Students Perform Conservation Treatment on Drawings by Charles Stevens Dilbeck

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.

Dilbeck drawing
A Dilbeck drawing is unrolled for initial examination.

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.

A drawing detail highlights the meticulous work of draftsmen in a mid-20th-century architecture firm.

Conservation Treatment: McDonald Observatory Drawing

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.

Tape removal
Removing discolored tape
Mending
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.

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!

Student Conservation Treatments for Spring 2023

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.

Roy Thomas Architectural Drawing
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.

Nicholas Clayton Architectural Drawing
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!

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.