Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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.


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.


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.


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

The Home Stretch: Wrapping up treatment of Summerfield D544

October 24th, 2016

Earlier this year, I wrote here about the treatment of Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year], 1683, by Pawel Kaczyński. In those posts, I discussed the beginning and middle stages of the treatment, and at long last it is time to report on the completion of this lengthy project.

Shortly after the last post was published, I finished sewing the volume. The next steps were to round and back the book (gently hammering the book in a press to create its rounded spine and raise the shoulders along the spine), add linings to the spine, and sew endbands at the head and tail. Finally, I placed the book into a case of stiff handmade paper.

Summerfield D544 during treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Clockwise from upper left: Completed sewing; rounding and backing the volume; a completed endband; the volume in its paper case, under weight. Click image to enlarge.

Just to rewind a little, here’s what the book looked like a year ago when it was brought to the lab:

Summerfield D544 before treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 before treatment. This is a view of the back of the volume, which had no binding, showing the fragment of manuscript pasted to the cords. The fragment is mostly concealed by layers of delaminated board.

In addition to treating the volume itself, I also cleaned, mended, and housed the manuscript fragment, written in what is thought to be Old Church Slavic, that had been used as binder’s waste on the back of the book. I did minimal stabilizing mends to this piece; the paper is fairly strong, but the media on this fragment is highly water-soluble, so I was careful to place mends very selectively so as not to disturb the fragile media. I mounted the fragment in a double-window mat, which in turn sits inside a simple mat board folio. In this folio I also included before-treatment images of the volume for researchers’ and curators’ reference, and for use in teaching.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Manuscript fragment after treatment.

The new binding for this volume is a conservation paper case. It is not intended to be a historical reproduction – for we have no way of knowing how the book was originally bound – but rather an aesthetically sympathetic binding that will integrate well with its mates in the Summerfield collection, and, most importantly, can be safely handled.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 after treatment, in a handmade paper case.

The finished volume and the manuscript fragment are housed together in a cloth-covered drop-spine box. It is one of the great rewards of this job to be able to return to the stacks an item that had once been inaccessible, knowing that it can now be used and enjoyed by visitors to Spencer.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Item in box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services