Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Shirley Tholen, Jubilee Queen

June 27th, 2017

One of the most interesting items in our collection, from my point of view, is the full-length portrait of Shirley Tholen, KU’s Jubilee Queen. Spencer Research Library doesn’t actively collect oil paintings, so the fact that we have this painting is unusual in itself. Its size and its history make it even more so. We’ve been spending a lot of time with this portrait lately, and it’s a great example of how collections, experts, and supporters come together in the work of Spencer Library.

The portrait depicts Shirley Tholen, whose naming as Queen was part of the celebration of KU’s 75th anniversary, in 1940-1941. Painted by Raymond Eastwood, a KU professor of drawing and painting from 1922 to 1968, the portrait depicts Ms. Tholen in a dress inspired from the mid-1800s. The jubilee celebrations referenced the early history of the university, with touches like the installation of hitching posts on campus, a song contest, and many reunions.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office, 1945

The Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office,
as shown in the June 1945 Jayhawker. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1945. Click image to enlarge.

For years, the portrait appears to have hung in the office of the KU Alumni Association, as shown in the above photograph from the 1945 Jayhawker yearbook. It eventually made its way to University Archives, where it was stored in the fourth floor stacks of Spencer, surrounded by boxes of university records. Its size made it difficult to find appropriate storage, and it was obvious, even to those of us more accustomed to working with paper and photographs than canvas, that the painting and its supporting structure were in need of repair.

In 2015, Ms. Tholen’s son Tom Jasper and his wife Alexis planned to visit Kansas and inquired about the painting. To make it possible to view it, our Conservation Services staff hung the portrait in our North Gallery and created a temporary label. During their visit, the Jaspers gave us a copy of Ms. Tholen’s memoirs, which we added to our collections. The Jaspers also offered to help financially support the work needed to restore the painting. Conservation Services staff attempted to locate a professional paintings conservator who could work onsite, since the painting is too large to easily ship or move. In late 2016, we welcomed Kenneth Bé of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to Lawrence.

Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait

Kenneth Bé working on the portrait. Click images to enlarge.

Mr. Bé began with a thorough examination of the painting, photographing it in its existing frame and the wooden stretcher to which the canvas was attached. He then removed the painting from the frame, and carefully repaired dented areas, removed the painting from the stretcher, and vacuumed and brushed away decades of residue. Mindful of the need to get just the right amount of tautness, he attached the canvas to the new stretcher. He used cotton batting and an enzymatic cleaning solution to clean the surface, and the background and especially the bottom of the dress appeared noticeably brighter after the cleaning. He performed a second cleaning of the background using a soft brush and a scooping motion to lift away any remaining dust and residue. He then treated areas of color loss on the surface, using just a minimal amount of paint that somehow managed to make the scuffs seem to vanish. The process was documented throughout with notes and photographs, in accordance with best practices for conservation treatment. After his departure, we moved the painting to a secure area where it was stored under a Tyvek sheet awaiting framing.

Then came the task of choosing a frame for the painting. On the recommendation of colleagues, we chose a local framer, again hoping to minimize the need for the portrait to travel any more than necessary. The choices at the frame shop were overwhelming, but the experts advised us to balance the width of the frame with the size of the painting and the height at which we intended to hang it. A decision was made, the portrait was packaged carefully, and loaded into a rented truck for the short trip across town. When the framing was complete, the results were impressive.

Photograph of Roberta Woodrick with the Shirley Tholen portrait

Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick
with the portrait. Click image to enlarge.

The portrait of Shirley Tholen is now hanging again in the North Gallery, awaiting new signage that explains who she was and why we have this painting. She will no doubt draw attention as visitors begin to appear in our recently renovated Gallery, and her story helps to tell the history of the University in a different way than the rest of our new permanent exhibits.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the North Gallery

The portrait of Shirley Tholen in the recently-renovated North Gallery.
Click image to enlarge.

This was truly a team effort. Whitney Baker and Roberta Woodrick of Conservation Services, Becky Schulte and Letha Johnson from University Archives, and staff from across KU Libraries researched, planned, and made the work happen. But it would not have happened without the support of the Jaspers as well. Not everyone can be responsible for helping conserve a historic portrait of their mother, but they can assist us to do extraordinary things that would not otherwise be possible with our limited resources.

Please come visit the North Gallery and see Shirley soon.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Throwback Thursday: Potter Lake Swim Edition

June 22nd, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We’ve had several weeks of hot weather on Mount Oread, and unfortunately cooling off in Potter Lake – like the students in this week’s photo – is no longer an option.

