Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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

From cubbies to cases

November 10th, 2014

November is bringing good news for the storage conditions for many oversized, flat items in the Kansas Collection. After much planning and pondering, the existing wooden “cubby” storage unit has been dismantled to make way for flat file storage drawers often referred to as map cases.

cubbies 2

Kansas Collection cubbies, full of collection material

Over time, paintings, other framed materials, and oversized architectural drawings had ended up in the cubbies for lack of a more suitable place to store these challengingly-shaped and often very large items.

cubbies 14

Empty Kansas Collection cubbies

Student employees and staff worked to clear collections from the wooden storage unit. Some of the materials will return to the newly installed map cases, while others have moved to an area specifically made for hanging paintings and framed objects. Conservation Services staff then took apart the cubbies using car jacks, pry bars, and a sledge hammer. The original structure of the cubbies relied heavily on a slot-in-tab method of construction which made for a smoother deconstruction than if the unit had been held together primarily with screws or nails.

cubbies 24

Partially dismantled cubbies

In a happy bit of up-cycling, a sculpture professor in the Art Department at KU collected the nearly 50-year old ply board to be used by students working in the Fine Arts and Design Schools. Facilities Operations staff leveled the area by installing tile over the bare concrete floor and then installed fifteen five-drawer sets of map cases.

new map cases 2

New map cases for flat storage

Over the coming months, oversized and flat material–housed in appropriately-sized folders–will be placed in the new cases. This will not only provide a better storage environment for the items, it will also make the materials easier to page for patron use.

 

Roberta Woodrick
Assistant Conservator
Conservation Services

A Find in Fraser

September 20th, 2013

This summer I was the Stannard Conservation Lab Intern at the University of Kansas. I worked on many projects, but the most challenging one was treating a large collection of architectural plans. University Archives already has many architectural plans of KU campus buildings, so it was a surprise when more original plans were found in the attic of Fraser Hall. The plans had been rolled up, tied with string, and left for years in the attic. They were stacked on top of each other and very dirty, some showing signs of bird droppings and cobwebs. Due to this rough storage environment, some of the plans were severely damaged, although most were in fairly stable condition. The plans were moved from Fraser’s attic to University Archives until a more appropriate and permanent storage situation could be found.

Photograph of architectural plans temporarily stored in University Archives.
Rolled architectural plans temporarily stored in
University Archives. Click image to enlarge.

It is best for architectural plans to be stored flat, not only for their preservation but also to save space. Since the plans were stored rolled for so long, they needed to be humidified and flattened before they could be stored in horizontal files in the Archives. This required some creative thinking by the KU conservation team because a humidity chamber had to be specially made to accommodate these large plans.

The construction of the humidity chamber was finished when I started my internship, so I was able to start right in on developing the work procedure for humidifying and flattening the plans. I developed a documentation process to keep track of the plans that were treated and instituted an efficient work flow to keep the project rolling.

Photograph of the humidity chamber.
The specially-built humidity chamber at KU’s Conservation Lab.
Click image to enlarge.

The rolled plans were sorted by what building they depicted and then moved to the work room in their respective groups. Next, the drawings were prepared for humidification: staples were removed and important information about the plans – including title and date – were recorded in a database. The plans were then humidified and flattened. Lastly, the plans were placed in labeled folders and stored in the Archive’s new horizontal storage cases. The work procedure I developed allowed the other interns to continue the flattening and filing process even after my internship ended.

Photograph of Summer Conservation Intern Erin Kraus.
Summer Conservation Intern Erin Kraus removes
water from the humidity chamber with a wet vac.
Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of horizontal storage cases.
New horizontal storage cases in University Archives.
Click image to enlarge.

These historic plans were an important discovery because they can still be useful to architects today when improvements are being made to buildings. The conservation of the plans so far turned out beautifully, so it was very satisfying to see the progress made on the project.

Photograph of humidified and flattened plans.
Architectural plans after humidification and flattening.
Click image to enlarge.

The conservation lab at KU was a great place to spend my summer and I learned a lot from this project. Having an internship in Kansas allowed me to not only spend time in my home state, but to also get to know all of the wonderful people at the Stannard Conservation Lab. Thanks for a great summer!

