Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Enclosure Engineering: Housing a Japanese Triptych Woodblock Print

May 14th, 2019

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.

Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Japanese triptych woodblock print.
Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.
Detail of triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Detail of center and right panels of Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Enclosure models for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Enclosure models for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Left: Tiny model and scale model (closed). Right: Scale model in the open/display position. Click image to enlarge.
Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Side view of Japanese triptych woodblock print in enclosure.
Completed enclosure, shown in display position, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Finished enclosure for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Completed enclosure, shown closed, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections

Today in the Lab, Installment 1

March 5th, 2019

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 changing.

Items from Spencer Research Library awaiting treatment on the special collections conservator's bench.
My newest “patients,” materials picked up from the Processing department, with notes from archivists and catalogers indicating problems they have identified. Click image to enlarge.

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!

Truck at the special collections conservator's bench, with items awaiting return to stacks after treatment and boxing.
A truck at my bench loaded with completed items awaiting return (top) and a stack of materials being prepared for a document rehousing project. Click image to enlarge.

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.

A newly acquired scrapbook awaits treatment; archival folders are kept at hand for rehousing collections.
A drawer in my workbench cabinet containing archival folders and a scrapbook that is awaiting treatment. Virginia Lucas Rogers scrapbook. Call Number: RG 71/99/43. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Six boxes of material at the special collections conservator's bench await return to Processing.
Underneath my press table are six boxes of material almost ready to be returned. John C. Tibbetts Portrait Collection. Call Number: MS Q74. Click image to enlarge.

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.

The special collections conservator's cabinet contains materials from Spencer collections before and during treatment.
The upper section of my cabinet, which contains materials from across Spencer’s collections in various stages of treatment. Click image to enlarge.

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

Celebrating the New Conservation Lab

September 11th, 2018

Earlier this summer, the Conservation Services Department completed a move from its former location in the basement of Watson Library to a new facility on the second floor of Spencer Research Library. After years of wishing and hoping, months of dreaming and planning, and some intense weeks of packing, hauling, unpacking, and arranging, we opened our doors to the new space in late July.

Working in this space has been everything we hoped it would be, and more. Here we are better situated to care for Spencer collections, while still providing service to all other campus libraries. Shortly after we opened, we held an open house for our Libraries colleagues. We were delighted that more than 50 people came to view the new space and share in our excitement. We three conservators – Whitney, Roberta, and myself – took turns offering tours of the lab to visitors. For those who were unable to attend, here is a quick look at some of what we love about this new lab.

Our new height-adjustable, wheeled workbenches and tables offer more flexibility to accommodate many types of treatments and projects – and even meetings, tours, and other activities. Each staff member can also configure their benches to the height and arrangement that is most comfortable for them.

Height-adjustable, wheeled workbenches and tables in the new lab space.

Adjustable workbenches and tables on casters in the new conservation lab (with windows!). Click image to enlarge.

We have a quarantine room for isolating and treating items affected by mold or pests. In addition to ample shelf space and our existing sub-zero freezer, this room houses a new biosafety cabinet which will allow us to mitigate the risks of handling and cleaning these vulnerable collection materials.

Quarantine room for isolating and treating items with mold or pests.

Inside the quarantine room: biosafety cabinet at left, shelving at right. Click image to enlarge.

The new wet lab will soon be equipped with a large sink in which we can treat oversize items, or do the messy work of preparing repair materials – such as lining cloth or paper – in a space that is easily cleaned up.

Wet lab within the new conservation lab for paper treatments and preparation of repair materials.

Wet treatment lab, for wet or messy work. Click image to enlarge.

We also have a dedicated area for photodocumentation just a few steps from our benches. This makes it so easy to quickly snap photographs of items before and after treatment.

Section of the new lab designated for photography of materials before and after treatments.

Photodocumentation area, with two different setups and a handy blackout curtain. Click image to enlarge.

A centrally located student work area is well placed to access all of the equipment and supplies. Like the staff workbenches, the students’ tables and chairs are on casters and are height-adjustable.

Student work spaces in the new lab.

Two groups of four student work tables occupy the center of the lab. Click image to enlarge.

We couldn’t be more pleased to be continuing our work caring for KU Libraries collections in this beautiful new conservation lab.

Ephemera and Binder’s Waste in Summerfield E397

April 10th, 2018

Last year, I wrote about my survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books, and all of the lovely hidden treasures within that collection. One item that I identified during the survey as a candidate for future treatment is Summerfield E397, De statu religionis et reipublicae, Carolo Quinto Caesare, commentarii, by Johannes Sleidanus, published in 1555.

What caught my attention about this volume is the fragment of parchment manuscript that was taped inside the lower board. Actually, there are two fragments – halves of a leaf that long ago was cut apart and used to form flanges that were sewn onto either side of the text block and then adhered between the boards and pastedowns. At some later time, the book was repaired and the manuscript flanges were removed. Whoever removed them chose to retain them, piecing them back together with glassine tape and affixing them inside the back of the book.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Manuscript fragments, previously used as binder’s waste,
taped into the back of Summerfield E397. Click image to enlarge.

In the front of the volume are affixed two letters dated in February 1896 that a one-time owner of the volume – one Robert A. Scott Macfie – received from a William Y. Fletcher in response to an inquiry he had sent about the book (Fletcher’s name appears in a 1908 list of members of the Bibliographical Society of London). The second of these letters mentions that Fletcher had shown the book (which Macfie had lent him to examine) to “Mr. Scott and Mr. Warner, the Keeper and Assistant Keeper of MSS in the [British] Museum, and they consider [the fragments] to have belonged to an English or Scottish MS (most probably the former) of the 15th century.” How fascinating and fortunate that these records of the book’s life have survived with it.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Left: Cover of Summerfield E397. Right: Fletcher’s letters to Macfie
taped onto front flyleaf. Click image to enlarge.

At the time that I surveyed this book, I consulted with the curator about how to approach the treatment and made a note to revisit it at a later date. I recently reviewed my queue of projects and this one presented itself. In my discussion with the curator, we had agreed to leave the letters as-is, but to remove the tape from the manuscript fragments, reunite them with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, and tip them back into the volume with the same. Their presence in the volume tells something of the book’s story, but we felt it would be beneficial to remove the brittle, discolored tape from the parchment.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Visible threads (top) and sewing holes (bottom) indicating
these fragments had been used as binder’s waste.
Click image to enlarge.

Luckily, if one has to remove tape, this type of tape is about as easy to remove as they come. The gummed adhesive layer on this tape responds very well and quickly to a light application of methylcellulose; after just a couple of minutes, the tape carrier and most of the adhesive lift away easily. I reduced the remaining adhesive residue by gently swabbing it with damp cotton, but I did not pursue this very far – overly aggressive cleaning would leave those areas of the parchment looking too starkly white. When the tape was all removed, I used a soft brush to dislodge some surface dirt that had accumulated in the creases.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Removing the tape hinge that had held the fragments in place.
In the red circle, note the stain left by one of the blue manuscript capitals
from when the fragments served as binding material. Click image to enlarge.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Detail of the seam where the two halves of this leaf were cut apart long ago.
Click image to enlarge.

Next, I used very dry paste and thin tissue to reattach the two halves to one another. I chose to do this in lapped sections rather than a continuous strip to allow the skins to expand and contract with subtle changes in the environment, and to distribute the stress of the repair evenly along both sides of the leaves, as well as to avoid placing adhesive over areas where ink was present. Finally, I reattached the fragments inside the lower board using a hinge of Japanese tissue and paste.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

The finished manuscript fragments replaced into the volume.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Community Outreach: Preschool Bookbinding Activity

March 20th, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to combine business and pleasure when my son’s preschool teachers put a call out to parents interested in being “Mystery Visitors” to the classroom. Parents were invited to join the class at group time to read a story, lead an activity, or share a hobby or interest. I knew that my colleagues in Conservation Services had taught workshops in the past for school-age and preschool children, which sounded like fun to me. I was excited for the chance to test my skills at communicating some basic concepts of my job to a young audience, and of course to see the (hopefully pleasantly) surprised look on my son’s face!

After talking a bit with the teachers to get a sense of the kids’ skill levels, I planned to try sewing a three-hole pamphlet with the class. The teachers felt that the kids would be able to handle the simple folding and sewing, with the three of us and an aide on hand to guide them. The class supply closet had plenty of paper for text blocks and covers, and I provided colorful plastic needles and lengths of yarn from my stash at home. From the lab, I assembled some other tools and supplies: a piercing jig made of scrap binder’s board, a few bone folders, and a chunky, blunt awl that punched the perfect, extra-large holes for small hands wielding big needles. I also made a sample book to show the class.

Pamphlet making supplies

Ready, set, sew!: pamphlet-making supplies. Click image to enlarge.

On the day of my visit, I arrived at the time of the afternoon when the class normally has “large group” time. My son’s initial bewilderment gave way to excitement when the teachers announced me as the Mystery Visitor, and I was soon swarmed with kids wanting to know what I had brought to share. The teachers and I decided to do the activity in small groups by turns, while the rest of the children played at other activities around the room. I set up at a small table and, assisted by one of the teachers, helped groups of 3 to 5 kids at a time make their own pamphlet-sewn book. I was really impressed by their folding, sewing, and especially listening skills! They were a very eager and engaged group, and it was sweet to see how proudly they displayed their finished books to their parents as they arrived for pick-up time.

The school’s privacy policy prevents me from sharing photos of children other than my own, and in any case the afternoon was a bit too energetic and fast-paced for me to take any good pictures. However, I did manage to snap a quick shot of my boy with his book as we were loading up to head home. He was quite pleased with his creation, which he began filling up with a story as soon as we got home!

Child holding finished pamphlet

Pamphlet completed and ready for stories! Click image to enlarge.

 

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services