Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Repairing Zapalote: a Conservation Treatment for a Lithograph by Mary Huntoon

April 14th, 2021

by Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Zapalote, also known as The Goose Woman is one of nine known lithographs by Kansas artist Mary Huntoon. Based on Huntoon’s notations, we know that this single edition print was made in 1923 while she attended the Art Students League in New York, NY. Zapalote is a mysterious image depicting the silhouette of a seated woman contrasted by a bright full moon surrounded by dark clouds. Huntoon used broad, arching lines to hint at the woman’s surroundings, which are generally abstract, and allude to a rippling pool at her feet. 

This work is part of a large collection of prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Along with the Huntoon collection at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, this collective holding at KU is regionally significant, connecting KU to other regional and national collections (e.g., Alice C. Sabatini Gallery in Topeka, Kansas; Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in normal light.
Image 1: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in normal light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in raking light.
Image 2: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen before treatment in raking light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

I prioritized this print for conservation treatment during a condition survey of Huntoon’s collection of works because the print had sustained significant pest damage (see images 1-2). The entire upper right corner was lost as well as a few other smaller areas across the top edge. Tiny bite marks were visible along the edges and a long strip of the remaining top edge of the sheet was at risk of tearing off during handling.  

Conservators use several techniques for filling paper that is lost. The most common approach is to attach a new piece of paper with a similar thickness, color, and texture that is cut to fit inside the loss like a puzzle piece. The downside to this approach is that the search (and creation) of such a fill is often time-intensive. Even when the edge of the fill is beveled or butt-joined, a small seam is usually visible. The rough and jagged edges created by the hungry pest along this particular loss further complicated the shaping and stabilization process.

I had an opportunity, however, to use a simpler approach that would help stabilize the jagged edges and save time searching for the perfect fill paper: pulp fills. Pulp fills are a great method for filling paper because unlike the method described above, there is a much smoother transition between the original sheet and the fill. In this technique, wet paper pulp is dropped into the area of loss as a slurry, and can be built up to the same thickness as the print. This type of filling method can only be done if the entire print can be washed in advance because the print needs to be wet during this process. Fortunately, my testing confirmed that this print would be safe to wash.  

Next, I consulted my small collection of pre-cast paper pulp, all from high quality papers that had been previously washed. I selected two different colored paper pulps to mix together to make the best possible color match (see image 3). Then the pulp was reconstituted into a slurry with water and mixed thoroughly (see image 4).

Finding a selection of paper pulp that best matched the color of the print.
Image 3: Finding a selection of paper pulp that best matched the color of the print. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The paper pulp was turned back into a slurry by adding water.
Image 4: The paper pulp was turned back into a slurry by adding water. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

After the pulp was ready, I used a pipette to drop small amounts into the area of loss. This was completed on a light table so I could match the thickness of the pulp with the thickness of the paper. I used a vegetable scrubber and curved tweezers to tamp down and shape the pulp into a smooth mat. A sheet of cotton blotter and clear polyester sheeting was also used to control the amount of water in the pulp slurry and anchor and cast the pulp. In about thirty minutes, I had already filled the entire upper right loss (see images 5a-c).

Curved tweezers helped to manipulate the pulp to match the thickness of the print.
Image 5a: Curved tweezers helped to manipulate the pulp to match the thickness of the print. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The progression of filling the loss with wet paper pulp.
Image 5b: The progression of filling the loss with wet paper pulp. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
Cotton blotter was used to absorb excess water and help anchor and cast the pulp.
Image 5c: Cotton blotter was used to absorb excess water and help anchor and cast the pulp. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

Once all the fills were completed, I dried the print between cotton blotters under moderate weight. After the print was fully dry, I assessed the pulp fill. Since the loss was in an area that would be used to attach it for display and/or handling, I decided to reinforce it with a very thin piece of Japanese paper, called tengucho. This would add extra strength to the area, but not change its visual effect. Finally, the edges of the pulp fill were toned slightly with graphite pencil and colored pencils to match the color of the rest of the sheet. Now that the treatment is finished, the pulp fills help to complete the print and bring the viewer’s eye back to the image area and away from the damage. 

