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

Workshop Recap: Basic exhibit supports at MAC Omaha

April 10th, 2017

Last week collections conservator Roberta Woodrick and I, together with our colleague Sonya Barron, conservator at Iowa State University, had the pleasure of presenting our half-day workshop Exhibit Support Basics: Solutions for Small Institutions and Small Budgets at the 2017 annual meeting of the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) in Omaha. We had a lot of fun bringing this hands-on workshop to our colleagues in the allied professions, all of whom kept the session lively with their curiosity, great questions, and good humor.

This workshop originated from our wish to share basic exhibit preparation skills with archivists and museum professionals who work in smaller institutions and are responsible for mounting exhibits but who have limited staff and resources to devote to their exhibit programs. Our participants were archivists, librarians, and curators from a range of institutions across the Midwest: small college and university libraries and archives, historical societies, local museums, even corporate and congregational archives.

Our morning began with a brief presentation covering the exhibit support structures and materials we would be working with that day, along with some related variations on those structures meant to inspire participants’ creativity and boost their confidence. As instructors, we wanted to emphasize that effective exhibit supports don’t have to be complicated or costly.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Sonya demonstrates how to make flat supports.
Click image to enlarge.

Following the presentation, Sonya demonstrated two simple methods for mounting flat artifacts. As she worked, she also discussed some basic tool safety tips, and we talked about the different materials we were using. After her demonstration the participants tried out the mounting methods for themselves; we three instructors observed their progress and offered guidance as needed, but this was a very focused group – they immersed themselves in the task and were very self-directed!

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Our students watch Roberta’s book cradle demonstration.
Click image to enlarge.

By this time we were ready for a quick break before regrouping for Roberta’s demonstration of a basic mat board book cradle. With all of her years of experience training student employees, Roberta is a pro at demos! The group watched and took notes intently as she built one cradle, and then they worked on their own cradles along with her as she made a second one. As with the morning’s first activity, our students jumped right in. Despite their claims of having little experience working on such projects, they impressed us with their hand skills and adaptability, and everyone completed their projects with time to spare for discussion at the end of the session.

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Workshop participants hard at work.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Midwest Archives Conference workshop

Samples of finished cradles from the workshop. They did an excellent job!
Click image to enlarge.

As instructors, we couldn’t have asked for a better group of participants; they were a cheerful and engaged group who worked very well together and created a friendly atmosphere in the room. Roberta, Sonya, and I are grateful to MAC for the opportunity to bring this workshop to their members, and we are hopeful it won’t be the last time we are able to work together!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

Meet the KSRL Staff: Chris Banuelos

January 9th, 2017

This is the eleventh installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Chris Banuelos is the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist for Conservation Services at the University of Kansas Libraries.

Chris Banuelos, Audiovisual Preservation Specialist, Spencer Research Library.
Chris relaxing in the lounge at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Where are you from?

I grew up in and around Greater Los Angeles, or the Southland, as they call it. I have lived in the San Gabriel Valley, OC, Inland Empire (specifically the Pomona Valley), and Gateway Cities regions.

What does your job at KU Libraries and Spencer Research Library entail?

Officially, I am the Audiovisual Preservation Specialist. As such, I am responsible for the care, maintenance, and potential reformatting of the A/V materials housed here within the various collections at Spencer. The care and maintenance component involves adhering to the best practices and standards for the handling and storage of the myriad A/V formats living at the library (which runs the gamut from motion picture film to tape-based material to digital files), including the machines necessary to play back the content.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

For a brief time, a job listing for the position had been floating around the list-serv of the graduate program I attended at NYU. On a whim I applied and through a stroke of luck, participated in a series of interviews that lead to acquiring the job.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

By far, my favorite part of the library is the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. In particular, there is a VHS tape I really want to watch called Demon U.F.O.s. Because the only thing worse than a demon OR a u.f.o. is a combination demon u.f.o.

What part of your job do you like best?

The paycheck! No, but really, having the opportunity to create an A/V infrastructure that works in tandem with the extant (and wildly successful) Conservation Department is a fantastically noble challenge. The university houses some really great content that is begging for further study and I am rather excited to be a part of its discovery. Um, and the paycheck.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I don’t know that I have a pastime. I try to at least talk, if not Skype with my daughter every day. She’s eight and is absolutely hilarious.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. Everyone that works in Spencer is extremely accommodating to patron requests and is willing to go the extra mile to obtain whatever it is that is being asked for.

Chris Banuelos
Audiovisual Preservation Specialist
Conservation Services

Housing Historic Photographs in the Kansas Collection

July 22nd, 2016

Around the time of our Care and Identification of Photographs workshop here at Spencer, I had four photographs from the John W. Temple Family Papers on my bench in the lab for cleaning and rehousing. The timing was fortunate for me, because from the workshop I picked up some tips for housing these items, and I also learned about the unique process by which two of the prints were created.

The photographs arrived, as so many of their age and type do, in precarious condition: two medium-format portraits were housed in heavy, dusty frames that were held together with brittle nails, and two military panoramic photographs were mounted to brittle, acidic boards. All of the photographs had varying degrees of surface dirt and apparent water staining, and had sustained some amount of physical damage caused by their housings and mounts. Before they could be safely handled and described by processing archivists, it was necessary to stabilize their condition and provide them with protective housings.

The two panoramas, which depict Troop D of the 9th Cavalry during the time of John Temple’s service in the Spanish-American War, were mounted to boards about two inches larger on all sides than the prints themselves. One board had a large loss along one edge and the other had a long vertical break in it that was causing the photograph to tear. Rather than removing the photographs from the backing entirely (a time-consuming and rather harrowing process), I trimmed the mounting board close to the edges of the photographs to reduce the potential for further breakage. I also cleaned the photographs with polyurethane cosmetic wedge sponges, which are gentle on the delicate emulsion surface. I then created a folder of archival corrugated board fitted with pieces of 1/8” archival foam to hold the photographs snugly in place, leaving spaces to allow them to be removed if necessary. The foam is firm enough to support the photographs but will not abrade the fragile edges.

