Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Working as a Team to Make Collections Accessible

February 11th, 2020

Lynn Ward, Processing Archivist:

When new collections, or additions to existing collections, are accessioned into the Spencer Research Library, I arrange and describe the material so that researchers can access them.  More often than not, when I begin to look through the unprocessed boxes, I find some interesting surprises.

The Frowe and Lathrop families collection recently received a donation of many additional boxes of correspondence, photographs, diaries, slides, documents, and other material. This collection comprises several generations of the Frowe and Lathrop families from the 1840s to 2016, many of whom lived primarily in Kansas.

Addition to Frowe and Lathrop Families Records prior to processing.
The collection addition was received in multiple boxes. A photograph of Eva Lathrop can be seen on top of one of the boxes. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS 1510. Click image to enlarge.

One of the interesting items that I found while going through the unprocessed boxes was a red satin Valentine box. When I opened the candy box, underneath cherished cards and invitations, I found an inscription on the bottom written by Eva Lathrop, “Feb[ruary] 14, 1924/ Fred had my diamond ring in this box of chocolates and presented it to me. The ring box was wrapped in the foil off of one of the pieces of candy.” She accepted A. G. (Fred) Phillips’ proposal, and they were married several months later. Spencer Research Library doesn’t always keep objects unless they have a good story to tell, which this candy box does. Kaitlin McGrath, a student in the conservation department working with Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, created a special box to house the Valentine box. 

Valentine candy box with inscription.
The Phillips’ valentine candy box with a ‘sweet’ story! Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS 1510, box 14. Click image to enlarge.

One of the most interesting sets of finds in this collection were very early family photographs inside hinged cases, dated from the 1850s-1870s.  There are over 20 daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes of identified or partially identified men, women, and children related to the Frowe and Lathrop families. Some of the small, ornately-decorated cases appear to be made out of gutta purcha or vulcanite—common plant-based materials used in this time period. Normally, print photographs are put into acid-free folders and a document case. However, these fragile, bulky photographs in their cases needed special consideration for housing and accessibility.  

Valentine poem in a photograph case.
The interior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem clipped from a newspaper. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Exterior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem.
Exterior of a photograph case containing a Valentine poem. The case is possibly made out of gutta purcha or vulcanite. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Angela Andres, Special Collections Conservator: 

Most of the cased photographs that Spencer already holds are individual items within their collections, so they are housed individually in custom enclosures. The size of this group makes that approach impractical; it would be time-consuming to make so many special enclosures from scratch, and they would take up a lot of shelf space, which is always a consideration when housing our collections. Housing this group of photographs together also made sense from an access perspective; a single container is easier for staff to retrieve and for researchers to view than twenty-some separate containers.

I estimated that I could fit all of the photographs into one standard size flat archival box, provided I could safely arrange them in two layers. Lynn sorted the photographs by family groups into two sets, and then set about devising a lightweight but protective structure for the interior of the box. I created two trays from layers of archival corrugated cardboard, with cavities cut to fit each of the cased photographs. Each cavity is lined with soft Tyvek® fabric to prevent abrasion of the cases, and cases with loose covers are tied with cotton tape to prevent shifting. I attached strips of archival foam around the edges of the lower tray to support the upper tray, and added handles of linen tape to the upper tray for easy removal.

Upper tray of housing for cased photographs from the Frowe and Lathrop Families Records.
The upper tray of the photograph housing, with handles for lifting the tray out. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Lower tray of housing for cased photographs from the Frowe and Lathrop Families Records.
The lower tray of the photograph housing, with foam bumpers to support the upper tray. Frowe and Lathrop Families Records. Kansas Collection. RH MS-P 1510(f), box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Lynn Ward, Processing Archivist:

After the cases returned from conservation in their special box, I needed to come up with a way to describe the cased photographs. Normally for a print photograph, the description would be connected to the folder in which the photograph is housed. Since these cased photographs were arranged in layers in their special box, I decided to describe them by layer and by rows within each layer. Each photograph in its case was described with its location in the box, as well as the identification, or partial identification of the individual(s) when known.   

The Frowe and Lathrop families collection finding aid can be accessed online. For more information on how to access these materials, see our website: https://spencer.lib.ku.edu/using-the-library/use-collections.

Treatment of Mary Huntoon’s “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” an Etching: Part 1

December 3rd, 2019

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library is home to the collection of papers and original artwork by Kansas artist and art therapist, Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). As part of a collaborative initiative between KU Libraries and the Spencer Museum of Art, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, many of the prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon are being treated over the next two years.

