Good intentions

Things have been relatively calm in our corner of the blogosphere for several months, so I thought I’d add a post about a treatment I’ve been working on in the Paper Lab. We received five leaves of correspondence from the US History manuscript collection at Lilly Library. The small collection of letters are written in German by Philip Boehm, a Union soldier, to his sister during the Civil War.  All have been laminated in a manner that was new to me: it appears a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided person placed each leaf in a plastic3-ring binder pocket protector and then used a domestic iron to melt and seal it all together. The film is perhaps polypropylene or polyvinyl chloride (I didn’t do the testing to confirm).

Most laminations involve a commercial product: either a heat-set or pressure-sensitive adhesive backed film is applied to both sides of a document. Over time, the films can oxidize, turn yellow, and possibly go brittle. The enclosed paper document becomes exposed to this oxidation and hydrolysis and can also become impregnated with the melted plastic or adhesive from the film. Removal generally follows methods associated with pressure sensitive tape removal- the use of solvents to swell or dissolve the film and/or the adhesive deposit. Heat can also be applied in a variety of ways to effect removal.

In this case, a combination of the two approaches is proving effective. Rather than applying heat from above, with a stream of hot air or getting in-between the materials with a heated spatula, I found that heat from below was the most effective.

Here’s the set-up, and another shot of it being used:

A conventional tacking iron that every conservation lab possesses is set to the lowest heat setting and stabilized in a face up position. Using the surface as a mini hotplate, the document is stabilized on the iron with a Casselli spatula in my left hand while I slowly pull the softened film away with the other. In this manner, strips are removed from recto and verso sides. The process takes around 45 minutes.

After film removal, the paper still appears translucent and darkened due to plastic that saturated the fibers. Testing of solvents reveals that an immersion in acetone for about 15 minutes reduces this effect by swelling remaining laminate substances and leaves the paper in a close to original state.  Mending tears with tissue and wheat starch paste follows. Humidification and pressing completed the work.

Guest in the Lab

Although she has been working alongside us since late summer, I’m only now introducing Janelle Beasley to our blog audience. Janelle is the Works on Paper Preparator at the Eskenazi Museum of Art here at Indiana University.

The art museum is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in the fall of 2019. Employees were relocated to offices across campus and as the construction began, Janelle was welcomed with a cozy corner in our lab here in IU Libraries Preservation where she will reside for the near future. The lack of public exhibition demands is allowing her to perform some comprehensive rehinging and matting work on aspects of the Old Master print collections as well as modern and contemporary photographic works. Improved conservation facilities are on the list of changes at the museum- giving Janelle first-hand experience with lab space development too.

Janelle has been with the campus museum for several years now and brings to her position a wealth of experience from the commercial framing world. She’s adding to this by acquiring some new skills in paper conservation and preservation through workshop attendance and mini-lessons from us. It’s a win-win situation for us here in the lab too! We get extra company, and we can share some of our tips and techniques while looking over Janelle’s shoulder at the beautiful wood engravings and etchings she busies herself with.

A microspatula by any other name…

…would be just as useful. Following a recent orientation I gave for student employees within IU University Archives, it occurred to me that a microspatula can be just about as useful to archivists as it is to conservators. These small, hand-held pieces of metal with both rounded and tapered ends never fail in helping us with our jobs. I decided that an informal poster might be just the thing to spread the word to students and share with fellow conservators, so Paper Conservation Technician Hannah Helton and I set to work making one. The list certainly isn’t exhaustive (other uses range from spreading poultices and setting down flaking paint, to cleaning fingernails and using as a hair stick!) but you may learn a new tip nevertheless.

A poster showing the uses of the microspatula when processing archival materials or conducting conservation treatments.

How do you use your microspat?

An 11 x 17″ .pdf copy of our poster is available here: Link to poster

Alternately, for those who may be using text readers, here are the tips:

For processing of archival materials, the spatula can be used to

  • remove staples
  • leaf through fragile papers
  • score and crease paper
  • slit paper
  • remove loose cellophane tape
  • as an impromptu placeholder in stacks of paper

For conservation of paper-based materials, the spatula can be used for

  • applying paste and glue in hard to access places
  • picking at and removing accretions
  • splitting and lifting boards or paper
  • stirring
  • incorporating glue and solids to make filler material
  • removing caked glue and paste from brushes

Ultrasonic Misting- Part Two

In the previous post, I mentioned some of the factors involved in choosing a consolidant for the job at hand. With this particular treatment I needed an adhesive that would obviously re-adhere flaking media, but I also needed one that would not dry with gloss on the relatively matte water-based paint Odets used, nor would I want one that would saturate the paint, causing it to appear darker where applied. Literature suggested both gelatin and isinglass would meet my requirements; I made some mock-ups to test the results and favored the isinglass.

Dried isinglass

So what is isinglass? It is obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish- in this case sturgeon- and is largely made up of collagen.

Isinglass soaked in water for 24 hours

To prepare, one weighs out the amount needed and soaks it in water for 24 hours. The swollen mass is them mashed until pulpy and more water added to bring the solution to the percentage needed. It is finally heated to 55c for a short time. For an isinglass solution to be effectively vaporized in the ultrasonic mister, the concentration has to be quite low- in the 1%w/v range. This necessitates two or three applications for the consolidation to be successful.

Here are photos of the complete set up in operation-

Use of the ultrasonic mister for consolidation

 

 

Overall, the design developed back in the 1990’s functioned quite well. The parts were easy to procure through our campus chemistry storeroom (ringstand, three-prong clamp, LDPE bottle, tubing), Lowe’s (barbed connector to attach tubing to air compressor on suction table), and McMaster-Carr (fittings for the nozzle, and black rubber grommets to connect tubing to bottle*). This image shows a close-up of the nozzle held in my right hand. It features two reducing barbed fittings connected with 1/4″ tubing resulting in a 1/8″ stream of vapor.

misting nozzle

From time to time, beads of condensed consolidant will form at the tip of the nozzle. In the above photo you can see a tube of blotter inserted into left side of the piece. Additionally, in my left hand I held a piece of blotting paper to absorb and drips that formed before they had a chance to fall onto the painting beneath. The biggest problem was with the airflow coming from the suction table compressor. The design has a 3-way T-connector placed along the supply tube before it enters the bottle. Its purpose is to bleed some of the air pressure off the hose so that it isn’t so great when leaving the nozzle as to blow away media flakes. I found the air pressure was still somewhat strong and required monitoring the angle and proximity to the artwork when in use. A much better, though more expensive, solution would be to attach some type of flow regulator to the air compressor valve on the suction table. Other than that, one other word of caution- it is important to flush the system after each use with water and air or the consolidant will build up in the tubing and nozzle. In the case of gelatin or isinglass (being organic) it could result in mold developing over time.

*other makers of this system have connected the tubes to the bottle with the use of hot-melt adhesives and epoxy.  I found that the use of a grommet, with an inner diameter of the same size as the tubing or slightly smaller, gives a more effective and polished solution.

Ultrasonic Misting- Part One

I’ve been busy the past several months in the Paper Lab getting together the parts, purchase requests and wherewithal to construct an ultrasonic mister in order to care for a group of paintings needing some attention.

Last year, Lilly Library received a generous gift of over 450 paintings by the playwright, screenwriter and producer Clifford Odets http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/blog/new-donation-the-artwork-of-clifford-odets/

Soon after the library received this gift, the Paper Lab hinged and matted nearly all of the paintings for storage and safer handling and access. During this process we noticed that a number of the artworks were suffering from condition issues related to the paint media that Odets chose. Much of the work relies on a layering method of drawing and painting over wax crayon. Odets would scratch through the pastel and gouache paints he favored to reveal the crayon beneath (a.k.a. sgraffito).

Here is a photograph of one such painting- on the back of a postcard- in raking light.

You can see how the teal blue paint has been scratched away to reveal orange, pink and purple wax crayon beneath. However, though the technique allowed Odets to create some wonderful images, it also created what we conservators refer to as inherent vice. There is little adhesion between the media layers and as the upper water-based paint layers dried, they began to shrink in place causing minute cracks and more seriously, flaking and loss. This close-up shows what I mean (poor little flaky fish!)

 

In these circumstances, conservators perform a process called consolidationTypically, the consolidant is a type of adhesive carefully chosen for a number of factors including, but not limited to, compatibility with the object physically, visually and chemically, ease of preparation, ease of application, quality of bond strength and ageing characteristics. Normally, the process would be carried out under a low-power microscope using a small brush and delicately applying the consolidant to the cracks and underneath the lifting paint, fastening it back down. With these paintings the scale of damage prohibits such an approach- the fish above is 2cm long, which makes each of the tiny flakes far smaller than a millimeter in dimension. My fine motor skills are excellent, but not that excellent!

