Once again this spring, we’re excited for my Introduction to Paper Conservation class to collaborate with the Alexander Architectural Archives! Students will perform conservation treatment on drawings from the Charles Stevens Dilbeck (1907 – 1990) collection. Dilbeck is best known for his residential designs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He created romantic cottages with French and Irish influences, as well Texas Ranch style houses. His work is documented and explored further by the Dilbeck Architecture Conservancy.
Drawings for treatment consist primarily of graphite on tracing paper. As the students develop introductory treatment skills, our group will work to clean, humidify and flatten, and conduct basic mends. In taking these materials from rolled storage to flat storage, we’ll improve accessibility for patrons and enhance future stability and preservation.
This semester, I was pleased to conduct conservation treatment on an architectural drawing of the McDonald Observatory, a leading center for astronomical research and teaching located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. This 25″ x 42″ charcoal and graphite drawing, made by University of Texas architects in 1934, is housed at the Alexander Architectural Archives here at the University of Texas.
The drawing had several condition issues when it entered the lab. A large tear extended up the center of the drawing, nearly separating the paper in two. The tear had been previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape, which had become browned and embrittled over time. The tape repair was visible through the drawing’s thin tracing paper. The tear was misaligned along the tape repair, causing gaps in the image and text, as well as rippling from stress in the paper. Creases and grime had resulted from handling. The charcoal had offset during direct contact with storage materials.
Removing discolored tape Mending the tear on the light table to ensure proper alignment
During treatment, the drawing underwent surface cleaning and several rounds of humidification and flattening to reduce grime and creasing. The discolored tape was removed manually, with controlled application of moisture to soften areas of stiff adhesive. The tear was realigned and mended with heat-set tissue to minimize water exposure to the moisture-sensitive tracing paper. Wheat starch paste was added in small mended areas to improve strength.
Before treatment: discolored tapeAfter treatment: tape removed; tear re-aligned, mended, and flattened
Last, a sink mat was constructed to safely house the drawing. The deep walls of the mat hold its cover sheet away from the drawing to prevent further media offset. Acid-free corrugated board was used for structural elements to provide stiffness with minimal weight. A second ply of board, applied cross-grained, was added to support this oversize drawing.
Many thanks to the Alexander Architectural Archives for the chance to work on this beautiful drawing!
Students in INF 393C, Introduction to Paper Conservation, are excited to apply their treatment skills to two groups of drawings from the Alexander Architectural Archives this spring! Throughout the course, students learn foundational treatment skills through work on practice materials, and then complete one full treatment on archives materials.
Student treatment project: architectural drawing by Roy Thomas for Austin’s Kealing Middle School, 1929.
The first group of tracing paper drawings features the original design for Kealing Middle School here in Austin. The plans were created by architect Roy Thomas, who designed residential, public, and commercial structures in Central Texas from the 1920s – 1950s. Kealing opened in 1930 as the first junior high for African American students in Austin. The school closed in 1971 during desegregation. The original building was razed after a fire in 1983, and Kealing’s current building opened in 1986.
Student treatment project: architectural drawing by Nicholas Clayton for a public school building in Galveston, TX, ca. 1898.
The second group of tracing paper drawings features a number of Galveston buildings designed by architect Nicholas Clayton. Clayton was one of the first professional architects to become established in Texas. He’s best known for his work in Galveston between 1873 – 1900, during that city’s heyday as a center of trade and commerce, and the largest city in Texas. It is likely that the water damage on the students’ drawings came from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, still the most deadly natural disaster in US history.
We are so pleased to work once again with the Alexander Architectural Archives on these hands-on student experiences!
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.)
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 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.
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.
In Spring 2021, I’m pleased to perform conservation treatment on a late-19th century photograph of the Ellis County Courthouse, designed by James Riely Gordon. This item comes to us from the Alexander Architectural Archives here at UT Austin. The Ellis County Courthouse was a signature achievement in Gordon’s career designing Texas county courthouses. Construction required two million bricks, “160 car loads of Texas granite, 100 car loads of Pecos red sandstone, used in trimming the building, and 14 cars of iron”1.
The Alexander Architectural Archives seeks stabilization for this photograph, which has high use for scholarship, historic preservation, and display. The first step in treatment is detailed examination that will inform decision-making. The item consists of a silver gelatin print mounted to backing board. While the photo is in good condition, the backing board is acidic, with cracks and losses typical of backing boards of this era.
Stay tuned for more on the rationale and techniques that go into this treatment.
Item examination using Optivisor magnifiers (on my head).
1Meister, Chris (2011). James Riely Gordon: His Courthouses and Other Public Architecture. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press. p. 130.