Photographic Slides from a Texas Architect

This spring, I was pleased to work with a folder of materials from UT’s Alexander Architectural Archives.  These materials came from the Boone Powell collection.  Powell was a 20th-century Texas architect with notable work in Austin and San Antonio.  He was project architect for the Tower of the Americas; in 1968, this was the tallest observation tower in the Western Hemisphere.  This folder details his 1981-83 designs for the Texas Republic Bank and associated office buildings in San Antonio.

The most delicate part of this treatment was four sheets of photographic slides that had been stored in non-archival plastic protectors.  The protector sheets had discolored and warped, and had stuck to the photos’ image areas.  Working with magnification, and alternating between transmitted and raking light, I used a microspatula to mechanically release the slides from the plastic sheets.  I then used gentle brushes and a soot sponge to remove adhered grime, and stored the slides in new protector sheets made of archival PET plastic.

Cleaning a photographic slide removed from non-archival housing.

We were fortunate that this treatment didn’t require heat, cold, or humidification, which might have required consultation with a photo conservator!  When storing photographic slides at home, similar damage can often be avoided by using archival-quality sleeves or PET, Mylar, of Melinex plastic; and storing materials in conditions controlled for human comfort (no attics, basements, or storage buildings.)

Celebrating Preservation Week at the Austin Archives Bazaar

It’s Preservation Week! This annual event, sponsored by the American Library Association, celebrates the ways in which institutions and individuals work to prolong the lifetime of cultural materials. It’s a time for outreach and education, and we’re excited to be a part of it.

This year, I was so pleased to work with colleagues from the School of Information and the Harry Ransom Center at the Austin Archives Bazaar, an annual event highlighting archival repositories here in Austin. At the Preservation Station, we chatted with visitors about how to preserve personal and family keepsakes, from books and photos to recordings and blogs. This year’s Archives Bazaar was emceed by Chet Garner from PBS’ The Daytripper at Austin Beer Garden Brewing. Thanks to our organizers for a fun afternoon talking archives and preservation!

At the 2022 Austin Archives Bazaar. Photo: Jennifer Hecker.

On My Desk Stat! Paper Copying in a Changing Workplace

On Friday, April 15, students in my course INF 386E Planning and Understanding Exhibits celebrated the opening of their class exhibit. On My Desk Stat! Paper Copying in a Changing Workplace documents copying processes from the 19th – 21st centuries and considers their impact on human health and safety, on waste in the environment, and on gender in the workplace.

Promotional flyer for On My Desk Stat!

The opening event was a fun way to re-connect with colleagues as we took in the exhibit, enjoyed snacks, played a beat-the-typist game featuring a real typewriter, and tested our knowledge in copying trivia to win iSchool mugs, water bottles, and t-shirts. We were so pleased to host visitors from UT and beyond at this event.

Students, faculty, and visitors at our opening event. Photo: Abi Glasser.

Our students have worked hard on every part of this exhibit, from choosing items and crafting narrative to writing text, building web presence, promoting the event, building display elements, and much more. The exhibit is on display on the first floor of the UTA building through 4/28, and you can catch the exhibit online and see updates on Instagram. Congratulations, students!

Behind the scenes during exhibit installation. Photo: Abi Glasser.

Planet Texas 2050 Resilience Symposium

I was pleased to participate this week in the Planet Texas 2050 Resilience Research Symposium.  At this multi-disciplinary event, I shared our preservation students’ work in climate risk mapping for Texas archives.  We revisit this project with a new climate focus each semester in my Disaster Planning and Response class.

At the event, an engaging array of scholars approached climate research from broadly varied perspectives.  Focuses included community resilience planning; regional shifts in communicable diseases; and current and historical impacts on plant and animal life.   Most attendees were new to the preservation of cultural collections, so this was a great opportunity to build new connections.

Many thanks to Jonathan Lowell, Heidi Schmalbach, and the Planet Texas team for organizing this event.

Texas archives institutions mapped with 2-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot sea level rise.

Media Testing

In my Introduction to Paper Conservation class, we’re preparing for media testing this week. Media testing is an important first step in any conservation treatment involving water. With careful testing, you’ll determine whether inks and colorants are water-soluble, and whether they’re potentially endangered by a proposed treatment.

Our students will practice their technique on these test swatches before working on archival materials.

Swatches are prepared for media testing. These samples feature watercolor, highlighter marker, black and red ballpoint pen, graphite, and pastel.

