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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Fall 2021, I’m pleased to conduct conservation treatment on Varias Relaciones, Tomo 1, a bound volume from the Benson Latin American Collection here at the University of Texas. The book was created by Joaquin García Icazbalceta, a 19th-century historian and collector who published many significant, previously unpublished manuscripts related to colonial Spanish America and the Philippines. This volume contains a variety of print and manuscript relations of journeys and events involving the Americas. Though the contents of the volume originate from the years 1610 – 1675, the binding materials and style are consistent with work of the 19th century.
Chief among condition issues for this volume is that the boards have become loose and detached, and the spine covering has separated. The treatment plan is to reestablish connection with the text block with an adhered spine tube made of Japanese tissue. While this volume was not originally bound with a tube, tubes are consistent with other 19th-century bindings. The tube will also enable reattachment with thin, strong Japanese tissue. Minimizing bulk in repair materials is important in this volume, since the boards sit very close to the spine. Excessive bulk would make it so the original covering would no longer fit around the text block.
I’m so pleased to be working with the Benson this semester, and looking forward to the treatment.
Mold remediation is a common preservation challenge, and students in my INF 385T Disaster Planning and Response class get to practice their mold response skills. Here’s a peek behind the scenes as we prepare for our Fall 2021 students. This mold chamber allows test samples of archival materials to grow mold in a high-relative-humidity environment. After several weeks, these materials will be dried in a silica gel enclosure to ensure the mold is inactive for use in class. Students will also practice working with the right PPE, or personal protective equipment, to do the job safely.
I look forward to welcoming our fall students soon!
During the spring semester of 2021, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a late-19th century photograph of the Ellis County Courthouse, designed by architect James Riely Gordon. The photograph comes from the collections at UT’s Alexander Architectural Archives. Here, I summarize the rationale and outcomes of the conservation treatment.