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.
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
Over a year ago, I wrote about how working from home was going for me, about three months into the COVID19 pandemic. I was spending my time doing a lot of online professional development, attending Zoom meetings, interacting on social media, and working on small hands-on projects.
Soon after that post was published, the Conservation Services team began our careful transition back to working on-site. In mid-June of 2020, I began going to the lab for a single 4-hour shift each week. Starting very slowly allowed us to establish safety practices and get a sense of our comfort level with in-person work at a time in the pandemic when it seemed there were still more questions than answers about how the virus was transmitted. We wore masks and put an extra focus on hand hygiene, and staggered our lab shifts to reduce the number of people working at a time. Our large lab space also made it possible to keep a safe distance from one another. Even with all the uncertainty, I was grateful not only to still have my job, but to be back in the lab, working directly with the collections once again.
The following month, I increased my lab time to four 4-hour shifts per week, and maintained that schedule through the rest of 2020. I continued my professional development activities during work-at-home time, attending hundreds of hours worth of webinars and lectures, in addition to lots of reading. The annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) was held completely online last year, so I was able to attend many more presentations at this conference than I would have if it were held in person. In addition, I filled much of my at-home time from September through December working on an online Chemistry for Conservators course.
In January 2021, I added a fifth 4-hour shift to my schedule, bringing my lab time to 20 hours per week. At-home time continued to be filled with emails, meetings, lots of reading, and more online professional development, including another virtual AIC annual meeting. Then, in May, I moved to working four full days in the lab and one day at home per week. The types of activities I do at home are the same, I’m just doing less of them – and I’m so happy to be working in the lab more. It’s very satisfying to be filling my log sheets with treatment records, and to see my production statistics adding up again. For reference, here’s a comparison of my second quarter statistics from 2019, 2020, and 2021. I was able to complete a small number of treatments after our part-time return toward the end of June 2020, but my 2021 numbers are much closer to normal – a welcome and hopeful development.
While questions remain about what the fall semester will look like this year, and the pandemic is not over by any measure, the experience of the last 15 months has shown that it’s possible to adapt conservation work to extraordinary circumstances. Now that I’m back in the lab nearly full-time, I have a new appreciation for the privilege of being able to do this work, and especially for the people I work with and the supportive environment that they create in our workplace.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All the way back in October 2019, I wrote about starting on the treatment of MS E279, 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 believed to be 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.
The volume was weakened by past water and mold damage and so required especially careful handling throughout the treatment process. After photographing the volume in its pre-treatment condition, I first cleaned the residual mold using soft brushes and low-suction HEPA vacuum, working in our bio-safety cabinet to reduce my exposure to the mold (and prevent contamination of other collection material). After the volume was cleaned, I removed the damaged binding and took apart the sewing.
The most time-consuming part of the treatment involved mending tears, filling losses, and guarding the sections (adding a reinforcing strip of thin Japanese tissue along the fold to strengthen it prior to sewing). The manuscript also has numerous notes and additions pasted in which needed reinforcement or reattaching. Once all the mending was complete, the volume was ready to be sewn and bound. In discussions with Special Collections curator Karen Cook, we considered different options for rebinding the book and settled on a conservation paper case binding, which would provide gentle support for the fragile text.
I sewed the volume with fine linen thread over three cords, adding new endpapers, and added sewn endbands of the same linen thread around rolled paper cores. After lining the spine with Japanese paper, Western laid paper, and linen, I attached a new case of medium-weight handmade paper. The case is attached only by the linen spine linings and by the sewing and endband supports which are laced through the case. The result has an appearance that is similar to and visually compatible with historic limp bindings. This structure has the added benefit of being easily removed if future caretakers of this volume wish to rebind it in a different fashion.
The newly-bound volume is housed in a clamshell box along with the old boards. While this manuscript is still fragile, the repairs and new binding will allow it to be consulted by researchers in the reading room, which was not possible in its prior condition. To view this manuscript or any of Spencer’s collections, you may make an appointment to visit the reading room during our updated hours.