Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Treatment of Mary Huntoon’s Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, an Etching: Part 2

May 19th, 2020

In the first installment of this two part blog series, the Kansas artist, Mary Huntoon, was introduced. We shared how her print, Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, was prepared for an overall washing treatment in order to reduce several dark brown stains along the top edge that interrupted the image area and created bulging in the surface.

Before any washing treatments are performed on works on paper, all media are tested with the proposed washing solutions to ensure their stability. The surface is also checked for any areas where the print may have been previously restored, or even re-touched by the artist with another material that might be water-soluble. I carefully examined the print under magnification during testing in order to make sure the ink and paper were safe for washing. Everything checked out, so I was ready to start the washing step.

Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, prior to treatment. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Prior to washing, the print was gently surface-cleaned and the brown paper attachments were removed. You can read more about these steps in the first blog post about this treatment.

Before a work on paper is placed into a bath, the entire object must slowly undergo a humidification step. This helps to relax the paper and the media and prevents aggressive swelling. Then the object is gently sprayed with deionized water using a fine mist attachment in order to fully saturate it. This step-wise procedure ensures a gentle transition for the object into the bath.    

The print was washed in successive baths of pH-adjusted deionized water and air-dried. I examined the print once again to assess the progress of the washing step. The stains had noticeably lessened, but they were still quite visible, and I decided to test another stain reduction technique.

Using a small brush, I gently introduced very small applications of a dilute reducing bleach to the stained areas. This reduced the stain to an almost undetectable level. Then the bleach was fully rinsed with additional baths of pH-adjusted deionized water. I used an ultraviolet lamp to check to see that all the bleach, which fluoresces under ultraviolet radiation, was rinsed away.

The etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, in normal light, after treatment.
Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, in normal light, after treatment. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

After the stain reduction and overall washing was complete, it was time to address a few structural concerns. Weak creases in the upper corners made the print vulnerable to breakage and tearing, so I reinforced them using Japanese paper applied with wheat starch paste we make in our conservation lab. Instead of cutting the Japanese paper, it is wetted and torn. This torn edge makes use of the long kozo fibers in the paper and creates a strong mend that integrates well into the paper. After all the mends and reinforcements were complete, the print was humidified a second time and flattened between thick felts. Pressing between felts helped to remove planar distortions along the edges, while also maintaining the plate mark of the etching.

Now that the treatment is complete, the print is ready to be returned to the collection where it can be safely examined by visitors to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.  

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library is home to the collection of papers and original artwork by Kansas artist and art therapist, Mary Huntoon (1896 – 1970). As part of a collaborative initiative between KU Libraries and the Spencer Museum of Art, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, many of the prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon will be treated.

Creases in the upper corners of the etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, being reinforced with Japanese paper attached with wheat starch paste.
Creases in the upper corners were reinforced with Japanese paper attached with wheat starch paste. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
The etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, in raking light, prior to treatment (at left), and after treatment (at right).
Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, in raking light, prior to treatment (at left), and after treatment (at right). Call number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Treatment of Mary Huntoon’s “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” an Etching: Part 1

December 3rd, 2019

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library is home to the collection of papers and original artwork by Kansas artist and art therapist, Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). As part of a collaborative initiative between KU Libraries and the Spencer Museum of Art, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, many of the prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon are being treated over the next two years.

Huntoon was born in Topeka, Kansas. After graduating from Washburn University in 1920, she studied at the Art Students League in New York City for six years under Joseph Pennell and Robert Henri, and was a good friend and colleague of William Stanley Hayter, founder of Atelier 17. She later became director of the Kansas Federal Art Project and made significant contributions to the early development of art therapy.

Artist Mary Huntoon draws with a stylus on a copper printing plate.
Artist Mary Huntoon draws with a stylus on a copper printing plate. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
Artist Mary Huntoon stands before an easel, at work on a painting.
Artist Mary Huntoon stands before an easel, at work on a painting. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, is an artist’s proof print (a print made prior to the final edition), an etching in black printing ink on cream, laid, machine-made paper. The primary condition issue involves two large brown stains along the top edge that interrupt the image area and cause distortions in the sheet. An overall washing treatment was proposed in order to reduce the appearance of the stains.

The Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators," prior to treatment.
The Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” prior to treatment. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators," in raking light, prior to treatment.
The Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators,” in raking light, prior to treatment. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

In preparation for the treatment, the printing inks were tested to ensure they would be stable during the wet treatment. The outer margins and back of the print were selectively surface-cleaned with a soft sponge, avoiding all printed areas, as well as the graphite pencil inscription. Surface-cleaning ensures that loose and embedded dirt and grime are not driven deeper into the paper support during the wet treatment.

A soft sponge is used to remove embedded surface dirt and grime from the Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators."
A soft sponge is used to remove embedded surface dirt and grime from the Mary Huntoon print, “Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators.” Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Brown paper tape attachments on the top edge of the front and back of the print were removed with a methylcellulose poultice. The attachments had been partially removed at some point, and the top layer of the paper was slightly skinned. The poultice delivers moisture in a controlled way, softening the adhesive, and allowing safe removal of the attachment.

A methylcellulose poultice is applied to deliver controlled moisture to soften adhesive and brown paper attachments on the Mary Huntoon print, "Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators."
At left, brown paper attachments had been partially detached at some point, skinning some of the paper fibers. At center, a methylcellulose poultice was applied to the attachment to deliver controlled moisture to the area. At right, the poultice softened the adhesive and paper. It was gently removed at an acute angle with tweezers and dried flat. Mary Huntoon Papers. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

The print is now ready to be washed. Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn how the stains were reduced.

