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.
Three cheers for Life in Stereoscope: Viewable Vistas, Industry, and Family Life, on view at the UT School of Information through November 16. This exhibit is created by the students in my course, Planning and Understanding Exhibits. Every bit of the exhibit is designed and executed by the students, from item selection and narrative flow to writing text; designing for print; building exhibit supports; creating interactive, educational elements; and promoting the exhibit within UT and beyond. Check us out on Instagram!
Special kudos to our web team, who designed our exhibit website using CollectionBuilder. This open-source software is created by the University of Idaho with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our class was selected from a competitive pool to provide a test case for this software. The students will provide feedback to help refine this tool that supports the creation of sustainable, digital collections and exhibits.
Special thanks also to visiting stereocard artist Tay Hall, who discussed their process and works at our exhibit reception. Tay’s work demonstrated modern applications for this historical format. Learn more at https://www.tayhallstudio.com/
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.
Before treatment: creases, grime, and tape repair (tape is mostly on the reverse)After treatment: cleaned, flattened, and repaired primarily with heat-set tissue
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!
This week, students in my Disaster Planning and Response course kicked off our fire unit with a visit to the Austin Fire Department training facility. Arson investigator Nick Ganci and firefighters set up a burn cell modeled after a small apartment, complete with drywall and furniture. Students then placed deaccessioned library books in various locations around the room. The fire began with a candle placed too close to a curtain. As the fire grew, we learned about the ways heat, air flow, construction techniques, and materials impacted its course. Once the fire was extinguished and the site was safe, we collected the books to bring back to the lab.
The Austin Fire Department hosted a burn cell for iSchool students.
During our visit, Ganci introduced us to the fundamentals of firefighter training. He also discussed how his team uses physical evidence to evaluate likely scenarios about a fire’s origin and progression. This was a great opportunity for students to learn about communicating with first-responders and protecting cultural heritage collections.
Before fire: placing books in the burn cell.
After fire: the same corner.
Next week, the students will practice removing soot and ash from burned volumes by using a HEPA vacuum and soot sponges. With the context this hands-on experience provides, we’ll then practice making judgment calls about when to salvage and when to replace materials. This exercise underscores the importance of planning and prevention in managing fire risk.
Salvaged books waiting for cleaning.
Many thanks to Nick Ganci and the Austin Fire Department crew who so generously gave their time and good-naturedly answered our many questions! Also thanks to our book donors: Kate Slaten and Erin Tigelaar (who joined us for the event!) from the Brentwood Elementary School Library and Jeff Newberry from UT’s Collections Deposit Library.
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 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.
By using props, like the bicycle, guitar, picture frame, and canoes shown here, people across three centuries have crafted their own photographic images.
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.