Another method is called for: that of Ultrasonic Misting. Developed by the Canadian Conservation Institute in 1990, the ultrasonic mister allows greater control of the whole process of consolidation of powdery paint and pigments. Unfortunately one can’t readily buy such systems- at least not at affordable rates for an aerosol generator- so I set out to construct one myself. There are a number of published articles explaining how to make one as well as a number of institutions who have blogged about it in the past, such as this account from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program. Within a month or so I had purchased and cannibalized the necessary parts and had it up and running:

What the device consists of is a domestic ultrasonic humidifier, with the upper water reservoir removed. We use this very humidifier routinely in the lab for the relaxation of library materials, so it was good to have on hand! Resting in about one inch of water over the oscillator within the humidifier is a LDPE plastic bottle containing the consolidant adhesive. Ultrasonic frequencies generated in the base of the humidifier travel through the bottle and cause cavitation to occur, generating a fine mist of adhesive to rise from the liquid. A pump (the large white cube in the background to the left) was borrowed from our vacuum suction table to drive air into the bottle (through the clear tube entering the back of the bottle), and then the adhesive-laden water vapor finds its way out the top, through another length of tube to be emitted through a small applicator nozzle. Also sitting in front of the device is the consolidant of choice. Can you guess what it is? There is a clue in the painting I chose to include earlier…

Next week, I’ll cover the pros and cons of the design and talk about the success of the treatments.

Teaching

Teaching humidification and pressing of photographs to Archaeology students and staff
Teaching humidification and pressing of photographs to archaeology students and staff

As a Paper Conservator, most of my time at work is spent on performing conservation treatments on the vast and varied collections within Indiana University Libraries. When not actively treating items, I coordinate with collection managers, curators, librarians and archivists to generate incoming work and establish priorities for the future. In the lab we also have responsibilities towards supervision of staff, disaster recovery across campus, establishing access protocols, environmental monitoring, and other minor roles that crop up here and there.

However, one task that brings me a great deal of satisfaction, though not strictly a job responsibility, is teaching. Each academic term I guest-lecture for a number of courses within our Department of Information and Library Science and the Department of Art History. These sessions provide me with a welcome break from the Lab and hopefully give the students a new perspective on topics being covered in classrooms. The greatest pleasure I get from being employed within a university is the exchange of knowledge across disciplines- and the fact that I’m able to add to that is a reward. To be a Conservator often means having knowledge in a number of associated fields beyond our strict job skills; knowledge that can supplement teaching in a way that may be difficult for an instructor to cover by themselves. Some classes are more theoretical: I teach library students preservation theory, the role of the conservator in special collection libraries and treatments conservators perform on library collections. Some provide supplemental knowledge to future catalogers: print and photograph identification, paper and parchment terminology. Others are more hands-on: materials and techniques classes or instruction in minor repair of paper-based collections. On top of this, we conservators get requests for a number of adult-education/public library sorts of lectures on preserving home collections, scrapbooking, etc. to which we’re always happy to consent.

Preaching to the choir is one thing, but I think a greater reward comes from sharing our enthusiasm with others. Establishing a positive image of the conservation profession early in a student’s career training goes a long way towards developing effective preservation efforts into the future.

Lecturing to Art History students about writing supports used historically around the world
Lecturing to art history and studio art students about writing supports used historically around the world
Making red earth pastels
Making red earth pastels
Preparing quill pens
Preparing quill pens

 

Writings of Brilliance

We recently had two documents in the lab exhibiting a noteworthy effect. They were contracts for a violinist’s performance in Lyon dating from the time of the French Revolution, from a Lilly Library collection. Interesting enough, but what really caught my eye was how the ink in selected areas sparkled when turned in the light. Low-power microscopy suggests some type of micaceous material. For me, the question is, was this used as a drying pounce with the bonus of adding some ‘bling’ to one’s signature? Or was the effect alone the chief reason for use? In working with manuscripts for many years, the two other times I’ve seen this were also in French Revolution-era documents. Incidentally, this effect should not be confused with the well-documented and studied crystalline growth one can sometimes see on iron gall ink (whitish or yellowish crystals).

