural deficiencies were spotted even before the tornado hit the building in 2010, including faulty support structures that hoist the museum’s famous dome. Due to the high speed of the tornadic winds and the compromised support structures, the domed roof actually shifted counterclockwise. To repair this, the dome will have to be supported by load-bearing columns placed on the museum’s third floor.  After the tornado, a historic buildings engineer also inspected the building’s structural integrity. The repairs to the museum are expected to be completed in another two years.

Natural disasters, like the tornado that hit the Barnum Museum, are largely unexpected weather phenomena. The key for a quick recovery from any natural disaster is preparedness. Both the National Park Service and Kansas Cultural Emergency Resources Network can provide you with numerous resources to help you formulate a plan in the event of a natural disa?ter. Once your disaster plan is finalized, University Products carries the necessary tools and equipment to protect your collections, as well as products to restore them if damage should occur.

 

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.