Student Projects in Conservation

This semester, students in my class INF 393C, Introduction to Paper Conservation, are excited to conduct conservation treatment on a group of architectural drawings from the Alexander Architectural Archives here at UT. The drawings come from the Roy Thomas collection. Thomas was an architect who practiced in Austin and Central Texas from the 1920s through the 1950s. He designed many building types, including homes, schools, churches, commercial buildings, apartments, and service stations. Among other notable projects, Thomas was a lead architect on the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at 701 Congress Ave., the first high-rise hotel in Austin.

Students in my class will conduct surface cleaning, humidification and flattening, and mending on rolled blueprints and drawings on tracing paper. They’ll also have plenty of opportunity to practice and refine their skills on lab teaching materials. By the end of the course, they’ll have one portfolio-ready conservation treatment, complete with written and photographic documentation.

We’re so pleased to be able to work with the Alexander Architectural Archives as our library and archives students develop their treatment skills!

Rolled drawings
Rolled drawings from the Roy Thomas collection. By the end of our course, students will improve handling and preservation issues for these materials by flattening, cleaning, and mending them. Photo courtesy Beth Dodd, Alexander Architectural Archives.

Treating a 19th Century Bound Volume of 17th Century Materials

During the fall semester of 2021, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a 19th century bound volume of 17th century print and manuscript materials. The item comes from the collections at UT’s Benson Latin American Collection. Here, I summarize the rationale and outcomes of the conservation treatment.

For more, see my previous post on treatment examination.

In Our Own Image: Representations of the Self Through Historical and Modern Photography

It’s an exciting day as INF 386E, Planning and Understanding Exhibits, launches our class exhibit! In Our Own Image: Representations of the Self Through Historical and Modern Photography explores how we use photographs to portray our identity. The exhibit draws parallels between historical and modern photographs, featuring original 19th and 20th century images alongside digital images from iSchool students. The event will run from November 4-17, 2021 at UTA 1.506. Visit us online at In Our Own Image and on Instagram at ischoolexhibits.

Exhibit promotional image

INF 386E students have directed and executed every step of this exhibit: selecting items; crafting narrative focus; authoring text; designing panels and labels; digitizing exhibition materials; creating our exhibit website; building mats and cradles; item layout and installation; lighting design; promoting the event via Instagram and University outreach; and adding an in-person, interactive museum education table. Come visit at UTA or online to explore how today’s image-conscious culture connects with photos from the past.

Exhibit window with photographs.
By using props, like the bicycle, guitar, picture frame, and canoes shown here, people across three centuries have crafted their own photographic images.

#AskAConservator Day 2021

Today is #AskAConservator Day! This annual event commemorates the November 1966 flood in Florence, Italy, when priceless cultural heritage was damaged. The international salvage efforts that resulted from this disaster built the foundation of the modern field of conservation.

Do you have questions about caring for personal treasures or family keepsakes? Want to know more about conservation? Let’s chat in the comments below! You can also watch social media for #AskAConservator all day today.

Taking a Tintype

Do you ever look at old photos and wonder what it would be like to take the photo, or to be in the photo?  Would there be blinding lights?  A stiff pose held for uncomfortably long?  Was smiling allowed?

I recently sat for a modern tintype photo at Lumiere Tintype here in Austin.  Tintypes were a popular format from the 1860s through the early 20th century.  A tintype is made with light-sensitive silver media in a wet collodion binder on a plate of tin or another metal.  Tintypes were created formally in the studio or casually on the street.  Oftentimes, they were varnished to protect the image.

Tintypes are not created from a film negative; they are one-of-a-kind.  The camera must physically hold the photo plate during exposure, and that can mean a big camera!  Here’s the camera at Lumiere.  The back of the camera is where the photographer inserts the plate.

The camera, with a bellows for focusing.

A tintype does require a lot of light, either through a long exposure or a bright blast.  Here’s where I stood during my session, with a large reflector positioned just out of the frame.  The exposure time was short, but the flash rattled my brain a bit.

From the subject’s view – that’s a lot of light!

The idea that historical photo processes took a long time is overgeneralized and not always correct.  Photographer Adrian Whipp prepared my photo plate while I waited, and then moved quickly to shoot the photo in about five minutes.  Afterwards, he demonstrated rinsing the image with sodium thiosulfate fixer, which dissolves away unexposed silver salts.

Fixing the image with sodium thiosulfate.

Last, Whipp applies a shellac-based resin varnish.  High relative humidity can create streaks and bubbles in shellac, so he works in a closed space with a dehumidifier to apply this protective coating.

Finally, here is the result.  Smiles are, in fact, allowed.

The finished tintype. Note the shallow depth of field, typical of this format.