I tried to capture the effect as best as I could by taking multiple exposures with the angle of incident light varying, and then stitching them all together in Photoshop for a rough .gif animation. The effect is restricted to the area associated with the word ‘Bowes’ and the passage of text at the bottom of the view ending with the name “Carpentier”.

gif animation of sparkling ink

There’s a date visible too- 14th of Fructidor, year 13. This references the French Republican Calendar which is itself a fascinating topic. I found a calendar converter online and it looks like this is August 31, 1806, for us Gregorian-minded folks.

p.s. if you want to see a higher resolution animation leave a comment with your email and I’ll send you a file.

Digital Brown Bag talk

I’ll be speaking next week in the IU Libraries Scholar’s Commons about the 3-D enclosure developed last summer. There will be a simulcast on Adobe Connect as well as a feed on Twitter if you can’t attend in person.

A Collaboration of 3-D Modeling and Automated Box Manufacture for Library Special Collections Enclosures

March 9th 2016 @ 12:00pm
Hazelbaker Lecture Hall (E159)

Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator
E. Lingle Craig Preservation Laboratory

The manufacture of protective enclosures is part of routine work in many libraries and museums. This presentation summarizes a novel collaboration of 3-D scanning and modeling technology provided by digital technology available on campus with automated box making services internal to Library Preservation. A custom-fitted enclosure for a painting on wood panel within the Lilly Library collections was the net result. This developmental method holds promise for specialized storage and shipping protection of library, scientific research and museum collections.
Spring 2016 Digital Library Brown Bag Series
The Digital Library Brown Bag Series presentations are held in the Herman B Wells Library from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm EST. The complete schedule is available at: http://libraries.iub.edu/digital-library-brown-bag-series.

Watch the presentation here http://connect.iu.edu/diglib. If you are not a registered Connect user, select “Enter as a Guest”.

Sign up for email reminders! Send an email to iulist@iulist.indiana.edu with the message body: sub dl-brownbag-l Your Full Name

Raman Spectroscopy in the Lab

This past November I had the pleasure of working with a newly acquired piece of   equipment- an Agility™ Transportable Dual-band Benchtop Raman Spectrometer to be specific.

Vendor photo of Agility with a bottle of Cab' Sauv'
Vendor photo of Agility with a bottle of Cab Sauv

By way of background, a small team of various campus departments and research centers* was assembled over the past couple of years- all of whom are interested in exploring research interests related to analysis of cultural heritage materials. We applied for some internal funding this past year through the Office of the Vice Provost for Reaearch and were awarded a “Collaborative Research and Creative Funding” grant over the summer for the purpose of purchasing said piece of equipment.

What is Raman Spectroscopy?  In a nutshell, it is an analytical tool by which laser light interacts with molecular vibrations resulting in the energy of the laser photons being shifted up or down. The shift in energy gives information about the vibrational modes in the system. Basically, a machine shines a monochromatic laser at a substance and after some filtering, measures the shift in the radiation (in this case, light) coming off of it to give us an indication of its molecular nature. This is the sort of output one gets which then needs to be interpreted- the spectrum for red lead pigment:

Courtesy of www.cameo.mfa.org
Courtesy of www.cameo.mfa.org

IU Bloomington already has a very sophisticated Raman spectrometer within the Department of Chemistry, but this new acquisition lets us to take the process to the object- important when examining rare items of cultural significance. This form of spectroscopy allows conservators to analyze materials in-situ in a non-destructive manner ie. other forms of analysis can require a sample to be taken from the item in question which will be destroyed in the process. Increasingly, analytical methods are being adopted which leave the item unharmed.

In practice, there is still quite a lot of skill needed to operate the machine and interpret the results. I was able to devote a day or two to learning the operating system, begin to understand the variables involved with adjusting the actual laser excitation (very important as misapplication can lead to irreversible changes in the material analyzed), and understand the difficulties of interpreting a series of peaks on a graph. There are spectral libraries available which automate the process, but the pharmaceutical library that came with purchase won’t help us out much when analyzing 17th century maps or archaeological daub from Paleo-Indian settlements, unless of course we’re looking for acetaminophen! Still, it will be a very valuable and collaborative tool to have on hand.

 

* Departments include: Department of Chemistry, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Chymistry of Isaac Newton Project, Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology, Lilly Library and us, here in Library Preservation.

Midwest Regional Conservation Guild 2015 Annual Symposium

I found myself travelling to the beautiful University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor the weekend of October 2-4 for the annual symposium of the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild. Our own preservation lab and other conservation professionals on the IU Bloomington campus hosted this group in 2012; it was now Michigan’s turn. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, also known as Newberry Hall was to be our base for the weekend.

NewberryHall

The event got off to an excellent start Friday afternoon with tours of the various conservation labs: both Papyrology and Special collections on the Michigan campus, and the Detroit Institute of Arts and The Henry Ford Museum within the region. I toured the campus labs, and was impressed by the Special Collections lab within the Buhr Building.  Though this building was originally a ball-bearing factory, now repurposed as an off-site library facility, I found parallels between it and our own ALF building here on campus.  The Buhr facility holds 2.5 million volumes and houses a very well-equipped, pleasantly lit conservation lab much like our own. After a special curator-led tour of the current exhibit at the Kelsey, the evening ended with a pleasant opening reception giving all participants a chance to catch up with colleagues old and new.

Saturday presented itself with a full day of session talks. From the perspective of a paper conservator at a university library, I found several to be of interest though many more were given than I can cover in this post:

Christopher Foster, Conservator of Art on Paper and Photographs at the Detroit Institute of the Arts gave a very informative talk about the analytical work that went into studying eight of Diego Rivera’s cartoons for the Detroit Industry frescoes at the museum. These preparatory drawings which at first glance seemed simple renderings in black and red media on paper revealed themselves to be complexly constructed. The skill of Rivera’s hand and eye became more apparent to conservators and curators alike after studying the composite materials by traditional microscopy as well as Raman and FTIR spectroscopy.

Though not concerning a work on paper, Cybele Tom (Assistant Conservator of Objects and the Art Institute, Chicago) gave an insightful talk about the thought process which went into the conservation of a soon-to-be-exhibited early 16th century polychrome wood sculpture. A thorough technical study brought to light several previous restoration campaigns which left an ‘aesthetically disparate surface’  for the conservator to contend with. Her task was to ‘arrive at a coherent form that still honors its 500 year history’. Concepts that we as conservators ruminate over daily, such as old vs. new, varying theory of originality, preservation of evidence, and culturally-biased interpretation were discussed.

Janelle Batkin-Hall, Conservation Intern, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, gave an informative, if sometimes skin-crawling, talk about Victorian-era hairwork. From time to time, examples of this craft reveal themselves within collections here at IU so I was thankful for her background study, analysis and treatment examples.

Tom Edmondson, Heugh-Edmondson Conservation Services LLC, Kansas City, gave an excellent case study of the treatment of a convex crayon enlargement portrait. We have a number of these early photographic processes within our collections- I enjoy working on them for the challenges they often present the conservator. Tom relayed some approaches and techniques to working with them that I hadn’t considered, but will experiment with in the future.

Jodie Utter, a paper conservator at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, gave an excellent presentation showing how the skills and work of a conservator can shed light on curatorial questions and aid art historical research. She studied several examples of Charles Russell’s iconic Bronc Twister, aiding in the understanding of this image’s development by the artist as well as its commercial use by a pharmaceutical company as its logo for a laxative awkwardly named Heptol Splits!

After an ambitious schedule of talks, the day ended with a very generous reception at a local restaurant and cocktail bar- the warmth of the professional company overcame the blustery weather outside.

Sunday morning brought us another three presentations, including one that I delivered concerning the recent collaboration of 3-D scanning and modeling technology with automated enclosure manufacture. I hope that our experiment will be of some use to other institutions who may have the necessary technology on hand.

Finally Heather Galloway, a private conservator from Oberlin Ohio, presented a talk about her work bringing conservation into the undergraduate and graduate classroom. This topic, and her approach to creating a curriculum, resonated with me and the teaching I do within IU. Even though the conservator in an academic setting generally does not educate students in remedial conservation practice, our profession has much to share beyond the typical lab tour. Heather works with both art history and physical science students, presenting university art collections in a new light to supplement their core educational instruction.

I left the symposium mid-day on Sunday to return to Bloomington with a renewed enthusiasm about the work we do as conservators. Over the span of my career I’ve seen a number of changes to the profession- both good and bad. One of the more positive changes illustrated this weekend was that conservators are increasingly working in concert with other museum and academic professionals. Our skills and insight provide valuable information which can supplement other fields of enquiry. In turn, we’re reminded that our work has an effect outside of our traditional environment of the lab and storage area.