Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Throwback Thursday: North Gallery Edition

August 31st, 2017

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!

Spencer’s North Gallery has been the library’s iconic space since the building opened in 1968. Earlier this summer we finished a renovation of the space and installed a new permanent exhibit featuring a snapshot of Spencer’s collections.

Come see the changes in the North Gallery any time Spencer Research Library is open, or attend the grand reopening next Thursday, September 7th, 3:00-4:30pm. The opening reception is free and open to everyone, and we hope to see you there!

Photograph of the Spencer Research Library North Gallery, 1960s

The North Gallery at Spencer Research Library, 1960s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/82/i 1960s Prints:
Campus: Buildings: Spencer Research Library: Interior (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public 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

A Good Mannequin is Hard to Find

March 13th, 2017

Actually, there are many quality mannequins readily available through a variety of sources – but a good, affordable mannequin that is appropriately sized for a nineteenth-century male of small stature is, in fact, quite hard to find. We were in need of such a mannequin to display a Civil-War-era vest worn by John Fraser, who served as the second Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1868-1874. Later this year the vest will be part of Spencer Research Library’s new North Gallery exhibit, which will transform that iconic space into a showcase for Spencer’s rich collections.

Chancellor Fraser’s cream-colored wool vest will be featured alongside his sword and scabbard in the University Archives section of the exhibit. A professional mount maker will fabricate the supports for the sword and scabbard, but we in Conservation Services were charged with finding or making an exhibit support for the vest. Our search for a ready-made mannequin of the right shape, size, and price for our needs proved unsuccessful, so we decided to make our own. It’s one of those “other duties as assigned” that presented a fun challenge!

In preparation for building the mannequin, I viewed a webinar about mannequin-making for conservators, and found a handful of blog posts and articles by non-textile conservators like myself who’d built mannequins. It was great to see what others in similar situations had done; their work helped me to form an idea of how to approach this project. I decided to carve the basic mannequin shape out of archival foam, then add more detailed shaping with layers of cotton batting, and finally cover the form with stretchy stockinette fabric.

Prior to starting, I measured the original vest and sewed a simple dummy version of it to use for test fittings along the way. I also printed out some images of torso mannequins from the web to serve as a point of reference for the basic shape. I found a T-shaped jewelry stand, originally meant for retail display, on Amazon to serve as the armature for the mannequin. It has a sturdy weighted base and adjustable height, and the price was right. I began building the mannequin by using hot-melt glue to affix three planks of archival polyethylene foam to the armature and sketching out a basic torso shape on the foam, then set to work carving with a foam knife.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

The mannequin before and after the first round of carving. Click image to enlarge.

At this point the mannequin needed more bulk in the chest, so I glued on more foam pieces and shaped them with the knife, then put the dummy vest on the form to see how the fit was progressing. You can see in the image below (right) that the vest doesn’t look quite right on the form at this stage.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: Adding more foam; the mannequin with bulkier chest; testing the fit with the dummy vest.

After yet another round of adding foam and shaping it down with the knife, this time bulking up the chest, abdomen, and upper back, the form began to take on a more natural shape and the dummy vest fit much better.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: More foam added to the mannequin; the front and back of the increasingly shapely torso; a better fit.

As the mannequin’s surfaces became more curved, attaching stiff foam planks became more difficult, so in order to do the last bits of shaping I applied built-up layers of cotton batting, again using hot-melt glue.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Shaping the back and shoulders with batting.

Now the mannequin was almost complete, but I wanted to be sure that the original vest, and not just its stand-in, would fit just right, so I brought the form and some supplies over to the University Archives, where the vest resides, to do the final fitting. I also brought along my colleague, collections conservator Roberta Woodrick, who has a background in textiles, to lend her eye and advice to this stage. We placed the vest on the form and identified a couple of places that needed a little more trimming with the foam knife. With the last adjustments made, it was time to cover the mannequin in stretchy stockinette fabric.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left: Testing the fit of the original garment on the mannequin. Right: Covering the form with black stockinette fabric.

After trimming and pinning the stockinette at the neck and base of the mannequin, it was finally ready! I placed the vest on one more time to be really sure of a good fit.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

John Fraser’s vest on its new form for display in Spencer Library’s North Gallery.

The vest fits the form, but there is one feature of the mannequin that remains unfinished. The shiny base of the mannequin stand might be too shiny – it may be too reflective under the exhibit lighting – but we won’t know that until the gallery renovation is completed and we place the form in its new home. If it’s too reflective, we plan to cover it with remnants of the same fabric that will be used to line the display “niche” in which the vest will be exhibited. However, if the consensus opinion is that the shininess is acceptable, we’ll simply polish away the fingerprints and the mannequin will be ready to go!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services