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.

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.

Custom Enclosure for Seed Collection

In the paper conservation lab we make enclosures too. As you’d guess, they are usually for flat paper items: letters, manuscripts, photos, etc., but not always. Earlier this year we treated an unusual collection from IU Archives—various seeds from around the world that were part of former botany professor Charles B. Heiser’s research. Included in the collection were sheets of gourd seeds native to different regions around the world and a vial of heirloom tobacco seeds from the 1600s. (Yes, we daydreamed about planting some.)

The first order of business was to reattach loose gourd seeds back in their appropriate location. Crash course in seed identification! Luckily there was a grainy, black and white photocopy of the original seed arrangement to use as a key.

Then I made trays for each sheet with a mat board bottom and foam core walls.

And they all fit into a cloth-covered clamshell box with a French tray base.

A small corrugated box was made for the other seeds in envelopes and the vial of tobacco seeds.

 

 

 


Common School Wall Chart

In the Paper Lab, we recently treated a large set of educational wall charts dating from the 1890’s, printed by W.L.Bell & Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.IMG_2972

The set was purchased by a Bloomington resident in 1995 for $25 from a local antique shop. It was donated to our county historical society who in turn recently passed it along to a unit within the university library system. There are 25 intact charts, printed both recto and verso with all manner of subject- literacy, penmanship, geography, physiology, mathematics, and governance. At first the work- though complex- was fairly routine: disassembly, washing, alkalization, mending, pressing. The longer we had it in the lab, the more it revealed aspects of itself in terms of its immense value in documenting American life and education in the late 19th century. The poster reflects the Common School Movement- a development in American education that sought to develop a common curriculum. It began in the 1830’s but went through ferment and change in the 1890’s when this was printed. A parallel movement had risen in Germany in the mid 1800’s as well- the training of teachers could not keep pace with rapidly increasing numbers of students in schools. Wall charts allowed for clearer instruction for greater numbers. Coupled with german expertise in chromolithographic printing, the glory days of the educational wall chart reached a zenith in Europe in the mid 19th century. Our set of charts highlights both technical printing skill and contemporary educational thought in one.

before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment
before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment

 

One plate, with a particularly gruesome physiological theme, displays the effects of prolonged alcohol and tobacco consumption:

PhysiologyChart_AT

All of the physiological plates, this one included, had an interesting printing technique we do not see too often.  In areas that depict blood, viscera, and sometimes hair, it appears that an additional layer of glaze, perhaps just linseed oil, was added on top of the ink to create greater saturation of color.  During aqueous treatment (washing) this particular effect can often blanch- much like the ring left from a wet glass placed on top of a varnished table- in order to rectify it, we were able to swab the foggy areas with isopropyl alcohol to drive the water away that had become bonded within the ink’s oil.

These detail shots show before and after the treatment:

chart pic detail_DTchart pic detail_AT

After each sheet was treated, a cloth-covered drop front box was made to hold unbound charts, with the original roller in its own compartment. It will now reside in our Auxiliary Storage Facility (ALF).

Apparently, the Common School Movement was criticized as promoting Protestant values during the period when the US saw an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants.  Such strife eventually led to the Parochial School Movement.

Today’s debates over home-schooling versus public education and evolutionary theory versus creationism are just a continuance of how we, as Americans, are constantly struggling to decide how to educate our children. Different interest groups compete for dominance over curriculum depending on the social conditions of the time.

For more about changes in the American curriculum, read Kliebard, Herbert M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893-1958. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Fun Finds from the Lab

Part of what I enjoy about our work in the lab are the stories told or imagined through the items we treat. Most days I’ll run across an item that will bring a smile to my face, set me off daydreaming, or say, “huh?” and send me to the internet.

This is a short entry to share some of the gems I’ve run across while working on the Wylie house letters. You can read more about the actual treatment process in other entries.

comic001_cropcomic002_crop
This letter is dated February 27, 1893, right around the time the Sunday funnies were first published.