The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in normal light.
Image 6: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in normal light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.
The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in raking light.
Image 7: The Mary Huntoon lithograph Zapalote, seen after treatment in raking light. Mary Huntoon Papers, RH MS 209:1:60. Click image to enlarge.

Zapalote will be on view this fall 2021 at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library for the exhibit, Mary Huntoon: Artist and Art Therapist, and will feature several more examples of conservation treatments in this collection. We look forward to seeing you there!

“Dear Mr. Scott”

April 13th, 2021

This week we’re honoring the one-hundredth birthday of Charles Sheldon Scott, a native of Topeka, Kansas, and a prominent lawyer who focused on civil rights. The most famous case he argued was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Scott, then only thirty-three years old, was one of the attorneys arguing for the plaintiffs. In this landmark case, argued before the United States Supreme Court, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The case became a foundation of the civil rights movement and set the precedent that the doctrine of “separate-but-equal” in education, and other such services, was discriminatory and not equal at all.

A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott shows two girls jumping rope.
A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

In May 1984, thirty years after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Charles Scott visited McCarter Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. He spoke to the second- and third-grade classes about the case. These letters illustrate the importance of passing on the significance of that decision to future generations. What follows are a few of the thank you letters he received from the students. Private information has been redacted.

Charles S. Scott in an undated photograph
Charles S. Scott in an undated photograph. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1145, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

Charles Scott was born in Topeka, Kansas, on April 15, 1921. His father was attorney Elisha Scott, who argued several prominent civil rights cases throughout his career. Charles attended Topeka public schools and graduated from Topeka High School. During World War II, he served with the 2nd Cavalry Division and the Red Ball Express Transportation Unit of the United States Army. After his war service, he returned to Kansas and earned his Bachelor of Law degree in 1948, and then later his Juris Doctorate in 1970, both from Washburn University in Topeka. Charles joined his brother, John, in their father’s law firm Scott, Scott, Scott, and Jackson. During his law career, Charles Scott worked for the integration of schools in Johnson County, Kansas, and equal access to theaters, restaurants, and pools in Topeka. Throughout his law career Scott volunteered his legal services to the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, and in this work he traveled to Mississippi to assist the civil rights workers. He provided legal services to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He served as a staff attorney and hearing examiner for the Kansas Civil Rights Commission. In addition to his law practice, Charles was a part-time instructor for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and served as chair of the Topeka Branch’s Legal Redress Committee. Charles was married to Louise Crawford, and together they had two children. Charles died on March 3, 1989.

A letter from Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from student Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from students Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A drawing on the back of a letter from Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A drawing on the back of a letter from student Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

A Uniquely Lawrence Book Store

March 19th, 2021
Image of the Spinsters store sign
The Spinsters store sign. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 10, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc., originally named Spinsters Books, was founded in 1979 in Lawrence, Kansas. The store and community center was organized by a group of Lesbians “to meet the social, educational, and informational needs of the Lesbian and women’s community.” When the store opened in March 1980, it consisted of one bookshelf in a private residence before later moving to a storefront.

Image of a Spinsters store flyer
A Spinsters store flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

Besides selling printed materials, music, and jewelry and crafts on consignment, Spinsters included a free lending library, speaker’s bureau, lesbian archives, and community and resource center and hosted support groups.  

Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Photograph of the interior of Spinsters
Views of the interior of Spinsters. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click images to enlarge.
Photograph of a group meeting at Spinsters
A group meeting at Spinsters. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.

The collective also worked closely with other community and KU campus groups such as Women’s Coalition and Women’s Transitional Care Services. Not only was Spinsters unique due to the nature of the store and the services it provided, but it was run largely by the organizers, a group of dedicated volunteers, and part-time employees. 

Photograph of the Spinsters Collective
The Spinsters Collective. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 11, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.
Image of an event flyer
An event flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

The Spinsters Collective also published a newsletter called the Monthly Cycle. The purpose of the newsletter, as stated in the first issue, was “for sharing skills, services, thoughts, and ideas.” 

Image of a Monthly Cycle newsletter flyer
A Monthly Cycle newsletter flyer. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 2, Folder 2. Click image to enlarge.

Any submission by or for Lesbians was accepted. The goal was to foster communication within the Lesbian community, especially in more isolated areas of Kansas and the region.

