I am in the finishing-up stages of a very enjoyable project to
rehouse a group of medieval manuscripts in the Special Collections. The Abbey Dore
collection (currently cataloged as MS 191, but soon to be located at MS
Q80) includes fifteen parchment manuscripts from the 13th century.
Some of the documents have pendant seals attached, and all were housed in a
slim manuscript case in folders fitted with polyester film supports inside.
While this system allowed the manuscripts to be stored upright in
folders, which is certainly convenient, it is not the ideal situation for such documents.
The polyester film has sharp edges that could potentially cause damage to the
seals or documents, and some of the seals are heavy or broken and in need of
better support. In discussions with curators and the manuscripts processing
coordinator, we decided to rehouse the manuscripts in flat enclosures. The
collection will now reside in three flat archival boxes, a challenge for the
stacks manager who had to find the space to put them, but all agreed that flat
storage would be best for these materials.
Because these documents have information on both recto and verso, the curators desired that researchers could view both sides with minimal handling of the fragile items. I made a mock-up enclosure that we looked at together, and after some troubleshooting we devised an enclosure with two mirror-image, soft Tyvek-lined cavities. This enclosure can be gently flipped over and opened from either side to view both sides of the document. Plastazote foam bumpers protect the seals from shifting, and each enclosure will be labeled with instructions for use.
This week I had the great pleasure of creating a special housing for a new acquisition, a tripartite Japanese woodblock print titled Joreishiki no zu, by the artist Adachi Ginkō. (This item is not yet fully cataloged. Its placeholder record is here; check back for full details soon.) Printed in 1889, this lovely piece depicts beautifully clothed women and girls writing, reading, and storing books, and belongs to a larger series showing fashionable women engaged in other pastimes such as sewing or arranging flowers.
As is often the case, this project
began with a discussion between a curator – in this case, Karen Cook – and I
about the anticipated use and storage needs of the item. This print is in three
separate parts that may once have been joined, but we didn’t feel a particular
need to unite them again at this time. This print is likely to be used in
classes, which means two things: first, its enclosure needs to do double duty
as both a storage container and a display, and second, its container should be
compact, not taking up too much valuable space on the classroom table. I
suggested a portfolio with a three-hinged lid, not unlike many tablet and
mobile device sleeves, that could fold back to elevate the print for viewing.
Karen agreed to this approach, so I set out to build some models and puzzle out
the details of the structure.
After sketching a few ideas, I started with a tiny model made from scrap board, mainly to work out how the hinges would function. Next I built a scale model using the same materials I intended to use for the real housing. This proved to be a very valuable exercise; some features didn’t work quite as I’d expected, and I observed a couple of possible drawbacks to this design. I enlisted Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, who is something of a housing whiz, to offer her suggestions and we came up with a couple of small but significant modifications. Finally, I reviewed the model and modifications with Karen, and at last was ready to build the enclosure.
The finished enclosure is protective, lightweight, and, I hope, will be user-friendly for Spencer staff and researchers. We make a lot of enclosures for many types of library materials here in the lab, and many of those enclosures we know by heart and can turn out quickly. This project illustrates how we can always be rethinking our practice to better serve the collections and users, and how important collaboration is to conservation work.
Angela M. Andres Assistant Conservator for Special Collections
This is the fourteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Jacinta Johnson, who joined us in January 2019. Jacinta is the Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative, and splits her time between the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. Welcome, Jacinta!
Where are you from?
I grew up in
the Puget Sound area of Washington State, but have lived in many other cities
throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and the East Coast.
What does your job at Spencer entail?
I joined KU
Libraries’ Conservation Services Department in late January as the Associate Conservator
for a three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed
at bridging the conservation efforts of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library
and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. I specialize in paper
conservation and split my time between the library and the museum, working with
staff at each site to prioritize conservation projects with common goals.
What is one of the most interesting items
you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
collection of prints and drawings by Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). Huntoon was born
in Topeka, KS and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. She studied at
The Art Students’ League in New York and lived in Paris for five years. She
returned to Kansas in 1930 and later became the state’s first art therapist.
Her work, which is mostly portraiture and landscapes, depicts important people
in her life and all the different places she lived and the places where she
travelled. The collection contains several preparatory drawings for prints and
artist’s proofs that illustrate her careful working process.
What part of your job do you like best?
The opportunity to interact closely with
collections. I enjoy finding clues about the artistic process, techniques, and
What are some of your favorite pastimes
outside of work?
I enjoy exploring
cities by bike, fumbling through knitting projects, and trying out new recipes.
What piece of advice would you offer a
researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Be sure to utilize all the great help and guidance the staff can offer, and don’t forget to visit the current exhibition!
Jacinta Johnson Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative
2018 was an eventful year at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In addition to the celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary, the Conservation Services department relocated from Watson Library into a newly constructed lab space on the second floor of Spencer. The dedicated space built for Conservation Services allowed the Audiovisual (AV) branch of the team to expand its operations within Spencer by moving into spaces formerly used by Conservation. By expanding the AV footprint within the building, we would be able to add equipment to create a film inspection/video digitization lab separate from the current audio digitization lab (which previously doubled as the film and video lab). Over the course of approximately three months, beginning in September 2018, several meetings took place between Conservation Services staff, the KU architect and KU Facilities to determine how the rooms needed to be adapted for their new uses, as well as what equipment belonged where.
In the audio digitization lab in particular, several changes occurred that completely changed the look of the work space. The room was painted in the building’s original “Spencer Green” hue, and carpeted with its original 1970’s carpet. Ultimately, we all decided that the carpet and paint job had to go, and that new lighting was necessary. Furthermore, we had to decide where the best locations for power outlets would be, and the land-line telephone connections had to be de-commissioned.
In order to replace the carpet and re-paint the room, every single shelf, table and piece of electronic equipment in the room had to be temporarily disassembled and moved to a storage location. My team of student workers and I devised a strategy of labeling all of the cords and ports on our pieces of equipment so that disassembly and re-assembly would go quickly. Once everything was removed from the Audio Lab, Facilities came in and ripped out the carpet. At this time, the electricians started replacing all of the lighting fixtures in both the Audio and Video Labs. They also installed dimmer switches, allowing us to control the levels of light we need depending on the day’s workflow.
In the Video Lab, the renovations to the light fixtures included breaking out the light switches to allow for independent control of lights in the front of the room as well as the back. Additionally, several new electrical outlets were installed in the ceiling and along the north wall of the room. Shelving was removed to allow us to bring in a Steenbeck flatbed motion picture film editing machine. My team and I then set up two film inspection stations and have begun to acquire video digitization and playback equipment.
For the Audio Lab, we chose new paint colors, including for an accent wall, which I think is a really nice bit of the renovation. We also installed new tile flooring, which is ideal for an audiovisual lab such as ours. The tile can be kept much cleaner than carpet, reducing the amount of particulate matter in the lab environment which could be harmful to sensitive media collections. Finally, once the shelving was re-attached to the walls, we were able to quickly re-populate the lab thanks to our labeling strategy.
At this time, the Audio Lab is completely set up and our digitization efforts have re-commenced, and our film inspection stations, including the Steenbeck, are fully operational. The video component of the Film/Video Lab is still under construction; most of the necessary video elements have been purchased and are being built out. I am grateful for the support from KU and the Libraries for this project, which has allowed us to create updated lab spaces to the specifications I requested, and to purchase the equipment my team needs to perform archival quality work on Spencer Library’s audiovisual collections. The enthusiasm of my student workers should also be noted as I truly would not have been able to envision the working conditions within the new work spaces without them. The renovated lab spaces heavily influence and are heavily influenced by the work that the students do on a day-to-day basis and I cannot stress enough how important they are to the digitization and organization efforts we undertake in the department.
Chris Bañuelos Audiovisual Preservation Specialist Conservation Services
There is a
hashtag – #todayinthelab – that conservation
and preservation professionals on social media attach to posts that allow
followers to look over the conservator’s shoulder at what they are working on
at the moment. My post today is in this vein, taking a look at and around my
workbench to see the materials from Spencer’s collections that are currently
awaiting or undergoing treatment. I hope to make this a semi-regular feature,
since the supply of wonderful Spencer materials crossing my bench is constantly
A few times a week, I will make the rounds of Spencer to collect items that have been identified as needing conservation treatment or assessment. Spencer staff will deposit fragile or damaged materials in a designated area, along with a slip on which they will note each item’s condition issue. Sometimes staff will email conservators with information about materials that need attention, or they will hand-deliver them to the lab. In any case, I record basic information about all items that come to my bench on a paper log. We have a number of spreadsheets and databases where we document our treatments, but for my day-to-day purposes, I love my low-tech list!
Behind my workbench I keep my brand-new but already-beloved green truck. It is rarely empty! Today its top shelf holds recently treated materials, beautifully boxed and labeled by our student employees, that I need to check off my log and return to either Processing or the stacks, as the case may be. Below are some materials I am preparing for a small but delicate rehousing project – I am making flat, safe enclosures for a group of medieval parchment documents with large seals. After working out some logistics with the curators and manuscripts processing coordinator, I have begun to pre-cut and stage as many of the components as can be prepared ahead of time in order to streamline assembly of the enclosures.
There is so much to love about our new lab space, but I am especially fond of our big workbench cabinets. These feature shelves on the top half, and an assortment of shallow and deep drawers below. Most of the drawers in my cabinet hold supplies, but I keep two in reserve for materials that I am treating. I am in the midst of a months-long project to mitigate (old, not active!) mold on a large archival collection. As I treat each box, I am replacing the old boxes and folders, so I keep a stock of fresh folders available. The folders are sharing the drawer with a scrapbook (made by a KU student prior to her time at KU) that awaits treatment.
Next to my
workbench I have a beautiful press table, with two spacious shelves below.
These currently hold six boxes of material from the recently acquired John
C. Tibbetts Portraits Collection. The gouache paintings in this
collection had been matted and framed, and I have been working to remove the
mats prior to processing. I have just about completed the work on this third
phase of the acquisition and look forward to having clear shelves again, if
only until the next treatment comes along.
Finally, here are the upper shelves of my cabinet. Among the materials currently under my care, there are items from Special Collections (rare books, artists’ books, parchment manuscript documents), Kansas Collection (a Socialist newspaper from the Wilcox collection, a rolled and torn certificate), and University Archives (so many student scrapbooks!). There are also a few enclosure models that I’ve been working on (I’m in the process of writing up instructions for an enclosure I’ve modified, so that I can share it with other conservators), as well as diagrams and notes on other enclosures that I haven’t made often enough to have memorized yet.
Thank you for visiting my workbench!
Angela M. Andres Assistant Conservator for Special Collections