 

photo
For a period of time, we noticed letters containing ‘kisses’, some of which were quantified like in this example, six kisses represented like this: oooooo (perhaps by mistake, using o’s instead of x’s), which were to be divided equally between the letter recipient and baby. This got us wondering about the origins of xo. A quick google search (thanks Wikipedia and Washington Post) suggests that x originated from Christianity, representing Christ’s qualities of faith and fidelity. It was used in place of signatures in early documents. The WP piece looks at the historical usage of xo and includes musings on its current usage in the digital communication.

 

Reba
Don’t have the exact date for this one but it is from around the turn of the century, like the other letters in this entry. It captures well the shock of going from small town to big city and encountering new technology. “POLICE, MURDER, FIRE!”

 

Spelling_Reform
Lastly, is this letterhead from the Spelling Reform Association used on a letter from 1880. The association included Melvil Dewey of decimal system fame and advocated the following changes to English spelling:

  1. Omit a from the digraf ea when pronounst as e-short, as in hed, helth, etc.
  2. Omit silent e after a short vowel, as in hav, giv, liv, definit, infinit, forbad, etc.
  3. Write f for ph in such words as alfabet, fantom, camfor, filosofy, telegraf, etc.
  4. When a word ends with a doubl letter, omit the last, as in shal, wil, clif, eg, etc.
  5. Change ed to final to t where it has the sound of t as in lasht, imprest, fixt, etc.

An example of the spelling reforms in action:
1879_SpellingReform_Bulletin_Boston

 

 

Out, Damned Mold! Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive Visits the Preservation Lab

The E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab is located in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF), neighboring the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA or “illumia”). And, like all good neighbors, the Preservation Lab came to IULMIA’s aid when we needed them.  We wish it was for something as charming as a cup of sugar, but sadly IULMIA’s mission was far more unappealing:  mold removal.

IULMIA is home to over 70,000 films spanning nearly 80 years of film production, and the majority of these items are acetate-based.  In addition to chemical decomposition from vinegar syndrome, acetate based films are susceptible to mold growth if stored at inappropriate temperatures or humidity.  Polyester films are also susceptible to mold growth, though thankfully not vinegar syndrome.  IULMIA is fortunate enough to be stationed in the state-of-the-art ALF, which maintains a consistent temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a stable relative humidity of 30 percent. Within this environment, the unique treasures of the collections can be preserved for hundreds of years, and this temperature and humidity can slow down and even halt entirely the growth of mold on film.  While processing a new collection of 2,000 films that arrived at the ALF in early 2014  IULMIA staff encountered a small number of films with evidence of slight mold growth.  Among these items were 16mm prints of David Wolper’s, The Making of the President 1960, Francis Thompson’s 1957 N.Y. N.Y. and the 1978 Will Vinton documentary, Claymation. Mold can be dangerous if inhaled, and so we were faced with outsourcing the cleaning of the films to ensure staff and patron safety, or to discard the infected items.

We decided to take advantage of working next door to one of the most impressive preservation labs in the country and consulted with Paper Conservator Doug Sanders.  With Doug’s expertise, we clarified that the mold was “dead” (that is, it would not fruit any more while stored in proper archival conditions) and able to be treated safely in the Lab.  Not only did Doug give us a great primer in best practice techniques for handling moldy archival items, but he also offered us the Preservation Lab to treat and clean the films. This consisted of dislodging the mold growth from the tightly-wound film reels with small paintbrushes, vacuuming the dislocated growth from the reels under a fume hood, and cleaning the remaining “infected” area with 99.9% isopropyl alcohol.  IULMIA staff were hugely interested in the techniques of conservation, which are a mix of craftsmanship (whittling wooden applicators and applying cotton to create incredibly precise Q-tips), science (Doug and his team discussed the chemical properties of metal, gelatin, and ink during our training), and good old fashioned resourcefulness (the vacuum used by the Lab was not originally for preservation of paper, but rather a medical supply for removing mucus from human patients). This creativity reminded us of the film archive world, where machines and supplies are often dwindling or repurposed due to the status of film as an “obsolete” medium.