Image of a Spinsters sale notice, 1988
A Spinsters sale notice, 1988. Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. Records. Call Number: RH MS 704, Box 14, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

In August 1988, Judy Brown, Elsie Hughes, Dana Parhm, and Paula Schumacher, members of the Spinsters Collective, made the difficult decision to sell or close Spinsters Books and Webbery. A store sale notice was published on August 18, 1988. The asking price of $7000 did not include the contents of the library, archives, and furniture, nor did it include the name. In November 1988, the store’s office supplies, fixtures, and décor were sold at auction.

The Spinsters Collective donated the archives and business records to Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the spring of 1990. Researchers interested in the Women’s and Gay Rights Movements should look at the materials in the Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. collection. It contains a verity of information on various women’s issues such as the equal rights, sexual discrimination, abortion and birth control, and domestic violence. There are also numerous Lesbian periodicals and newsletters, as well as other records regarding the LGBTQ+ movement. The newsletters and periodicals are from various local, regional, and national organizations.

Letha Johnson
Kansas Collection Curator

Throwback Thursday: Dr. C. Kermit Phelps Edition

February 25th, 2021

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Sometimes information about KU’s past comes from Spencer collections beyond University Archives. This week’s photo comes from our Kansas Collection.

This week’s post highlights the career of former KU student and faculty member C. Kermit Phelps (1908-2002). He earned his bachelor’s degree (1934), master’s degree (1949, Psychology), and doctorate (1952, Psychology) at the University of Kansas. In earning this last degree, Dr. Phelps became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the university. Phelps later returned to KU as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry; he is considered the school’s first Black faculty member. Dr. Phelps taught in KU’s Department of Psychology from 1955 to 1970.

Photograph of Dr. C. Kermit Phelps administering the Phelps-Scheerer organic battery, 1967
Dr. C. Kermit Phelps administering the Phelps-Scheerer organic battery, a test he originated to determine the extent of a patient’s brain damage, 1967. Dr. C. Kermit Phelps Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P687, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.

You can learn more about Dr. Phelps’s life, work, and achievements at KU and beyond by exploring his collection of papers within Spencer’s Kansas Collection; reading his master’s thesis and Ph.D. dissertation; and listening to an oral history interview with Dr. Phelps conducted by KU’s Endacott Society.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

The Black Family: Historical Representations in the Kansas Region

February 23rd, 2021

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) founded the annual February celebration of Black History in 1926 and identified “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” as the theme for 2021.

From Spencer’s African American Experience Collections, I selected the following visual items to highlight the Black Family in the Kansas Region as representations of Black Love, Pride and Strength during the era of Jim Crow.

Photograph of the John Wilson family in front of a house, 1907
John Wilson family of La Cygne, Linn County, Kansas, 1907. O’Dell-Wilson Family Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 63, Box 1, Folder 6. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Robert Elliott family homestead, circa 1890s
A sod house on the Robert Elliott family homestead near Montezuma in Gray County, Kansas, circa 1890s. Walker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 587, Box 1, Folder 44. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of Wedding party of Squire and Edna (Walker) Buster, circa 1920s
Wedding party of Squire and Edna (Walker) Buster at Emma Walker’s homestead in Stevens County, Kansas, circa 1920s. Walker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 587, Box 1, Folder 36. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the family of Clay and Mettie O'Dell in Topeka, Kansas, circa 1910
The family of Clay and Mettie O’Dell in Topeka, Kansas, circa 1910. O’Dell-Wilson Family Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 63, Box 1, Folder 7. Click image to enlarge.
Image of the marriage certificate of Lorenzo Drake and Rosa A. Smith, Kansas City, Kansas, 1918
Marriage certificate of Lorenzo Drake and Rosa A. Smith, Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Lorenzo Drake Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS Q72, Folder 1, Item 1. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of three generations of the John David Barker family in Topeka, Kansas, 1936
Three generations of the John David Barker family in Topeka, Kansas, 1936. John David Barker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 775, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.
Image of two poems by John D. Barker in Selected Poems compiled by the Barker family, 1960
Two poems by John D. Barker in Selected Poems compiled by the Barker family, 1960. Call Number: RH C9072. Click image to enlarge.
Members of the Falls, Moore, Frye, Williams, and Brown families in Lawrence, Kansas, circa 1940s. Alberta Pitcher Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 736, Box 1, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection