Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

2021 Virtual Summer Internship: Archival Collection of Fisk University During the Covid Era

August 24th, 2021

Paul Springer, Jr., served as KU Libraries’ second HBCU Library Alliance Preservation Intern in the summer of 2021. He spent six weeks taking classes online with his cohort, who were each assigned to U.S. research libraries with conservation departments. He also worked with staff at Spencer Library to craft his own archival project. In this post, he describes his experiences.

My name is Paul Springer, a senior history and psychology major at Fisk University. My career aspirations involve me working with students and diversifying the academy. As an aspiring historian, I hope combine interdisciplinary studies to further African Diaspora studies. With interests in popular culture, U.S civil rights history, Nigeria, and a special focus on film, I hope to make connections between Nigerian popular culture and U.S social and civil rights movement in the 20th century. I also wish to get involved with archival work dealing with popular culture materials. I believe that my particular skills could be useful in museums and libraries. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, I hope to make impact in my community through historical research. As the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, my hometown has a prominent presence in African American research and heritage. Creating opportunities, engaging in community, and influencing the next generation are the most crucial components to any career path I choose.

Paul Springer, Jr.

Working with the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas, my project looks to collect documents, flyers, programs during the academic semesters that Covid-19 interrupted. So far, I have the written speeches of the Student Government Association president, a program for the Honors convocation, and photos from social media. Due to limited time during the internship, this project continues. My goal is to donate this collection to the Fisk University archives.

Paul Springer, Jr.
2021 HBCU Library Preservation Alliance Program Summer Intern

Repairing Zapolote: a Conservation Treatment for a Lithograph by Mary Huntoon

April 14th, 2021

by Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Zapolote, also known as The Goose Woman is one of nine known lithographs by Kansas artist Mary Huntoon. Based on Huntoon’s notations, we know that this single edition print was made in 1923 while she attended the Art Students League in New York, NY. Zapolote is a mysterious image depicting the silhouette of a seated woman contrasted by a bright full moon surrounded by dark clouds. Huntoon used broad, arching lines to hint at the woman’s surroundings, which are generally abstract, and allude to a rippling pool at her feet. 

This work is part of a large collection of prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Along with the Huntoon collection at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, this collective holding at KU is regionally significant, connecting KU to other regional and national collections (e.g., Alice C. Sabatini Gallery in Topeka, Kansas; Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in normal light.
Image 1: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapolote, seen before treatment in normal light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in raking light.
Image 2: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapolote, seen before treatment in raking light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

I prioritized this print for conservation treatment during a condition survey of Huntoon’s collection of works because the print had sustained significant pest damage (see images 1-2). The entire upper right corner was lost as well as a few other smaller areas across the top edge. Tiny bite marks were visible along the edges and a long strip of the remaining top edge of the sheet was at risk of tearing off during handling.  

Conservators use several techniques for filling paper that is lost. The most common approach is to attach a new piece of paper with a similar thickness, color, and texture that is cut to fit inside the loss like a puzzle piece. The downside to this approach is that the search (and creation) of such a fill is often time-intensive. Even when the edge of the fill is beveled or butt-joined, a small seam is usually visible. The rough and jagged edges created by the hungry pest along this particular loss further complicated the shaping and stabilization process.

I had an opportunity, however, to use a simpler approach that would help stabilize the jagged edges and save time searching for the perfect fill paper: pulp fills. Pulp fills are a great method for filling paper because unlike the method described above, there is a much smoother transition between the original sheet and the fill. In this technique, wet paper pulp is dropped into the area of loss as a slurry, and can be built up to the same thickness as the print. This type of filling method can only be done if the entire print can be washed in advance because the print needs to be wet during this process. Fortunately, my testing confirmed that this print would be safe to wash.  

Next, I consulted my small collection of pre-cast paper pulp, all from high quality papers that had been previously washed. I selected two different colored paper pulps to mix together to make the best possible color match (see image 3). Then the pulp was reconstituted into a slurry with water and mixed thoroughly (see image 4).

Finding a selection of paper pulp that best matched the color of the print.
Image 3: Finding a selection of paper pulp that best matched the color of the print. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The paper pulp was turned back into a slurry by adding water.
Image 4: The paper pulp was turned back into a slurry by adding water. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

After the pulp was ready, I used a pipette to drop small amounts into the area of loss. This was completed on a light table so I could match the thickness of the pulp with the thickness of the paper. I used a vegetable scrubber and curved tweezers to tamp down and shape the pulp into a smooth mat. A sheet of cotton blotter and clear polyester sheeting was also used to control the amount of water in the pulp slurry and anchor and cast the pulp. In about thirty minutes, I had already filled the entire upper right loss (see images 5a-c).

Curved tweezers helped to manipulate the pulp to match the thickness of the print.
Image 5a: Curved tweezers helped to manipulate the pulp to match the thickness of the print. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The progression of filling the loss with wet paper pulp.
Image 5b: The progression of filling the loss with wet paper pulp. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
Cotton blotter was used to absorb excess water and help anchor and cast the pulp.
Image 5c: Cotton blotter was used to absorb excess water and help anchor and cast the pulp. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

Once all the fills were completed, I dried the print between cotton blotters under moderate weight. After the print was fully dry, I assessed the pulp fill. Since the loss was in an area that would be used to attach it for display and/or handling, I decided to reinforce it with a very thin piece of Japanese paper, called tengucho. This would add extra strength to the area, but not change its visual effect. Finally, the edges of the pulp fill were toned slightly with graphite pencil and colored pencils to match the color of the rest of the sheet. Now that the treatment is finished, the pulp fills help to complete the print and bring the viewer’s eye back to the image area and away from the damage. 

The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in normal light.
Image 6: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapolote, seen after treatment in normal light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in raking light.
Image 7: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapolote, seen after treatment in raking light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

Zapolote will be on view this fall 2021 at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library for the exhibit, Mary Huntoon: Artist and Art Therapist, and will feature several more examples of conservation treatments in this collection. We look forward to seeing you there!

2020 Virtual Internship: Archival Practices in Indigenous Communities in a Small Island Developing State (Dominica)

March 23rd, 2021

Lescia Carline Valmond served as KU Libraries’ first HBCU Library Alliance Preservation Intern in the summer of 2020. She spent eight weeks taking classes online with her cohort, who were each assigned to U.S. research libraries with conservation departments. She also worked with staff at Spencer Library to craft her own project in Dominica, her home country. In this post, she describes her experiences.

In 2020, I was selected to participate in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Library Alliance Summer 2020 Internship Program in conjunction with Conservation Services in Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas (KU). The year came with unprecedented challenges that affected this internship. The program was conducted virtually to allow the program to go on. The staff at the Spencer Research Library welcomed my thousand or so questions and further intrigued me with the work that they do.

Meetings were held each week with the directors of the HBCU Library Preservation Alliance as well as conservators and librarians at KU. Every week a new subject area or sub-field ranging from book treatments to environmental monitoring was taught online. (I will admit that I had no idea the amount of work and resources that went into archival practices.) Although I could not be there physically, the staff at Spencer Library were most happy to give me virtual tours and demonstrations of how they used the equipment and where they did their treatments. It is definitely on my bucket list to visit Spencer Library as soon as this pandemic subsides so that I can contribute a hand.

For my personal project, I worked along with Whitney Baker (Head of Conservation Services) and chose to focus on something that is dear to me, the preservation of artifacts and oral histories of the Kalinago people, an indigenous group in the Caribbean. These people are formerly known as the Caribs from which the Caribbean gets its name. However very little is known of them or by them. Personally, with this project I needed to change this dialogue. I too am Kalinago indian and sadly have known very little about my own people, culture, or even our language.

Kalingo people in their traditional dress. Photo credit Discover Dominca Authorities
Kalinago people in their traditional dress. Photo credit: Discover Dominica Authorities

Like many other Amerindian tribes, the Kalinago, as Dominica’s first settlers, were stripped of virtually all knowledge of themselves. Hence, the goal was to create an archival station in the public library where pictures, awards, and books or anything of importance would be stored and made accessible to the people. Whilst we may never know every single detail, learning how far our ancestors came and obtaining as much information as possible is a gift in itself.

Former archival station in the Salybia Primary School, Kalinago Reserve. Photo credit Lescia Valmond
Former archival station in the Salybia Primary School. Photo credit Lescia Valmond.

In order to retain information, oral history preservation was a focal point in this project. With the assistance of Deborah Dandridge (Field Archivist and Curator of the African American Experience Collections, Kansas Collection) and Letha Johnson (Kansas Collection Curator), an oral history release form and a contract were written for those donating items of interest. From thence, interviews were conducted with many persons who held different roles in society. This ensured diversification in experiences in the Kalinago Reserve rather than only asking the leaders of the community. These recordings were later transcribed for future reference.

Copy of a map showing the land which was promised to the Kalinago people by Queen Elizabeth II. Donated by Noel Valmond.
Copy of a map showing the land which was promised to the Kalinago people by Queen Elizabeth II. Donated by Noel Valmond, photo credit Lescia Valmond.

Apart from interviews, personal items were contributed to the development of the archival station, as it appeared that almost everyone thought that this project was long overdue. While there existed few conservation practices or materials on the island, whatever resources could be found were utilized. After all, it was the start of a major change. Next, it was important to consider storing the items. I had to take into consideration the humidity of the climate, the placement of the maps (ensuring that they were away from sunlight), as well as controlling the occurrence of pests specific to the tropics. Thankfully this internship afforded me the opportunity to identify much of them and ways in which they can be prevented. To assist with the temporary storage, I employed the use of paper with a neutral pH.

Labeled folders containing pieces of copies of the map.
Labeled folders containing pieces of copies of the map. The purple paper is archival paper.
Labeled folders containing pieces of copies of the map. The purple paper is archival paper. Photo credit Lescia Valmond.

Currently the archival station is housed at the Salybia Primary School, but its intended home is the Salybia Public Library, where the collected materials will be transferred when the library is complete.

Young Miranda Langlais in her early 20’s Photo credit Mary Walters
Young Miranda Langlais in her early 20s. Photo compliments Mary Walters.

To end the summer program, every intern had the opportunity to present their chosen projects to demonstrate what they had learned. Nervous as I was, I was extremely grateful for the knowledge imparted and am even keener on learning more in-depth conservation practices to continue with the archival station in the Kalinago Reserve. The oral history aspect of the project is the most important, given that the essence of all that was captured and will be passed on.

Lescia Carline Valmond
2020 HBCU Library Preservation Alliance Program Summer Intern

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

Shirley Tholen, Jubilee Queen

June 27th, 2017

One of the most interesting items in our collection, from my point of view, is the full-length portrait of Shirley Tholen, KU’s Jubilee Queen. Spencer Research Library doesn’t actively collect oil paintings, so the fact that we have this painting is unusual in itself. Its size and its history make it even more so. We’ve been spending a lot of time with this portrait lately, and it’s a great example of how collections, experts, and supporters come together in the work of Spencer Library.

The portrait depicts Shirley Tholen, whose naming as Queen was part of the celebration of KU’s 75th anniversary, in 1940-1941. Painted by Raymond Eastwood, a KU professor of drawing and painting from 1922 to 1968, the portrait depicts Ms. Tholen in a dress inspired from the mid-1800s. The jubilee celebrations referenced the early history of the university, with touches like the installation of hitching posts on campus, a song contest, and many reunions.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office, 1945

The Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office,
as shown in the June 1945 Jayhawker. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1945. Click image to enlarge.

For years, the portrait appears to have hung in the office of the KU Alumni Association, as shown in the above photograph from the 1945 Jayhawker yearbook. It eventually made its way to University Archives, where it was stored in the fourth floor stacks of Spencer, surrounded by boxes of university records. Its size made it difficult to find appropriate storage, and it was obvious, even to those of us more accustomed to working with paper and photographs than canvas, that the painting and its supporting structure were in need of repair.

In 2015, Ms. Tholen’s son Tom Jasper and his wife Alexis planned to visit Kansas and inquired about the painting. To make it possible to view it, our Conservation Services staff hung the portrait in our North Gallery and created a temporary label. During their visit, the Jaspers gave us a copy of Ms. Tholen’s memoirs, which we added to our collections. The Jaspers also offered to help financially support the work needed to restore the painting. Conservation Services staff attempted to locate a professional paintings conservator who could work onsite, since the painting is too large to easily ship or move. In late 2016, we welcomed Kenneth Bé of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to Lawrence.

Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait

Kenneth Bé working on the portrait. Click images to enlarge.

Mr. Bé began with a thorough examination of the painting, photographing it in its existing frame and the wooden stretcher to which the canvas was attached. He then removed the painting from the frame, and carefully repaired dented areas, removed the painting from the stretcher, and vacuumed and brushed away decades of residue. Mindful of the need to get just the right amount of tautness, he attached the canvas to the new stretcher. He used cotton batting and an enzymatic cleaning solution to clean the surface, and the background and especially the bottom of the dress appeared noticeably brighter after the cleaning. He performed a second cleaning of the background using a soft brush and a scooping motion to lift away any remaining dust and residue. He then treated areas of color loss on the surface, using just a minimal amount of paint that somehow managed to make the scuffs seem to vanish. The process was documented throughout with notes and photographs, in accordance with best practices for conservation treatment. After his departure, we moved the painting to a secure area where it was stored under a Tyvek sheet awaiting framing.

Then came the task of choosing a frame for the painting. On the recommendation of colleagues, we chose a local framer, again hoping to minimize the need for the portrait to travel any more than necessary. The choices at the frame shop were overwhelming, but the experts advised us to balance the width of the frame with the size of the painting and the height at which we intended to hang it. A decision was made, the portrait was packaged carefully, and loaded into a rented truck for the short trip across town. When the framing was complete, the results were impressive.

Photograph of Roberta Woodrick with the Shirley Tholen portrait

Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick
with the portrait. Click image to enlarge.

The portrait of Shirley Tholen is now hanging again in the North Gallery, awaiting new signage that explains who she was and why we have this painting. She will no doubt draw attention as visitors begin to appear in our recently renovated Gallery, and her story helps to tell the history of the University in a different way than the rest of our new permanent exhibits.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the North Gallery

The portrait of Shirley Tholen in the recently-renovated North Gallery.
Click image to enlarge.

This was truly a team effort. Whitney Baker and Roberta Woodrick of Conservation Services, Becky Schulte and Letha Johnson from University Archives, and staff from across KU Libraries researched, planned, and made the work happen. But it would not have happened without the support of the Jaspers as well. Not everyone can be responsible for helping conserve a historic portrait of their mother, but they can assist us to do extraordinary things that would not otherwise be possible with our limited resources.

Please come visit the North Gallery and see Shirley soon.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library