Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Jacinta Johnson

April 23rd, 2019

This is the fourteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Jacinta Johnson, who joined us in January 2019. Jacinta is the Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative, and splits her time between the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. Welcome, Jacinta!

Jacinta Johnson is our new Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative.
Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, but have lived in many other cities throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and the East Coast.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I joined KU Libraries’ Conservation Services Department in late January as the Associate Conservator for a three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at bridging the conservation efforts of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. I specialize in paper conservation and split my time between the library and the museum, working with staff at each site to prioritize conservation projects with common goals.

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

The collection of prints and drawings by Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). Huntoon was born in Topeka, KS and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. She studied at The Art Students’ League in New York and lived in Paris for five years. She returned to Kansas in 1930 and later became the state’s first art therapist. Her work, which is mostly portraiture and landscapes, depicts important people in her life and all the different places she lived and the places where she travelled. The collection contains several preparatory drawings for prints and artist’s proofs that illustrate her careful working process.

What part of your job do you like best?

The opportunity to interact closely with collections. I enjoy finding clues about the artistic process, techniques, and materials.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy exploring cities by bike, fumbling through knitting projects, and trying out new recipes.

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

Be sure to utilize all the great help and guidance the staff can offer, and don’t forget to visit the current exhibition!

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Expanded and Renovated Audiovisual Preservation Labs at Kenneth Spencer Research Library

March 26th, 2019

2018 was an eventful year at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In addition to the celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary, the Conservation Services department relocated from Watson Library into a newly constructed lab space on the second floor of Spencer. The dedicated space built for Conservation Services allowed the Audiovisual (AV) branch of the team to expand its operations within Spencer by moving into spaces formerly used by Conservation. By expanding the AV footprint within the building, we would be able to add equipment to create a film inspection/video digitization lab separate from the current audio digitization lab (which previously doubled as the film and video lab). Over the course of approximately three months, beginning in September 2018, several meetings took place between Conservation Services staff, the KU architect and KU Facilities to determine how the rooms needed to be adapted for their new uses, as well as what equipment belonged where.

Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.
The Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.
Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Another view of the Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.

In the audio digitization lab in particular, several changes occurred that completely changed the look of the work space. The room was painted in the building’s original “Spencer Green” hue, and carpeted with its original 1970’s carpet. Ultimately, we all decided that the carpet and paint job had to go, and that new lighting was necessary. Furthermore, we had to decide where the best locations for power outlets would be, and the land-line telephone connections had to be de-commissioned.

In order to replace the carpet and re-paint the room, every single shelf, table and piece of electronic equipment in the room had to be temporarily disassembled and moved to a storage location. My team of student workers and I devised a strategy of labeling all of the cords and ports on our pieces of equipment so that disassembly and re-assembly would go quickly. Once everything was removed from the Audio Lab, Facilities came in and ripped out the carpet. At this time, the electricians started replacing all of the lighting fixtures in both the Audio and Video Labs. They also installed dimmer switches, allowing us to control the levels of light we need depending on the day’s workflow.

Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

The Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.
Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Alternate view of the Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. Click image to enlarge.

In the Video Lab, the renovations to the light fixtures included breaking out the light switches to allow for independent control of lights in the front of the room as well as the back. Additionally, several new electrical outlets were installed in the ceiling and along the north wall of the room. Shelving was removed to allow us to bring in a Steenbeck flatbed motion picture film editing machine. My team and I then set up two film inspection stations and have begun to acquire video digitization and playback equipment.

For the Audio Lab, we chose new paint colors, including for an accent wall, which I think is a really nice bit of the renovation. We also installed new tile flooring, which is ideal for an audiovisual lab such as ours. The tile can be kept much cleaner than carpet, reducing the amount of particulate matter in the lab environment which could be harmful to sensitive media collections. Finally, once the shelving was re-attached to the walls, we were able to quickly re-populate the lab thanks to our labeling strategy.

The renovated Audio Preservation Lab at Spencer Research Library.
The renovated Audio Preservation Lab, complete with new tile floor, accent wall, and enhanced lighting. Click image to enlarge.
The renovated Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library.

The renovation of the Film and Video Preservation Lab is nearing completion. New features include enhanced lighting and additional electric outlets. Click image to enlarge.

At this time, the Audio Lab is completely set up and our digitization efforts have re-commenced, and our film inspection stations, including the Steenbeck, are fully operational. The video component of the Film/Video Lab is still under construction; most of the necessary video elements have been purchased and are being built out. I am grateful for the support from KU and the Libraries for this project, which has allowed us to create updated lab spaces to the specifications I requested, and to purchase the equipment my team needs to perform archival quality work on Spencer Library’s audiovisual collections. The enthusiasm of my student workers should also be noted as I truly would not have been able to envision the working conditions within the new work spaces without them. The renovated lab spaces heavily influence and are heavily influenced by the work that the students do on a day-to-day basis and I cannot stress enough how important they are to the digitization and organization efforts we undertake in the department.

Chris Bañuelos
Audiovisual Preservation Specialist
Conservation Services

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.

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