Due to the Lab’s skillful training, we safely and efficiently completed cleaning the mold from a cartload of films in one morning.  This short but fruitful collaboration with the Lab was an important step in maintaining our materials for patrons and researchers visiting the IULMIA in the future.

film folks small film inspection

Guest Bloggers: Asia Harman, Josephine McRobbie, and Seth Mitter

Mass Humidification

We mentioned a month or two ago a long-term project we have going with the Wylie House on campus. Roughly 5000 letters of correspondence are being cleaned, repaired and rehoused for eventual storage at ALF– the compact off-site storage facility our library system has on campus. Surface cleaning and mending the letters has been relatively trouble free, but early on we realized that the stage of humidification (prior to pressing) was causing a workflow log jam. The first efforts involved utilizing the dome on our cold suction table. An ultrasonic humidifier feeds humidified air into the chamber and after a couple of hours, the letters are damp and ready for pressing.

We could only humidify about twelve to fifteen leaves at a go with this method, so we added on another humidification technique by turning our large sink into a chamber, supplied with wet blotters beneath a layer of Gore-Tex. Another dozen or so letters could be prepped this way each day.

sink humidification

Even with these two options, pressing efforts were being stalled, causing us to go back to our client library with a much longer than originally projected completion date. Thankfully, inspiration struck and it occurred to us that it may be possible to convert our print drying rack into a Mass Humidification Device.

drying rackWe constructed a slip cover of sorts out of plastic sheeting and Velcro tape that fully encloses the rack, except for the bottom. With a generous ‘dust ruffle’ of sheeting at the base, not much water vapor seems to leak out. The cover is constructed of two parts: the larger is a single sheet, with stapled ‘seams’ giving some rigidity to five ‘panels’ to wrap around the rack, with closure in the front; the second piece is a top that Velcro bonds to this upright portion.mass humid test1

The above photo shows initial tests introducing humidity into the chamber by way of the ultrasonic option. After several hours, the %RH was only up to ~70%. Opening up the cover revealed that the humid air wasn’t dissipating into the overall volume fast enough, before condensation occurred at the point of introduction. In other words, we had liquid water and dripping where the hose made contact with one of the shelves, but dryness elsewhere. A second set of tests with wet blotters proved much more effective with speed of humidification and distribution of water vapor.

We are now able to fill 20-25 shelves with correspondence per day. A wet blotter is placed between every 4-5 shelves of letters. Humidification takes place over about six hours. We empty the rack of its contents at the end of the day, and create a press stack for overnight drying and flattening.  The process is repeated the next day, ensuring that items are pressed for 24 hours, which is effective enough for single-leaved, stationery-weight paper.  Foldering and boxing then occurs.

papers on rackpressing stack

-submitted by Doug Sanders

 

We’re back!

It’s been nearly a year since the last blog post. Within the Preservation Department we’ve had some personnel changes, a sabbatical, and day-to-day busy-ness which have all conspired to the neglect of this blog. However, more recently we’ve become inspired and determined to share the interesting, satisfying and productive work we do with the greater public. To us, the public can mean fellow staff within Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, the IUB campus community as a whole, and of course the wider audience of like-minded individuals in preservation and conservation labs across the country.

We hope that you’ll see more posts from all of us who work within the department; even some guest entries by student employees (those who can be cajoled!) and perhaps some staff within the Library who ally themselves with or benefit from our operations.

To start things off I’d like to highlight a project we’ve been working on in the Paper Lab for the past month. The Wylie House is an historic house museum here on the IU Bloomington campus, originally built by the first President of Indiana University, Andrew Wylie. Within the museum’s collections are over 5000 letters of correspondence involving several generations of family members, many of which have been transcribed. Even though Carey Beam, Interim Director and Graduate Assistant Abi Parker, as well as previous Director Jo Burgess and many other interns have done a great job storing and transcribing these letters, they’ve now come to the Paper Lab for surface cleaning, mending, pressing and migration to a new storage format of archival document folders and cubic foot storage boxes. It’s a big project with an estimated completion date of May 2014. We’re finding out all sorts of interesting things while working on it, which will be the subject of several posts in the coming months. For now, here are some pictures of the ongoing work.

posted by Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator

mending1

surface cleaning1pressing stack