New Kid on the Block


A headshot of Rebecca Jacobs

Hi all! I’m Rebecca Jacobs, the new Paper Conservation Technician. I have worked in the lab for about a month and have spent my time learning new skills like mending and encapsulation, as well as creating custom boxes and enclosures. While I’m new to this position, I’m not a stranger to the Indiana University community. You may have seen me around a few years ago at the Kinsey Institute where I helped care for and digitize works in the art collection, or more recently over at Kelley School of Business where I worked as the Selection Archivist.


In addition to working with collections at IU, I’ve also worked for the Indiana Historical Society as a Metadata Cataloging Assistant and have held internships and worked on collaborative projects with many of the museums in the Indianapolis area. I’ve enjoyed working at the Preservation Lab so far because it has given me a chance to use tools that are new to me and to improve my skills on detailed work like mending, and focus on learning more about paper as a material type.

An archival box with a note written for Rebecca
Archival boxes filled with photographs that I digitized for the Indiana Historical Society






An object mount and a small coin purse in a custom-made box
A custom box I created for a museum object
Rebecca Jacobs and Christina Cichra clean an ornithology mount.
Colleague Christina Cichra and I cleaning ornithology mounts at Eagle Creek Ornithology Center for a collaborative project with the IUPUI Museum Studies Department

When I’m not working at the Preservation Lab, one of my favorite things to do is experience collections at other cultural institutions as a visitor. Getting to interact with objects in this way reminds me of why I was originally drawn to Collections Care and Preservation and prompts me to reflect on how my work connects to how visitors create their own experiences with collections. I’m excited to carry this intention into 2019 at the Preservation Lab, and hope to share more about projects I’m working on in the coming months.

Rebecca Jacobs appears to touch the sculpture, Eye
Spending free time checking out the sculptures at Laumeier Sculpture Park. Scuplture: “Eye”, Tony Tasset



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.


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.

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.




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.

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


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.


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!”


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:



Tale of Two Books

The General Collections Conservation unit of Indiana University Library’s E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab treats an average of 13,000 items per year. Treatment may be as simple as reinserting single pages that have come loose to completely rebuilding and repairing a 300-year-old monograph. However, several times each year the Lab is sent items in a red biohazard bag; these require special handling or disposal. Often the contents of these bags are books thought to be hosting active mold growth, and the Craig Lab staff is asked to assess the item and decide whether it can be saved or needs to be withdrawn. This, Tale of Two Books, is an overview of the steps we follow when a monograph shows up that has mold and will give you an idea of the process we use to remediate this problem when the item is important enough to warrant the time and effort.

Usually the circulation desk staff will notify the Lab when a book that they suspect has mold is being sent to the Lab so we know to be looking for it. However, sometimes we do not know what the problem might be until we open the bag. Fortunately, red biohazard bags are hard to miss, so when one shows up we know to take special care in handling its contents. While we are not overly concerned with the supposed toxicity of mold, neither are we careless with it. Mold can trigger unpleasant allergy-like reactions and/or contaminate workspaces if its presence is extensive. Also, some books may have other, potentially more hazardous issues. Therefore, the contents of these bags are dealt with either in a controlled environment such as an exhaust hood or outdoors where there is unlimited air exchange.

About 25% of the time, the problem that was sent to us as mold turns out to be either just dirt or ink that has run, or a combination of the two. We appreciate this as erring on the side of caution. A more casual attitude on the sender’s part could result in our dealing with a major mold infestation in a collection space, so we do not mind receiving an occasional “false alarm” book.

Continue reading “Tale of Two Books”