Panoramic photographs of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898

Panoramic photographs of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898.
John William Temple served in this unit during the Spanish-American War.
Photographs shown in housing with foam inserts.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f).
Click image to enlarge.

Detail of panoramic photograph of 9th Cavalry, Troop D, circa 1898

Detail of panoramic group portrait of Troop D of the 9th Cavalry
(with adorable canine companion), circa 1898. John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

The two portraits were in more fragile condition and therefore needed a few more layers of protection than the panoramas. They depict Fred Thompson, and a young Pearl Temple, wife of John W. Temple. With the curator’s and archivist’s consent, I removed the frames; the frames’ backings were loose and unsealed, which made removal easy, but the portraits were covered in surface dirt that had made its way in through the unsealed backings. I cleaned the portraits as I had the panoramas, with soft cosmetic sponges. Each portrait is mounted to a thin board, and I again considered but ultimately rejected the idea of removing the mounts. Even though past water damage has caused the portraits to warp slightly, they were stable enough once removed from the frames.

To house the portraits, I first affixed the portraits to sheets of mat board using large archival paper corners as shown in the photos below. The corners gently hold the photographs in place to prevent shifting, and they can be easily unfolded to allow for viewing or removing the items. Such corners are often used in photograph and art conservation and framing, but they are usually small and discreet and not as generously sized as these. Because the main purpose of this housing is to protect the portraits, I made these corners extra-large to distribute any stress on the photograph edges. Next I hinged window mats to the lower mat boards and lined the inside of the window mats with the same thin foam I used in the panorama housing, again to prevent abrasion of the photograph surfaces. Finally I added a front cover of mat board, and placed all three of the housings together in a flat archival box.

Portraits of Fred Thompson and Pearl Temple, undated

Two undated historic portraits in their new housings:
Fred Thompson (left) and Pearl Temple (right).
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f).
Click image to enlarge.

Detail of paper corners, Pearl Temple portrait, undated

Detail of paper corners, closed to secure photograph (left) and
open to allow access (right). Pearl Temple portrait, undated.
John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Fred Thompson, housing with foam-lined window mat, undated

Photograph housing with foam-lined window mat.
Fred Thompson portrait, undated. John W. Temple Family Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

Completed photograph housings in a flat archival storage box

Completed photograph housings in a flat archival storage box.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

When I first began working on the portraits, I noticed evidence of retouching on the images – a common practice. During the photograph identification workshop, I learned that this type of portrait is called a crayon enlargement, and that they were popular in the early twentieth century. In a crayon enlargement, the photographer uses a smaller photograph, often a cabinet card, to make an enlarged print that is usually slightly underexposed, and then adds hand-drawn or painted touches to the enlargement. The result can be subtle, as in our two portraits here, or so heavily augmented as to be difficult to identify as a photograph.

Both of these portraits are probably gelatin silver prints; the neutral tone and silver mirroring on Fred’s photograph point to that process (Pearl’s photograph was probably sepia toned to give it its warm color). In Pearl’s portrait, the embellishments are limited to a few brushstrokes accentuating features of her face and ruffles in her dress. There is also a patterned background that was probably created with an airbrush and stencil. To the naked eye these are the only additions, but under magnification (our workshop fee included a super handy handheld microscope) it’s possible to see pigment droplets throughout the image, indicating more airbrushing.

Detail of Pearl Temple portrait, undated

Detail of hand-drawn embellishments on the portrait of Pearl Temple.
Note the brushstrokes under mouth and nose and along ruffles in clothing.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

The accents made to Fred’s portrait are more extensive. Because the enlargement would have been underexposed, the details in light areas would have been lost, so the photographer has used airbrush and stencil to recreate the washed-out tie and collar, and also to darken the background. As in Pearl’s portrait, pigment drops are visible throughout the image under magnification, even where it doesn’t appear at first look.

Detail of Fred Thompson portrait, undated

Detail of airbrush accents to shirt and tie on portrait of Fred Thompson.
John W. Temple Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1387 (f). Click image to enlarge.

With the housing complete, these photographs are ready for processing and will soon be added to the finding aid for the collection. It was such a pleasure to work on these wonderful portraits; not only are they lovely objects, but I always love a good housing challenge, and seeing examples of this historical photographic process so soon after learning about it was a happy and instructive coincidence.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Angela Andres

September 21st, 2015

This is the fourth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining the Conservation Services unit in Summer 2015, Angela Andres is the new Assistant Conservator for Special Collections.

Photograph of Angela Andres

Angela hard at work in the conservation lab.
Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?
My hometown is Belvidere, IL (the north central part of the state, near Rockford), but I came to Lawrence from New York City, where I’d lived for ten years. In between I lived in California, Philadelphia, and Madison, WI.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
I treat and preserve materials in Spencer’s collections to ensure their availability to both present and future library patrons.

How did you come to work as a conservator?
As a graduate student in library school, I had a work-study job in my school’s conservation lab. I had a background in studio art and book arts, and I realized that conservation was a field where my hand skills and my interest in library service could be combined.

What do you like most about being a conservator?
I greatly enjoy solving the unique problems presented by each treatment and project. Academic library collections are so diverse that every day is different and there is always something new to learn in the process of treating such varied materials.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a conservator?
There are many types of conservators and different paths to a conservation career, but I’d suggest starting at the website of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the national professional organization. There’s a section called “Become a Conservator” that is a great starting point.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Just ask! The staff at Spencer are so friendly and will be happy to help you discover Spencer’s collections.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections