Conservation Dance

We decided to share with you this wonderful video, showing (and describing) conservation process that took place at the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum‘s conservation labs a few years ago, during preparations for a large exposition dedicated to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. An extremely diverse collection, ranging from theatrical set decorations to ballet costumes, worn by world renown dancers, with everything in between (amazing posters, created by some of the greatest artists of the time, photos and other mementos). Costumes, obviously, presented biggest conservation challenges, being actual pieces, made and used for dancing, some of them extremely fragile but nonetheless impressive in their imaginative designs and meticulous detailing.

Conserving Diaghilev from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

Eric Carle Picture Book Museum Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Eric Carle MuseumOn November 10, 2012, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, will start celebrating its 10th anniversary.  It will mark the occasion with  special events, exhibitions, and family activities. Book festivals, special guest speakers from around the world, and educational workshops are also planned as part of the year long celebration.

The museum, which opened in November 22, 2002, has become quite an attraction for tourists as well as local book lovers, and of course, kids of all ages. Founded by Barbara and Eric Carle, the museum is dedicated to showcasing some of the most outstanding examples of children’s book art. It features many pieces of original artwork and sketches for some of the most well known picture books, beautifully preserved and elegantly displayed in the airy, contemporary halls of the museum. The museum also offers opportunities to create your own future masterpieces, watch a theater production or meet a famous author.

University Products congratulates the wonderful Eric Carle Museum, it’s founders and staff with the anniversary! Our own love for books is obvious in the variety of book-related products we offer. From repair tapes to bookbinding tools, from protective enclosures to exhibition displays, we’ve got it all! Check out Book Arts & Maintenance and Book Displays and Racks sections of our online catalog, and don’t forget these ultimate Book Lover’s gifts – elegantly appointed  Book Repair Kit and Rare Book Display Pillows, which were recently featured in Fine Books and Collections Magazine.

Emergency Treatment for Leonardo da Vinci’s Self-Portrait

Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait is threatened by the numerous foxing stains that have developed over time on the 500-year-old drawing.

After weeks of recently concluded tests and analysis, a grim diagnosis has been given to Leonardo’s self-portrait, a work completed when the artist was in his 60’s, and dates back to the 1510’s. The piece was drawn in red chalk on paper and is housed in Turin’s Biblioteca Reale (or, Royal Library). The drawing resides in one of the museum’s vaults so it is not in an area where visitors can see it regularly. However, the drawing was on display during a brief two-month exhibition that coincided with the celebration of the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Italy’s unification last November.

Condition of Portrait

The drawing is ailing from a condition called “foxing“, which causes reddish spots to form on the surface of a work of art on paper. These spots are not supposed to be on the piece and could have been formed by oxidation stemming from pigmentation that Leonardo used, in addition to fungi forming on the type of paper he used, which consisted of hemp, flax and wool. Rust from the iron in the pigmentation has also been pinpointed as a suspect in the formation of the spots. As you can see in the included picture of the painting, foxing spots almost look like the measles or the chicken pox on Leonardo’s face.

What to Do?

The decision of what to do to aid the drawing will be made collaboratively between the Royal Library, Italy’s restoration institute, and scientists. “We will continue to study it, to diagnose it. Everyone agrees on that,” said Maria Cristina Misiti, head of Italy’s Central Institute for Restoration and Conservation of Archival and Book Patrimony. The process to remove foxing is a conservation catch-22 of sorts, as success in removal is not completely guaranteed. Due to it’s small size (13.2″ x 8.5″), delicate structure and age, the decision on whether and how to restore is not an easy one.

Is the Portrait Authentic?

Leonardo’s self-portrait, though a beloved work of art, has been at the center of controversy throughout history regarding it’s authenticity as a self-portrait. Although most scholars see a distinct connection between this drawing’s subject and Plato in Raphael’s The School of Athens (which was posed for by Leonardo, around the same time as the drawing), some scholars have doubts about whether the drawing is indeed a self-portrait of the famed Renaissance master. Much of the scholarly criticism stems from the observation that the man depicted in the drawing looks much older than Leonardo ever was, as he died at the age of 67. If that is true, the skeptical scholarly belief is that the subject of the drawing is either da Vinci’s father, Ser Piero, or his uncle Francesco.

University Products carries a long line of conservation products for paper care and repair. Included in this selection of our inventory are conservation work trays, fiber-tipped applicators, mending tapes and adhesives; brushes, and many other products to help you store, protect or repair your document or art collection.

Resurrecting the Uniform and Memory of William Cannonball Jackman

Throughout the history of Baseball’s Negro Leagues during the early 20th century, virtually every player had a nickname, such as “Cool Papa” Bell, Bullet Joe Rogan, and Scrappy Brown. These colloquial names given to ballplayers by fellow ballplayers, added some flair to the league’s brand of baseball. The man nicknamed “Cannonball,” William Jackman, is perhaps one of the sport’s most talented, yet unknown legends. His nickname derived from his blistering fastball, and his career statistics showcase over 200 victories, nearly 800 strikeouts, and 48 shutouts during a 20-year career. His talents saw sportswriters compare Jackman, who was once dubbed “The Greatest Player You’ve Never Heard Of”, to big league Hall-of-Famers like Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander. During his career, Major League Baseball was segregated and remained so until second baseman (and future Hall-of-Famer) Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Some baseball historians believe that Jackman had the talent necessary to succeed in the big leagues, had the league integrated earlier. Jackman pitched into his mid-50s until retiring from baseball in 1953. He died in 1972 at the age of 74.

