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

The Home Stretch: Wrapping up treatment of Summerfield D544

October 24th, 2016

Earlier this year, I wrote here about the treatment of Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year], 1683, by Pawel Kaczyński. In those posts, I discussed the beginning and middle stages of the treatment, and at long last it is time to report on the completion of this lengthy project.

Shortly after the last post was published, I finished sewing the volume. The next steps were to round and back the book (gently hammering the book in a press to create its rounded spine and raise the shoulders along the spine), add linings to the spine, and sew endbands at the head and tail. Finally, I placed the book into a case of stiff handmade paper.

Summerfield D544 during treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Clockwise from upper left: Completed sewing; rounding and backing the volume; a completed endband; the volume in its paper case, under weight. Click image to enlarge.

Just to rewind a little, here’s what the book looked like a year ago when it was brought to the lab:

Summerfield D544 before treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 before treatment. This is a view of the back of the volume, which had no binding, showing the fragment of manuscript pasted to the cords. The fragment is mostly concealed by layers of delaminated board.

In addition to treating the volume itself, I also cleaned, mended, and housed the manuscript fragment, written in what is thought to be Old Church Slavic, that had been used as binder’s waste on the back of the book. I did minimal stabilizing mends to this piece; the paper is fairly strong, but the media on this fragment is highly water-soluble, so I was careful to place mends very selectively so as not to disturb the fragile media. I mounted the fragment in a double-window mat, which in turn sits inside a simple mat board folio. In this folio I also included before-treatment images of the volume for researchers’ and curators’ reference, and for use in teaching.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Manuscript fragment after treatment.

The new binding for this volume is a conservation paper case. It is not intended to be a historical reproduction – for we have no way of knowing how the book was originally bound – but rather an aesthetically sympathetic binding that will integrate well with its mates in the Summerfield collection, and, most importantly, can be safely handled.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Summerfield D544 after treatment, in a handmade paper case.

The finished volume and the manuscript fragment are housed together in a cloth-covered drop-spine box. It is one of the great rewards of this job to be able to return to the stacks an item that had once been inaccessible, knowing that it can now be used and enjoyed by visitors to Spencer.

Summerfield D544 after treatment. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Item in box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

In the Thick of It: Part 2 in a series on the treatment of Summerfield D544

August 15th, 2016

Back in February, I wrote about undertaking the treatment of the 1683 volume Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year] by Pawel Kaczyński (call number: Summerfield D544). At the time of that writing, I’d gotten as far as disbinding, cleaning, and mending the folios before it was necessary to put the treatment aside for a while to focus on other things. This summer I’ve brought the book out again to tackle the next phase of its treatment, preparation for rebinding.

I had already mended most of the folios along the inner spine folds, but they still needed reinforcement, or guarding, along the outer spine folds in order to be strong enough for sewing. Because there are exactly 100 single-folio sections in this volume, I chose a tissue for the guards that was as thin as possible to minimize added bulk while also providing the needed strength to the folds.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Guarding of folios in progress. Note the smooth spine folds on the guarded folios, left, and the more ragged edges of the unguarded folios on the right. Click image to enlarge.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

The text block with guarding completed.

The amount of damage to this volume was so significant that for the sake of efficiency it was necessary to keep the mending fairly minimal, adding stabilizing mends with very thin tissue where it was most needed, rather than filling in every loss with color-matched tissue. However, there was a very large loss to the lower portion of the title page, so I chose to fill in that area; the page was physically stable, but a fill greatly improves it aesthetically. I selected a Japanese paper of about the same weight as the text paper and toned it with diluted watercolors to achieve a color that is sympathetic to the color of the text paper.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Title page of Summerfield D544 with toned Japanese paper compensation along lower edge.

With the mending and guarding completed, the next step is sewing. The text block was originally sewn two-on, which means that two gatherings are sewn on at once with a single pass of thread, rather than sewing the gatherings one at a time. This method of sewing reduces the swell of the spine that occurs when thread is introduced; with 100 gatherings in this text block, it makes sense that the original binder chose to sew it this way, and I decided to re-sew it in the same manner. To further reduce bulking (in addition to sewing two-on), I chose a thinner thread than I’d normally use. The last step before sewing was to select endpapers for the volume; I opted for Nideggen, a paper whose tan color and subtle texture go very well with that particular warm, grimy tone of old paper. Once the endpapers were cut, I lined up the text block on the sewing frame to mark the positions of the cords, strung the cords onto the frame, and at long last, started sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Stringing up the cords on the sewing frame.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Beginning to sew – three sections down and only 97 to go!

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

About one-quarter of the way through sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Detail of double cords and kettle stitch at tail end of text block.