Huntoon was born in Topeka, Kansas. After graduating from Washburn University in 1920, she studied at the Art Students League in New York City for six years under Joseph Pennell and Robert Henri, and was a good friend and colleague of William Stanley Hayter, founder of Atelier 17. She later became director of the Kansas Federal Art Project and made significant contributions to the early development of art therapy.

Artist Mary Huntoon draws with a stylus on a copper printing plate.
Artist Mary Huntoon draws with a stylus on a copper printing plate. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
Artist Mary Huntoon stands before an easel, at work on a painting.
Artist Mary Huntoon stands before an easel, at work on a painting. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, is an artist’s proof print (a print made prior to the final edition), an etching in black printing ink on cream, laid, machine-made paper. The primary condition issue involves two large brown stains along the top edge that interrupt the image area and cause distortions in the sheet. An overall washing treatment was proposed in order to reduce the appearance of the stains.

The Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators," prior to treatment.
The Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” prior to treatment. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators," in raking light, prior to treatment.
The Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” in raking light, prior to treatment. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

In preparation for the treatment, the printing inks were tested to ensure they would be stable during the wet treatment. The outer margins and back of the print were selectively surface-cleaned with a soft sponge, avoiding all printed areas, as well as the graphite pencil inscription. Surface-cleaning ensures that loose and embedded dirt and grime are not driven deeper into the paper support during the wet treatment.

A soft sponge is used to remove embedded surface dirt and grime from the Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators."
A soft sponge is used to remove embedded surface dirt and grime from the Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators.” Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Brown paper tape attachments on the top edge of the front and back of the print were removed with a methylcellulose poultice. The attachments had been partially removed at some point, and the top layer of the paper was slightly skinned. The poultice delivers moisture in a controlled way, softening the adhesive, and allowing safe removal of the attachment.

A methylcellulose poultice is applied to deliver controlled moisture to soften adhesive and brown paper attachments on the Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators."
At left, brown paper attachments had been partially detached at some point, skinning some of the paper fibers. At center, a methylcellulose poultice was applied to the attachment to deliver controlled moisture to the area. At right, the poultice softened the adhesive and paper. It was gently removed at an acute angle with tweezers and dried flat. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

The print is now ready to be washed. Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn how the stains were reduced.

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Treatment and Rebinding of MS E279 – Part 1

October 8th, 2019

In today’s post I will describe the preparation for and early stages of conservation treatment on MS E279, or Historia flagellantium…De recto et perverso flagrorum usu apud Christianos…Ex antiquis Scripturæ, patrum, pontificum, conciliorum, & scriptorum profanorum monumentis cum curâ & fide expressa, by Jacques Boileau. This volume is the manuscript, dated 1691 and with annotations in the author’s own hand, for the printed version of the same title published in 1700. Spencer also holds a copy of the printed edition at Summerfield B2655.

Damaged cover of MS E279, Historia flagellantium..., prior to conservation treatment.
Damaged cover of MS E279, Historia flagellantium prior to conservation treatment. Click image to enlarge.

The upper third of this volume suffered significant water damage at some time in the past, and mold growth that probably resulted from the water exposure has caused weakness and losses in the paper throughout the upper portion of the volume. The boards are also extremely weak and soft. Because the binding is not contemporary to the text, the curator agreed to a treatment plan that includes disbinding the volume, mending and stabilizing the damaged areas, and placing the text in a new conservation paper case similar to this one.

Because Spencer holds both the manuscript and printed versions of this text, I pulled the later volume from the stacks in order to compare the two. While not strictly necessary to the conservation treatment of the manuscript, it is nonetheless just so interesting to see this text at two different stages in its creation – and one never knows when related material might reveal something about the item being treated. Just for fun, here are the title pages and first chapter headings from each version:

Side-by-side comparison of the title pages of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau's "Historia flagellantium..."
Side-by-side comparison of the title pages of both the 1691 manuscript and 1700 printed version of Jacques Boileau’s Historia flagellantium. Click images to enlarge.
Side-by-side comparison of the first chapter headings of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau's "Historia flagellantium..."
Side-by-side comparison of the first chapter headings of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau’s Historia flagellantium. Click images to enlarge.

