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.)

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.

#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.

Varias Relaciones, Tomo 1: Conservation Treatment

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.

Varias Relaciones
Varias Relaciones, Tomo 1, bound in tree calf. This calfskin leather was decorated by dripping dilute acid down its surface.

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.

Varias Relaciones
The volume’s front board and spine covering are detached, as are several leaves.

I’m so pleased to be working with the Benson this semester, and looking forward to the treatment.

Sink Mat for an Architectural Photograph

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.

For more, see my previous post on treatment examination.

Treatment Examination: Ellis County Courthouse Photo

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.

Preparing for Spring

As the fall semester draws to a close, I’m in the lab today packing supply kits for my upcoming spring classes: Introduction to Paper Conservation and Disaster Planning and Response. Here’s a peek behind the scenes of remote learning. Looking forward to seeing you all in January!

spring supply kit
Packing supply kits for spring. Those folders are full of pre-cuts and practice materials, organized by week.