Uniform of Boston Royal Giants player William "Cannonball" Jackman after conservation. (Photo courtesy of Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, MA.)

A uniform worn by Jackman in his playing days with the Boston Royal Giants, has been given a second life by our friends at Museum Textile Services in Andover, Massachusetts. Included in the entire uniform package is a jersey, pants, belt, cleats, socks, stirrups, two rosin bags, and some pads. The uniform is being preserved and stabilized by MTS in an effort to have it included in the Museum of African American History‘s “The Color of Baseball in Boston” exhibit opening on May 19. With any fabric item, insects are a concern. After the initial insect damage was attended to by placing the object in an anoxic fumigation chamber, these items were subsequently cleaned with a HEPA vacuum. Using Ethafoam, conservators carved out a head mold to be used as a display piece for Jackman’s hat. This mold will be used to display the piece during exhibition. Conservators also used a Preservation Pencil which relaxed the fabric and released old adhesives. This tool directs hot or cold water vapor from an ultrasonic humidifier.

University Products has an all-star lineup of products that can help you complete a similar project. We carry the proper conservation tools such as HEPA vacuums, Ethafoam planks and rolls, foam saws and knives, as well as preservation pencils to bring your prized memorabilia back to life. We also offer ready-made display products including  conservation suit forms and head mounts to help you showcase your collection.

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.

 

A University Products How-To Tip: Display and Storage of Books

Books present a variety of unique conservation concerns.  Numerous construction materials may include paper, leather, fabric, silk, thread, and adhesives, each of which have specific requirements in the area of conservation.  Unlike a photograph or simple sheet of paper, a book has moving parts (pages) and must be handled and manipulated to perform the function it was designed for.

Protection from temperature and humidity fluctuation, ultraviolet light, and damaging display or storage materials is necessary for the long-term survival of books.  Beyond that, books take on a whole new set of rules.

Open Books
Opening a book completely (180 degrees) can flatten the spine and cause considerable damage.  Collectors often wish to display the book opened. To do so safely, the book should not be opened more than 90 degrees, and both front and back covers should receive full support.This can be accomplished using commercially available book cradles, support wedges and book mounts. They should be manufactured of inert materials (usually Plexiglas) and provide smooth, strong support.

A sheet of polyester (Melinex) cut to the proper size is ideal for holding down “springy” pages of an open book on display.  Because it is crystal clear, the page can be viewed without obstruction.  In addition, it will protect the exposed page(s) from dirt, dust and fingerprints.  The polyester page protector should be fastened to the support, never to the book itself.

Closed Books Storage
Closed books are a little simpler to store.  Adequate circulation should be maintained within the storage area.  Books stored on shelves or in a book case should not be pushed against the back wall, but kept an inch or two away to allow circulation of air.  This is especially important if it is an exterior wall since changes in temperature and humidity are more likely to occur. They should be stored upright on the shelf rather than laid flat, but should not be allowed to lean since the strain could damage the spine.  Books with leather bindings should be stored away from those with cloth or paper bindings to prevent migration of naturally occurring acids and oils in leather from damaging paper or cloth bindings.  Like-size books should be stored together to provide proper support, but should not be so tight as to cause damage when removed or replaced.
The downside to storing your book collection closed and on shelves is that viewing the book requires handling the book.  Careless handling of books can cause irreparable damage, and a few common sense handling procedures can preserve a book in its pristine condition.  Instead of pulling a book out by the top of the spine, push in the books on either side and remove by gently grasping both sides (another good reason to leave a few inches of space behind the books).  Modern day books with dust jackets should be covered with a polyester book jacket cover. Book jacket covers are fairly inexpensive and provide increased protection from general wear and tear. They also prevent chemicals from body oils in the hands and fingers from damaging the book.  Use only polyester or other inert materials to cover books since some plastics or acidic papers can cause more harm than good.  Most libraries use polyester dust jacket covers.

Older/Damaged Books
Older books that are already exhibiting signs of weakness or damage must be treated differently.  These should be stored flat rather than upright to provide needed support, and never more than two or three books high.  Ideally, each damaged book should be stored individually in a box custom made to the book’s dimensions.  These boxes should be manufactured from archival quality materials only.

Some damaged books can and should be repaired. Repair work should only be attempted by a qualified  book conservator trained in using proper materials and techniques.  A book conservator can deacidify any books manufactured with acidic paper, repair tears in pages, tighten loose hinges, and create proper storage boxes, among other procedures.  Properly cared for, your book collection will last indefinitely.

 

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.

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.