This treatment is in the early stages. I have documented its condition in both writing and photographs, gently cleaned mold spots with soft sponges and brushes (working in our special biosafety cabinet to protect both staff and collections from mold exposure), and begun the process of taking apart the binding. The next steps of mending, preparation for sewing, and binding will happen over the coming weeks, with updates here on the blog!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

2019 Ringle Internship: Preserving Local Television History

August 28th, 2019

This summer I had the opportunity to be the first Ringle conservation intern in the Audiovisual Preservation Unit at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. I worked with videotapes from the Channel 6 program, As Time Goes By, which was a public-access program created by and for senior citizens in Douglas County that aired from 1992 to 2000. Sherry Williams, the recently retired Kansas Collection Curator at Spencer, chose the show to be the pilot for this project because of its historic and cultural value. In the eight weeks of the internship, I gathered descriptive metadata on and housed 213 tapes and digitized 30 of these tapes. By the end of my time there, I really had a feel for Lawrence’s senior citizen community in the 1990’s!

As a first timer in Kansas, I came into the project most excited to work with a large local access program that would surely teach me so much about the history and culture of Lawrence. I wasn’t disappointed. Some of my favorite episodes included a conversation with a Holocaust survivor who settled in Lawrence, a conversation with Indigenous seniors who attended the Haskell boarding school in the 1920s, and last but not least, an episode about the  “unusual” tombstones in Douglas County and in America’s Heartland.

Still frame image from an episode of As Time Goes By, a production of Channel 6 in Lawrence, Kansas.
A still from episode 186 of As Time Goes By entitled “Commemorating Our Mortality.” The episode featured Jean Snedeger and John Gary Brown, two authors who wrote books about tombstones in Douglas County and America’s heartland, respectively. Click image to enlarge.

In 2017, after its 45 year run, Channel 6 was sold to Midco Communications and the question of if and how their videotapes would be preserved was posed to the Lawrence community. Sherry felt that Spencer would be an appropriate repository to store the collection in perpetuity. On the day Channel 6 was moving out of their building, Spencer staff gathered box after box of the nearly one thousand videotapes from the station and loaded them up in a van to be sent to their new permanent home at Spencer. I am amazed and inspired by their commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of Douglas County.

Boxes containing video tapes and other material from the Channel 6 collection acquired by Spencer Research Library in 2018.
Boxes at Spencer Research Library containing materials from the former Channel 6 News station. Click image to enlarge.

Public-access programming can serve as a glimpse into communities during a certain point in time. In my time observing Lawrence in the 1990’s, through As Time Goes By, I learned about topics such as the history, buildings, fashion, public school system, museums, law enforcement, food, festivals, under-represented communities, and much more about Douglas County. It’s my hope that As Time Goes By will become highly accessible to members of the community in the near future.

Julia Davila Coppedge
2019 Ringle Intern, Conservation Services

Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections

July 30th, 2019

Conservation Services recently installed an exhibit in Spencer Library titled Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections. Jointly conceived by all staff members in Conservation Services–Angela Andres, Whitney Baker, Chris Bañuelos, Jacinta Johnson, and Roberta Woodrick–the exhibit highlights the work performed by our department to preserve library collections.

Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Wall graphic designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer, featuring oversized versions of typical conservation tools. Click image to enlarge.

Staff in Conservation Services are responsible for caring for KU Libraries collections in all seven locations. In preserving our books, papers, photographs, audiovisual formats, and three-dimensional artifacts, we strive to make materials available for use by current and future library visitors.

Core functions of Conservation Services include:

  • Monitoring the environment
  • Constructing protective enclosures
  • Preparing new materials for use
  • Repairing and treating damaged items
  • Digitizing audiovisual formats
  • Constructing cradles and supports for exhibitions
  • Preparing for and responding to disasters
  • Training future preservation professionals
  • Engaging in outreach with the campus community and beyond
Examples of audio formats, University of Kansas Libraries
Three types of audio formats: 1/2″ reel to reel, microcassette, audio cassette. Click image to enlarge.

The display spans five cases, each of which focuses on a different aspect of our work: audiovisual preservation, general collections conservation, paper conservation, preservation measures, and special collections conservation. A digital slideshow and videos of recently digitized Spencer collections augment the case displays.

Before and after treatment images for RG 71_99_10, Aeo Hill scrapbook. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Before and after treatment of a student scrapbook created by KU student Aeo Hill in 1919-1921. Call Number: RG 71/99/10, University Archives. Click image to enlarge.
Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Key to the tools in the wall graphic. Designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit will be on display on the third floor of Spencer Research Library until January 17, 2020. Please visit!

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services