Mapping Kansas, One Repair at a Time
Former conservation student assistant, Noah Smutz, tells all:
In October of 2011 Whitney (Head of Conservation) assigned me the project of working on an item from the Kansas Collection at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The project involved mending extensively on an atlas of Kansas from 1887, The Official State Atlas of Kansas: compiled from government surveys, county records, and personal investigations (RH Atlas H85). The atlas had many fold-out maps of Kansas towns. I was excited to work on this project as it was my first chance to gain experience working on a rare, special collections item.
I began by addressing the first fifteen pages of the book. Over time the paper had become brittle. This brittleness led to the edges of these pages becoming torn to various degrees. Slowly I worked through these pages using paste and tissue to repair all the tears. The paste used was a wheat-starch paste and the tissue used was a very thin Japanese paper. Where there were holes, I performed a “fill”: cutting a piece of thin tissue just larger than the size of the loss and attaching it to the page, then adhering a thicker piece of tissue the exact size of the loss and attaching it to the thinner piece of tissue that covered the hole. Some of the pages required pieces to be reattached where they had torn off. At least three of the upper right hand corners were creased so badly that they had torn off, usually into multiple pieces. Luckily I found these pieces in the margin of the book. The rebuilding process for these corners was very similar to doing a challenging puzzle!
Mending with Japanese paper
In the midst of the project a second copy of the atlas was added to my work. I stopped working on the treatment of the first book in order to go through the two volumes side by side to see if there were any differences between the two books. While not numerous there were five or six differences: maps in different places and in one instance a map in the first copy that was not present in the second copy. In a discussion with Whitney and Sherry Williams, the Kansas Collection Curator and Curator of Collections at Spencer Library, we decided to remove all twenty-five maps from the first copy and to encapsulate them between sheets of mylar. Protecting the maps separately made sense, because if the maps continued to be used from inside the book they would eventually be very damaged. I removed the maps and made small repairs so that they were strong enough to be encapsulated. Only minor repairs were required because the static charge created between the two sheets of mylar used in encapsulation holds any loose pieces in place. Spencer Library has a Minter ultrasonic encapsulator that allows the plastic to be sealed without tape. It is a completely reversible process.
Encapsulated map from the second copy of The Official State Atlas of Kansas.
Encapsulating the maps marked my completion of this process—-seven months (on and off, alongside other projects) to complete my first special collections treatment! During this process I gained an invaluable amount of experience with paste and tissue mending. I was also able to see how conservators and curators work together to make decisions about collections treatments. I finished this project a week before my graduation, which gave me a great sense of accomplishment as I finished not only my academic time at KU but my time in the conservation lab as well.
Noah will begin a masters program in book conservation at West Dean College in Chichester, England in the fall of 2013.
Former student assistant (graduated May 2012)