The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Conservation
This summer, Sarah Casto and I interned through a partnership of the Archives of American Art (AAA) and Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). Our project to stabilize the Macbeth Gallery Scrapbooks, a collection of twenty scrapbooks in the collection of AAA, was generously funded by The Smithsonian Women’s Committee. More can be read about the history of the scrapbooks and the valuable information they contain here. Under the supervision of SIA’s senior conservator Nora Lockshin and AAA registrar Susan Cary, Sarah and I were presented with the unique challenge of working primarily in an office at AAA rather than in a conservation lab. We employed our ingenuity to make the simple office into a functioning pop-up lab, our "conservation station."
Scrapbooks are known within archives and libraries for the range of challenges they present as objects, and the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) Book and Paper Group has assembled reference materials about the conservation of scrapbooks in a wiki. The Macbeth Gallery Scrapbooks are a series of commercially produced scrapbooks of varying type and condition, and they primarily contain newspaper clippings and other items related to the gallery. Our initial survey of the scrapbooks revealed inherently brittle wood-pulp paper pages, many of which cracked at our touch, as well as failed adhesives, leaving loose clippings and gallery catalogs.
With the conditions of the scrapbooks ranging from fully intact to entirely disbound (with all pages separated from the book's original binding), we found that some books remained only tenuously intact. Simply turning pages resulted in pages cracking away from the binding, so laying the book flat to image the pages for digitization would have been impossible. We determined with our supervisors that the best thing for five of the scrapbooks was to purposefully disbind them, storing the loose pages in folders with buffered interleaving papers. To stabilize the scrapbooks, Sarah and I needed to clean the pages, readhere all loose items, reinforce and repair torn pages with adhesive and paper, consolidate covers, collate pages, and rehouse the collection.
Before we could begin treatment, we had to carefully select the best combinations of adhesive and paper to use for repairing the scrapbooks. The traditional method of paper repair - Japanese paper applied with wheat starch paste and dried under weight - was not feasible for this project for a large percentage of the albums due to their extremely brittle state and time constraints. These weakened papers do not always respond well to the stresses of mending even with extremely careful application, wetting and drying – new breaks can result at repair boundaries where the binding is restrained, or where pages are turned at corners, as example. Sarah and I were faced with twenty scrapbooks, and our ultimate goal was stabilization for digitization, not full conservation treatment, so we needed a more efficient method for mending. Thus, we turned to solvent-set and heat-set tissues. Sarah and I made our own mending tissues, turning to shared and tested methods within the conservation community. We spent several days experimenting with different adhesives and application methods, adapting as needed based on trial and error. We found the most satisfaction with a variety of weights of handmade papers, prepared with Avanse MV 100 and Plextol B 500, a mixture formulated and tested by conservators at the National Archives and Records Administration because it is heat-set and it requires no drying time when applied. This allowed us to rapidly increase the pace of our work. For loose items, where original placement was verifiable, we applied wheat starch paste where possible and dried the items under weight. We were able to stabilize all twenty scrapbooks during our ten-week summer internship.
For our final task, we rehoused the books in their original boxes with the addition of custom inserts to fill out excess space in the box, securing the books in place which serves to reduce shifting and thus breakage and further losses. Our work ensures that these books will withstand the handling required in the process of digitization which will ultimately provide the Archives of American Art and their researchers with high resolution images of the scrapbooks. This will reduce the future handling of the actual books, and ensure the long term preservation of their content and original physical material.
- Macbeth Gallery scrapbooks, 1892-1952, Archives of American Art
- Accession 96-012: Smithsonian Institution, Office of Development, Smithsonian Women's Committee, Records, 1971-1993, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 267: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Records, 1881, 1895-1976, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A first for the Smithsonian - "Reboot the Suit" - The National Air and Space Museum has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the conservation, digitization, and display Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- We're going on a field trip - The Getty will provide any Title I school that is within a 30-mile radius of the Museum and can fill a bus with 50 students a free bus for their field trip. [via The Getty Iris]
- Before Rosa Parks there was Irene Morgan, who on July 16, 1944 made a decision that would later turn into a movement of bus boycotts, and eventually the Civil Rights Movement. [American History Through an African American Lens tumblr, NMAAHC]
- With the help of visitor feedback, the National Museum of Natural History continues to work on the new National Fossil Hall. [via Unearthed blog, NMNH]
- The Associated Press will be uploading more than 550,000 historical video clips to YouTube. [via PetaPixel]
- The power of MARC - Making the Russell E. Train Africana Collection more accessible at the Smithsonian Libraries. [via Unbound blog, SIL]
- The National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages, organized and supported by the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, works to revitalize endangered languages. [via Smithsonian Science News]
- The British Library takes you inside Europe's oldest intact book in the video below. [via InfoDocket]
Over the last several weeks, the Archives has welcomed Heather Weiss, an intern with Project SEARCH. Heather Weiss came to us from successful experiences at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Office of Fellowships and Internships, and the National Portrait Gallery, among others, and has been assisting the archivists and the conservators with a pair of different ongoing initiatives: a finding aid data entry project with the archivists and a rehousing project with the conservators. We wanted to highlight Heather's valuable contribution to our work at the Archives, and have invited her to share her thoughts about working with us.
Hi, my name is Heather Weiss. I am an intern at a program called Project SEARCH at the Smithsonian Institution. Project SEARCH, or PSSI, is a 10-month program designed for people with disabilities who are looking to find full-time jobs. As a part of the PSSI program, I have recently been gaining a positive experience in learning about the art of preservation. So far, I have discovered that preservation comes in many different forms, such as repairing an art sculpture, checking the lighting in an art gallery, dusting picture frames, and polishing the Plexiglas on artworks. But, my most recent positive experience to date is learning about preservation at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Archiving is important, because when you preserve art and documents, then that means that you’re preserving a part of history. And while I am learning about archiving, I have also learned about data entry and rehousing folders into new boxes. When you’re rehousing folders, that means that you’re transferring older historical documents from older boxes and folders, and then putting those documents into new and more stable boxes and folders that will last longer. Data entry is when you take the data from a paper source and then digitize that source by putting it on the computer. Eventually, people will be able to look at the information once it is available. My favorite part of this experience is getting to see the history that’s been stored from different decades within the folders. I find it very amazing.
Heather's data entry for the archivists was a testament to her detail-oriented nature. It was meticulous work, and Heather's efforts will lead to improved finding aids of our collections. She moved quickly through that project, leading the archival team to work speedily to keep her busy! Heather also accomplished the conservators' first rehousing assignment in record time, changing out all the nearly one hundred acidic boxes of one collection (Record Unit 158: United States National Museum, Curators' Annual Reports, 1881-1964). After completing both of these tasks, Heather moved on to the next portion of the finding aid project, as well as a more complex rehousing assignment (Record Unit 137: Office of the Under Secretary, Records, 1958-1973) that involved replacing both boxes and folders, necessitating careful copying of folder information from old to new, as well as removing bulky and harmful clips and staples, safely rehousing photographs in photo-safe enclosures, checking the condition of documents and flagging them for later attention as needed.
We have appreciated Heather's willingness to learn new skills, attention to detail, and inquisitive mind. It has been a pleasure to watch her take on more difficult tasks as her time with us has progressed, and to play a part in her personal growth. We wish her all the best following her graduation from Project SEARCH, and know that she will be successful at whatever she puts her mind to. Good luck, Heather!
- Digital images and prints aside - The art of the collotype is a fading process that remains the best way to duplicate artwork and historic documents. [via Open Culture]
- For the love of the ledger book - Delving into the 900 pages within the ledgers of merchant William Ramsay which detail the mercantile activity in the town of Alexandria, Virginia, from 1753 to 1756. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Comming soon most papers authored by Smithsonian staff and affiliates will be made available to the public at no charge, while some will be available after an embargo period. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Some video guides to understanding how JPEGs deal with color and compression. [via PetaPixel]
- Now available: ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation, Copublished by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and The Library of Congress. [via CLIR]
- The search for the perfect marigold. [via Smithsonian Gardens blog]
- Making a splash! - A behind-the-scenes look at the National Museum of Natural History ocean-related collections and their importance to research and discovery. [via Ocean Portal, NMNH]
- At the Archives we like boxes, boxes to hold manuscripts, boxes to hold prints and drawings, boxes we've got. That's why the video below of custom boxes being made is special to us. [via Core77]
- That thing must weigh a ton! A vault door will great visitors to the new Numismatics Gallery at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Putting the pieces together - A curator's journey to find pieces of the history of the Art and Technology Program of 1967-1971 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The program was an initiative that paired artists with corporations in the areas of aerospace, entertainment, scientific research, and other industries. [via Unframed blog, LACMA]
- Ever evolving - Lessons in research instruction from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Bibliophiles rejoice - More than 100 lectures from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Between a microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, the dust removal winner is . . . [via The National Archives UK blog]
- 5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- The British Library announced this week their plan to digitize and make available online 500,000 "at risk" rare and unique sound recordings. [via InfoDocket]
- Start your Memorial Day Weekend with the following video from the National Archives and Records Administration which tells viewers of the importance of the holiday. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
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