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Treatment and Rebinding of MS E279 – Part 1

October 8th, 2019

In today’s post I will describe the preparation for and early stages of conservation treatment on MS E279, or 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 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.

Damaged cover of MS E279, Historia flagellantium..., prior to conservation treatment.
Damaged cover of MS E279, Historia flagellantium prior to conservation treatment. Click image to enlarge.

The upper third of this volume suffered significant water damage at some time in the past, and mold growth that probably resulted from the water exposure has caused weakness and losses in the paper throughout the upper portion of the volume. The boards are also extremely weak and soft. Because the binding is not contemporary to the text, the curator agreed to a treatment plan that includes disbinding the volume, mending and stabilizing the damaged areas, and placing the text in a new conservation paper case similar to this one.

Because Spencer holds both the manuscript and printed versions of this text, I pulled the later volume from the stacks in order to compare the two. While not strictly necessary to the conservation treatment of the manuscript, it is nonetheless just so interesting to see this text at two different stages in its creation – and one never knows when related material might reveal something about the item being treated. Just for fun, here are the title pages and first chapter headings from each version:

Side-by-side comparison of the title pages of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau's "Historia flagellantium..."
Side-by-side comparison of the title pages of both the 1691 manuscript and 1700 printed version of Jacques Boileau’s Historia flagellantium. Click images to enlarge.
Side-by-side comparison of the first chapter headings of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau's "Historia flagellantium..."
Side-by-side comparison of the first chapter headings of both the manuscript and printed version of Jacques Boileau’s Historia flagellantium. Click images to enlarge.

This treatment is in the early stages. I have documented its condition in both writing and photographs, gently cleaned mold spots with soft sponges and brushes (working in our special biosafety cabinet to protect both staff and collections from mold exposure), and begun the process of taking apart the binding. The next steps of mending, preparation for sewing, and binding will happen over the coming weeks, with updates here on the blog!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Ephemera and Binder’s Waste in Summerfield E397

April 10th, 2018

Last year, I wrote about my survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books, and all of the lovely hidden treasures within that collection. One item that I identified during the survey as a candidate for future treatment is Summerfield E397, De statu religionis et reipublicae, Carolo Quinto Caesare, commentarii, by Johannes Sleidanus, published in 1555.

What caught my attention about this volume is the fragment of parchment manuscript that was taped inside the lower board. Actually, there are two fragments – halves of a leaf that long ago was cut apart and used to form flanges that were sewn onto either side of the text block and then adhered between the boards and pastedowns. At some later time, the book was repaired and the manuscript flanges were removed. Whoever removed them chose to retain them, piecing them back together with glassine tape and affixing them inside the back of the book.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Manuscript fragments, previously used as binder’s waste,
taped into the back of Summerfield E397. Click image to enlarge.

In the front of the volume are affixed two letters dated in February 1896 that a one-time owner of the volume – one Robert A. Scott Macfie – received from a William Y. Fletcher in response to an inquiry he had sent about the book (Fletcher’s name appears in a 1908 list of members of the Bibliographical Society of London). The second of these letters mentions that Fletcher had shown the book (which Macfie had lent him to examine) to “Mr. Scott and Mr. Warner, the Keeper and Assistant Keeper of MSS in the [British] Museum, and they consider [the fragments] to have belonged to an English or Scottish MS (most probably the former) of the 15th century.” How fascinating and fortunate that these records of the book’s life have survived with it.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Left: Cover of Summerfield E397. Right: Fletcher’s letters to Macfie
taped onto front flyleaf. Click image to enlarge.

At the time that I surveyed this book, I consulted with the curator about how to approach the treatment and made a note to revisit it at a later date. I recently reviewed my queue of projects and this one presented itself. In my discussion with the curator, we had agreed to leave the letters as-is, but to remove the tape from the manuscript fragments, reunite them with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, and tip them back into the volume with the same. Their presence in the volume tells something of the book’s story, but we felt it would be beneficial to remove the brittle, discolored tape from the parchment.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Visible threads (top) and sewing holes (bottom) indicating
these fragments had been used as binder’s waste.
Click image to enlarge.

Luckily, if one has to remove tape, this type of tape is about as easy to remove as they come. The gummed adhesive layer on this tape responds very well and quickly to a light application of methylcellulose; after just a couple of minutes, the tape carrier and most of the adhesive lift away easily. I reduced the remaining adhesive residue by gently swabbing it with damp cotton, but I did not pursue this very far – overly aggressive cleaning would leave those areas of the parchment looking too starkly white. When the tape was all removed, I used a soft brush to dislodge some surface dirt that had accumulated in the creases.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Removing the tape hinge that had held the fragments in place.
In the red circle, note the stain left by one of the blue manuscript capitals
from when the fragments served as binding material. Click image to enlarge.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Detail of the seam where the two halves of this leaf were cut apart long ago.
Click image to enlarge.

Next, I used very dry paste and thin tissue to reattach the two halves to one another. I chose to do this in lapped sections rather than a continuous strip to allow the skins to expand and contract with subtle changes in the environment, and to distribute the stress of the repair evenly along both sides of the leaves, as well as to avoid placing adhesive over areas where ink was present. Finally, I reattached the fragments inside the lower board using a hinge of Japanese tissue and paste.

Summerfield E97, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

The finished manuscript fragments replaced into the volume.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

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