Erin Kraus
2013 Conservation Summer Intern

Jayhawks on Display

December 7th, 2012

Have you ever wondered what steps are involved in mounting an exhibit? We recently completed installation of “100 Years of Jayhawks: 1912-2012,” curated by University Archivist Becky Schulte, with assistance from Letha Johnson and Sherry Williams. The exhibit celebrates the evolution of the Jayhawk, the mascot of the University of Kansas, from the first, long-legged version drawn by Hank Maloy to the present design. This is the first exhibit to be mounted in a newly renovated space in Spencer, in the former location of the Special Collections reception area.

Becky Schulte retrieved many items from the stacks and determined the theme of each of the five cases. Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick and I covered the exhibit case bases with the cloth Becky had selected. Once the cases were ready, Becky laid out objects in the cases in rough configurations, determining the best location for each item while considering the flow of the exhibition “story.”

Photograph of initial layout of materials in the case
Initial layout of materials in the case. Click image to enlarge.

After items were placed in the cases, we constructed mounts for materials in order to elevate, highlight, and soundly support them during the course of the exhibit. For this exhibition we selected archival matboard and Volara polyethylene foam as mount materials, both of which are inert and will not chemically or physically damage objects on display.

Photograph of University Archivist Becky Schulte positioning an item on mat board within the case
University Archivist Becky Schulte positioning an item on matboard within the case.
Click image to enlarge.

Once the labels and mounts were finished, the Jayhawks were placed in the cases. We measured and determined safe lighting levels for the exhibition space to limit light exposure to objects on display.

Photograph of finished exhibition case
Finished Product! The final version of one of the exhibition’s five display cases.
Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit will be on open through March and may be viewed during regular Kenneth Spencer Research Library Hours:  Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, and (when regular classes are in session) Saturday 12:00pm-4:00pm. Please visit and let us know what you think!

For images from the exhibition’s opening celebration on Wednesday, December 5, please click on the thumbnails below.

Image of crowd at Exhibition Opening: 100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012    Photograph of guests examining an exhibition case at the exhibition opening of "100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012"    Photograph of guests Mingling in the new exhibition space at the opening of the "100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012" exhibition.    Photograph of Dean Haricombe addressing the audience.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

A Nest for Metal Jayhawks

October 10th, 2012

Former conservation student assistant Haley Trezise reports on how she met the challenge of safely housing a group of metal Jayhawks.

I could hear the individual metal pieces sliding around inside before I even opened the box containing the metal Jayhawk paraphernalia.  There was a small metal pendant set aside in an envelope; however, the rest of the items in the collection were awkwardly arranged at the bottom of a tall, slender box.  Projects like this challenged me to find or make appropriate housing for Spencer items.

Photo of note and envelope accompanying the metal Jayhawk paraphernalia

Image of Metal Jayhawk #1     Image of Metal Jayhawk #2

The challenge: A note to the archivist and two of several metal Jayhawk items all to be housed together.
Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25

I worked as a conservation student employee and Museum Studies intern during my last two semesters at KU.  For one of my projects as an intern, I was asked to upgrade the housing for some metal Jayhawk paraphernalia.  The parameters: all material should stay together in one box, including the accompanying written documents.  I was provided a rather small, off-the-shelf box and told that all items should fit within that enclosure.

Image of a new housing for Jayhawks
A new nest for metal Jayhawks.  Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25

After considering various arrangements for best placement, I used  plastazote foam, an inert (non-damaging) material that is easily shaped, to cut indentions for each object. I took a picture of the  proper place for each item and placed it, along with the written information, in a sleeve inside the lid of the box.  The image of what is stored in the box was also attached to the outside of the box so that the archivists can see what is inside without opening the lid.

Photograph of exterior of box of the new Jayhawk Paraphernalia housing

Photos affixed to the exterior of the housing reveal at a glance the Jayhawk paraphernalia contained inside.
Spencer Library Call Number: RG 0/25. Click image to enlarge.

Haley Trezise
Former Conservation Student Assistant