Sewing multiple gatherings at a time can be a little awkward at the outset, but now that I’ve found a rhythm to it, the sewing is progressing at a nice pace. Soon all that will be left to do will be to put the book into a new paper case. I look forward to presenting the finished volume in one last installment of this series later this fall!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Conserving Scrapbooks: A Unique Conservation Challenge

August 1st, 2016

I have spent this summer as the second Ringle Summer Intern in the Stannard Conservation Lab at the University of Kansas. My internship focused on a collection of 41 scrapbooks held by the University Archives. The project involved developing a survey tool, surveying the collection, identifying items for treatment, treating some items, and rehousing/housing modification all of the scrapbooks. Most of the books dated from the early 1900’s. They showcase student life leading up to and in the early stages of World War One. This insight into student life at a very interesting and volatile time, especially as we come to the 100 year anniversary of the United States entering the war, is why the Archives uses these materials as teaching tools with undergraduate students. The scrapbooks also include very interesting objects, like firecrackers with the line written next to them, “We shot up the house.” I was unable to discover which house they were talking about but I have no doubt they would have been in serious trouble for doing that today! From a conservation perspective these firecrackers required some consolidation and I discovered one of the fuses is still in place!

 Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Firecrackers in a scrapbook compiled by Emery McIntire, after treatment. Call number 71/99 McIntire. Click image to enlarge.

 

For more information about the project please see the story published in the Lawrence Journal-World in July: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2016/jul/04/century-old-ku-student-scrapbooks-pose-preservatio/

And for some video footage of the treatments please see the coverage from 41 Action News: http://www.kshb.com/news/region-kansas/ku-working-to-preserve-former-students-scrapbooks

I came into the project most excited about the problem-solving aspects of working with scrapbooks and I was not disappointed. Many conservators greatly enjoy the problem-solving we get to do every day to determine the correct treatment for objects. For conservation purposes scrapbooks are exceedingly complex and complicated objects. Usually they are made of cheap materials and contain a variety of attachment methods. This means that once they make it to a conservator’s bench they are normally quite fragile. The binding may be failing, the support paper is usually brittle, and the various types of attachment—glue, tape, staples, pins—may have partially or completely failed. Given all of this, determining the most appropriate treatment is not always an easy task.

For the scrapbooks I treated I came across two main problems: What is the most efficient way to mend the innumerable tears to the support pages? What is the best way to conserve objects found in the scrapbooks? Some of these objects include firecrackers, a Red Cross bandage, and a 100 year old piece of hardtack.

 71/99 Harkrader, Florence scrapbook. University Archives, Spencer Research Library. 71/99 Harkrader, Florence scrapbook. University Archives, Spencer Research Library.

Red Cross bandage in a scrapbook compiled by Florence Harkrader, before and after treatment. Call number 71/99 Harkrader. Click images to enlarge.

 

I found that the most efficient way to repair all the tears—averaging around 10 tears per page—was to use a remoistenable repair paper. I made this using a 10gsm tengujo Japanese paper and a 50/50 mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Once this was dry I was able to score it into many different sized strips to fit the various sized tears I was repairing.

Of the two objects mentioned the bandage was the easier to conserve. It is pinned to the support page and can swivel a bit on the pin allowing it to extend beyond the edge of the book. This means that there are some creases and frayed areas that have developed over time. To conserve it I repositioned it to sit inside the edges of the book and flattened out the creases.

The hardtack required creative problem-solving. It had a number of problems. It was coming unstuck from the support paper, had a number of cracks, and has writing on it. The ink means that any organic solvent-based consolidant could not be used. Additionally, it was desirable to keep the hardtack on the page, rather than removing it and storing it separately. In the end it was decided to remove the page from the scrapbook (the book was already disbound and is not being rebound) and to store it in its own enclosure within the same box as the scrapbook. The hardtack was re-secured to the page using a very dry wheat starch paste. The page was put in a float mount and support pieces were made with cutouts for the hardtack on one side and a dance book on the other. All of this was then sandwiched between pieces of corrugated board with ties attached. This created a housing that will both protect the page and aid in flipping the page from one side to the other.

Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Page from Emery McIntire’s scrapbook, featuring a piece of hardtack, before and after treatment. Call number 71/99 McIntire. Click images to enlarge.

 

Piece of hardtack from 71/99 McIntire scrapbook. University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Detail of the hardtack. Call number 71/99 McIntire. Click image to enlarge.

This project allowed me to hone my skills in many areas of conservation. My project will allow for these scrapbooks to be accessed and stored more safely going forward. I highly recommend stopping by Spencer Research Library, calling one or two to the reading room, and losing yourself in KU’s past!

Noah Smutz
2016 Ringle Conservation Intern

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