Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Workshop Recap: Basic exhibit supports at MAC Omaha

April 10th, 2017

Last week collections conservator Roberta Woodrick and I, together with our colleague Sonya Barron, conservator at Iowa State University, had the pleasure of presenting our half-day workshop Exhibit Support Basics: Solutions for Small Institutions and Small Budgets at the 2017 annual meeting of the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) in Omaha. We had a lot of fun bringing this hands-on workshop to our colleagues in the allied professions, all of whom kept the session lively with their curiosity, great questions, and good humor.

This workshop originated from our wish to share basic exhibit preparation skills with archivists and museum professionals who work in smaller institutions and are responsible for mounting exhibits but who have limited staff and resources to devote to their exhibit programs. Our participants were archivists, librarians, and curators from a range of institutions across the Midwest: small college and university libraries and archives, historical societies, local museums, even corporate and congregational archives.

Our morning began with a brief presentation covering the exhibit support structures and materials we would be working with that day, along with some related variations on those structures meant to inspire participants’ creativity and boost their confidence. As instructors, we wanted to emphasize that effective exhibit supports don’t have to be complicated or costly.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Sonya demonstrates how to make flat supports.
Click image to enlarge.

Following the presentation, Sonya demonstrated two simple methods for mounting flat artifacts. As she worked, she also discussed some basic tool safety tips, and we talked about the different materials we were using. After her demonstration the participants tried out the mounting methods for themselves; we three instructors observed their progress and offered guidance as needed, but this was a very focused group – they immersed themselves in the task and were very self-directed!

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Our students watch Roberta’s book cradle demonstration.
Click image to enlarge.

By this time we were ready for a quick break before regrouping for Roberta’s demonstration of a basic mat board book cradle. With all of her years of experience training student employees, Roberta is a pro at demos! The group watched and took notes intently as she built one cradle, and then they worked on their own cradles along with her as she made a second one. As with the morning’s first activity, our students jumped right in. Despite their claims of having little experience working on such projects, they impressed us with their hand skills and adaptability, and everyone completed their projects with time to spare for discussion at the end of the session.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Workshop participants hard at work.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Samples of finished cradles from the workshop. They did an excellent job!
Click image to enlarge.

As instructors, we couldn’t have asked for a better group of participants; they were a cheerful and engaged group who worked very well together and created a friendly atmosphere in the room. Roberta, Sonya, and I are grateful to MAC for the opportunity to bring this workshop to their members, and we are hopeful it won’t be the last time we are able to work together!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

A Good Mannequin is Hard to Find

March 13th, 2017

Actually, there are many quality mannequins readily available through a variety of sources – but a good, affordable mannequin that is appropriately sized for a nineteenth-century male of small stature is, in fact, quite hard to find. We were in need of such a mannequin to display a Civil-War-era vest worn by John Fraser, who served as the second Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1868-1874. Later this year the vest will be part of Spencer Research Library’s new North Gallery exhibit, which will transform that iconic space into a showcase for Spencer’s rich collections.

Chancellor Fraser’s cream-colored wool vest will be featured alongside his sword and scabbard in the University Archives section of the exhibit. A professional mount maker will fabricate the supports for the sword and scabbard, but we in Conservation Services were charged with finding or making an exhibit support for the vest. Our search for a ready-made mannequin of the right shape, size, and price for our needs proved unsuccessful, so we decided to make our own. It’s one of those “other duties as assigned” that presented a fun challenge!

In preparation for building the mannequin, I viewed a webinar about mannequin-making for conservators, and found a handful of blog posts and articles by non-textile conservators like myself who’d built mannequins. It was great to see what others in similar situations had done; their work helped me to form an idea of how to approach this project. I decided to carve the basic mannequin shape out of archival foam, then add more detailed shaping with layers of cotton batting, and finally cover the form with stretchy stockinette fabric.

Prior to starting, I measured the original vest and sewed a simple dummy version of it to use for test fittings along the way. I also printed out some images of torso mannequins from the web to serve as a point of reference for the basic shape. I found a T-shaped jewelry stand, originally meant for retail display, on Amazon to serve as the armature for the mannequin. It has a sturdy weighted base and adjustable height, and the price was right. I began building the mannequin by using hot-melt glue to affix three planks of archival polyethylene foam to the armature and sketching out a basic torso shape on the foam, then set to work carving with a foam knife.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

The mannequin before and after the first round of carving. Click image to enlarge.

At this point the mannequin needed more bulk in the chest, so I glued on more foam pieces and shaped them with the knife, then put the dummy vest on the form to see how the fit was progressing. You can see in the image below (right) that the vest doesn’t look quite right on the form at this stage.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: Adding more foam; the mannequin with bulkier chest; testing the fit with the dummy vest.

After yet another round of adding foam and shaping it down with the knife, this time bulking up the chest, abdomen, and upper back, the form began to take on a more natural shape and the dummy vest fit much better.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: More foam added to the mannequin; the front and back of the increasingly shapely torso; a better fit.

As the mannequin’s surfaces became more curved, attaching stiff foam planks became more difficult, so in order to do the last bits of shaping I applied built-up layers of cotton batting, again using hot-melt glue.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Shaping the back and shoulders with batting.

Now the mannequin was almost complete, but I wanted to be sure that the original vest, and not just its stand-in, would fit just right, so I brought the form and some supplies over to the University Archives, where the vest resides, to do the final fitting. I also brought along my colleague, collections conservator Roberta Woodrick, who has a background in textiles, to lend her eye and advice to this stage. We placed the vest on the form and identified a couple of places that needed a little more trimming with the foam knife. With the last adjustments made, it was time to cover the mannequin in stretchy stockinette fabric.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left: Testing the fit of the original garment on the mannequin. Right: Covering the form with black stockinette fabric.

After trimming and pinning the stockinette at the neck and base of the mannequin, it was finally ready! I placed the vest on one more time to be really sure of a good fit.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

John Fraser’s vest on its new form for display in Spencer Library’s North Gallery.

The vest fits the form, but there is one feature of the mannequin that remains unfinished. The shiny base of the mannequin stand might be too shiny – it may be too reflective under the exhibit lighting – but we won’t know that until the gallery renovation is completed and we place the form in its new home. If it’s too reflective, we plan to cover it with remnants of the same fabric that will be used to line the display “niche” in which the vest will be exhibited. However, if the consensus opinion is that the shininess is acceptable, we’ll simply polish away the fingerprints and the mannequin will be ready to go!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Chris Banuelos

January 9th, 2017

This is the eleventh installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Chris Banuelos is the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist for Conservation Services at the University of Kansas Libraries.

Chris Banuelos, Audiovisual Preservation Specialist, Spencer Research Library.
Chris relaxing in the lounge at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Where are you from?

I grew up in and around Greater Los Angeles, or the Southland, as they call it. I have lived in the San Gabriel Valley, OC, Inland Empire (specifically the Pomona Valley), and Gateway Cities regions.

What does your job at KU Libraries and Spencer Research Library entail?

Officially, I am the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist. As such, I am responsible for the care, maintenance, and potential reformatting of the A/V materials housed here within the various collections at Spencer. The care and maintenance component involves adhering to the best practices and standards for the handling and storage of the myriad A/V formats living at the library (which runs the gamut from motion picture film to tape-based material to digital files), including the machines necessary to play back the content.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

For a brief time, a job listing for the position had been floating around the list-serv of the graduate program I attended at NYU. On a whim I applied and through a stroke of luck, participated in a series of interviews that lead to acquiring the job.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

By far, my favorite part of the library is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. In particular, there is a VHS tape I really want to watch called Demon U.F.O.s. Because the only thing worse than a demon OR a u.f.o. is a combination demon u.f.o.

What part of your job do you like best?

The paycheck! No, but really, having the opportunity to create an A/V infrastructure that works in tandem with the extant (and wildly successful) Conservation Department is a fantastically noble challenge. The university houses some really great content that is begging for further study and I am rather excited to be a part of its discovery. Um, and the paycheck.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I don’t know that I have a pastime. I try to at least talk, if not Skype with my daughter every day. She’s eight and is absolutely hilarious.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. Everyone that works in Spencer is extremely accommodating to patron requests and is willing to go the extra mile to obtain whatever it is that is being asked for.

Chris Banuelos
Audiovisual Preservation Specialist
Conservation Services

Housing Quick Pics: The Right Fit

December 19th, 2016

This year I spent some time upgrading the housings for Spencer’s N-size (very large!) items. I reviewed their current state with a curator and we identified those items that were most in need of housing improvement. Among these items was a very long and narrow broadside with a correspondingly long title: State procession from the Queen’s palace to the western door of Westminster Abbey, on the 28th of June, the day of Her Majesty’s coronation [1838?].

At the time of our review, this item was stored in a very large folder just like its neighbors in the N section. Unlike the other N’s, however, which are mostly oversize maps, this very skinny piece only occupies a small amount of the folder interior. It’s too big to fit in any of our map cases, but it didn’t feel quite right floating about inside the large folder, and it seemed quite unwieldy to retrieve and transport.

n21_before

We decided to rehouse this item in a more efficient and user-friendly manner by fitting out the inside of a standard cubic-foot box with an archival cardboard tube that rests on two cradle supports on either side and can be easily lifted out of the box.

n21_box

I rolled the broadside around the tube (followed by a protective layer of polyester film) and placed the tube back into the box. When this item is paged, it will be much easier for staff to carry – no more juggling a huge floppy folder. The item can be easily unrolled in the reading room when needed, and just as easily rolled back up onto the tube. And because the box is a standard size, it will fit well into existing shelf space.

n21_completed

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Manuscript Monday Quick Pics: John Beach’s Selection of Airs and Marches

November 21st, 2016

Today I want to share a quick before-and-after of a treatment I recently completed on MS E23, John Beach’s Selection of Airs, Marches, etc., with Instructions for the Violin, German Flute, Clarionett, Hautboy, French Horn, Bass Viol, Bassoon, Piano Forte, & Guitar (whew!). A patron request brought this volume to a curator’s attention, and the curator in turn sent it my way.

This book, a collection of manuscript musical pieces, had been lovingly assembled and clearly experienced significant use in its lifetime. The volume required stabilization in a number of areas in order to support use and handling. Its boards were both detached, its spine was missing, sewing threads were broken, and many of the gatherings, which had been made by adhering separate sheets together near the spine fold, were detached or damaged along that spine seam. In addition, there was a good deal of particulate matter (dirt) accumulated in the spine folds.

The treatment involved taking down the sewing, cleaning and mending the gatherings, and sewing it back up over new cords, which were pasted under the pastedowns to reattach the boards. I also added a replacement paper spine piece to protect the spine and give the book a more complete appearance. In its improved condition, this book can be safely used by researchers without the risk of further damage.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

ME E23, before treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

MS E23, after treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Music manuscript from Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Call number E23.

Hand-drawn illustration in MS E23, possibly copied from printed sheet music. Click image to enlarge.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services