Photograph of people swimming in Potter Lake, 1926

Swimming in Potter Lake, 1926. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Potter Lake 1926 Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

This photograph was taken from the Spencer Research Library side of Potter Lake, looking toward where Memorial Stadium (behind the trees on the right) and Carruth-O’Leary Hall (behind the trees on the left) now stand. The footbridge is to the left of the large diving boards on the opposite side of the pond, obscured by the large tree.

To see the diving board from the opposite side, see this Throwback Thursday post from last June.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

Throwback Thursday: Father’s Day Edition

June 15th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of James Naismith with his two sons John and James, undated Photograph of James Naismith with his two sons John and James, undated

James Naismith with his two sons, John Edwin and James Sherman, undated (before 1939).
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 66/22 James Naismith: Athletic Department:
Coaches and Staff (Photos). Click images to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

These pictures were taken roughly in the vicinity of where Haworth Hall now stands. In the background is the power plant (now the Facilities Administration Building) and, behind it, Watson Library, which opened in 1924. Two photographs of Women’s Athletic Association softball players that we shared in February were taken in the same approximate location.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

Button Collection Proves Hot Button Issues Can Be On the Button. Literally.

June 12th, 2017

One of the coolest collections in Spencer is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. Established in 1965, the collection features materials in line with US left- and right-wing political literature from about 1960 to the present. Over the years, around 400 pinback buttons have been accessioned to the Wilcox Collection. This spring, I was tasked with housing these buttons for reasons of accessibility and preservation.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 40. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 1. Many of the buttons concerned AIDS awareness. This button also shows how many of the buttons used multiple types of materials when constructed. “Every Penny Counts. AIDS Emergency Fund,” RH WL BT 40. Click image to enlarge.

Following a housing method for buttons used previously at Spencer, I divided the buttons into two different groups based on size: one for buttons under two inches in diameter and one for buttons 2 to <4 inches in diameter. This was to accommodate the two sizes of polyethylene bags the buttons would be housed in.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 73. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 2. While many of the buttons were standard sizes, others sat on the extremes. This one is half an inch in diameter; the largest was almost 5 inches. “Let’s End Discrimination,” RH WL BT 73.

With the buttons divided, I cut the appropriate number of backings for each group out of 20-point board using our guillotine and boardshear, so they could fit in the 2” x 3” and 4” x 6” polyethylene bags. These could have also been easily cut with a scalpel or scissors, but due to the volume needed, I opted for the more industrial equipment. The backings served two purposes: to give rigidity to each individual button’s housings and to provide a place to write the call number for each button.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 62. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 3. “Capitalism Fouls Things Up. Vote S.W.P. [Socialist Workers Party] 1970,” RH WL BT 62.

Once all of the materials were prepped, each button was assigned a call number that was placed on the 20-point board backing. For the sake of efficiency and clarity, I made a stamp with the common portions of the call number and then handwrote the unique portions. The backing was then placed in the appropriate size bag, followed by the corresponding button. Once housed, the smaller buttons were put in the lids and trays of slide boxes and the larger buttons were put in cassette tape boxes. The slide boxes were then placed in a large artifact box to keep them together.

Wilcox buttons in housing Call number RH WL BT. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 4. Smaller buttons were placed in slide boxes like this in call number order. Each box fit about 30-40 buttons.

While this is not a complicated treatment, it makes the buttons easier to access and keeps them from touching each other so they do not have any negative effects on each other.

Wilcox button. Call number RH WL BT 127. Spencer Research Library.

Figure 5. Some buttons were sillier than others. “Ban Buttons,” RH WL BT 127.

In addition to the physical housing, I created an extensive digital database noting information such as the call number, subject matter, date, and bibliographic record number for items already cataloged. This makes it easy for us to find individual buttons and compare buttons across the same subject matter.

Creating the digital database also required some research. Approximately a quarter of the buttons were not previously cataloged, so many of the pieces of information identified in the database were not known. While some gave more information than others, for many the context was not readily apparent. For several of these stumpers, I was able to use information published online from similar collections, like the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan. In several instances, I would not have been able to determine if a button belonged in the collection without the help of other institutions like Spencer.

Jocelyn Wilkinson
2017 KU Graduate in Museum Studies
Museum Studies Conservation Intern, Conservation Services

Throwback Thursday: Streetcar Edition

June 8th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of a streetcar in front of Bailey Hall, 1910

A streetcar in front of Bailey Hall, 1910. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Streetcars 1910 Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants