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

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

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