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TSLAC Conservation has recently worked on several panoramic photographs. Popular for documenting sweeping landscapes or large groups of people, panoramic photos are created with specialty equipment and large-format developing processes. Many images date to the early part of the 20th century and measure 10 – 12” tall by four, five, or even six feet long.

Panoramic photos are commonly found rolled, as seen in this item awaiting treatment:

Tightly-rolled panoramic photograph.

Tightly-rolled panoramic photograph.

Rolling is a common non-archival storage method due to the typical size of these items. Rolling can also happen naturally, due to the differing ways humidity impacts the photograph’s paper backing and image layer. Once rolled, these photos strongly resist being forced flat. Doing so often results in disfiguring cracks, as seen in this recent donation:

This sharp crack is typical of those caused by forcing a rolled panoramic photo flat.

This sharp crack is typical of forcing a rolled panoramic photo flat.

To avoid this damage, conservators humidify panoramic photos, open them very slowly, and then allow them to dry under weight. Once flattened, these items are at new risk for rough handling due to their unusual size. Proper housing can minimize handling damage and curling.

There is no single, standard housing for panoramic photos. Our design features a support of 40-pt box board with a cover sheet of archival plastic. The plastic sheet folds over the support board at top and bottom. The bottom fold is secured to the back of the board, while the top fold remains unsecured.

Housed panoramic photo depicts a group of people at the Texas State Capitol, possibly WWI-era.  Archivists can work to identify this image now that access is improved.

Housed panoramic photo depicts a group of people at the Texas State Capitol, possibly WWI-era. Archivists can work to identify this image now that access is improved.

The housing keeps the item flat, supported, and easily viewable. If needed, the photo can be removed from the housing without scratching by lifting the cover sheet. Future housings may use a micro-corrugated support board for improved rigidity and reduced weight.

To learn more about TSLAC’s photography collection, stay tuned for our exhibit of 19th century photography opening in late September 2014.

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In preparation for our exhibit, “Texas Moves Toward Statehood: Stories Behind the Mural,” TSLAC Conservation conducted treatment on a small notebook belonging to German immigrant and Fredericksburg founder John O. Meusebach.  This notebook is displayed along with several other Meusebach artifacts, including his famous 1847 Comanche peace treaty.

Meusebach notebook before treatment

Meusebach notebook before treatment

Meusebach’s notebook, just 5 ½ x 3 ¾ x ½ inches, features leather-trimmed, shaped wooden boards with a gold-tooled leather spine piece.  Boards are hand-illustrated with German verse and drawings relevant to Texas.  Gold-tooled leather loops at the boards’ front edge hold a small pencil; when the pencil is inserted, the volume is fastened shut.  Inside, the boards are lined with cream-colored silk.  Silk pockets inside each board are further lined with bright, turquoise-colored paper.  The notebook itself is separate from the boards, sewn into a flexible cover of cream-colored silk, turquoise paper, and gold foil decorative strips.

Meusebach notebook components: case (boards), notebook, and stylus (pencil.)

Meusebach notebook components: case (boards), notebook, and stylus (pencil.)

The outer case had been previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape along the inside and outside of its spine, with tape adhered to both leather and silk.  During treatment, tape and adhesive were mechanically removed from the leather, revealing losses in the spine and the full detachment of the front board.  Tape removal from the degraded silk was more problematic, especially because much of the silk was baggy and loose across the spine region.  Working with a heated spatula allowed partial success.  Toned Japanese tissue was then adhered to support and fill the remaining silk.

Tape removal

Tape removal

The next step was to reattach the front board and fill the revealed spine losses with toned tissue.  This step required some testing and adjustment of tissue placement and adhesives, since the small, ornately decorated notebook allowed very small adhesive surfaces.

Notebook after treatment

Notebook after treatment

You can see the resulting notebook on display in “Texas Moves Toward Statehood: Stories Behind the Mural.”  The Texas State Library and Archives is now open on the second Saturday of every month from 9 AM to 4 PM.

 

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In addition to displaying Texas Governor John Connally’s suit, TSLAC’s exhibit “Texas Investigates: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally”  highlights archival records of the Kennedy assassination, which took place 50 years ago this November. Among these holdings is a teleprint from United Press International (UPI), the first news wire service that reported the assassination story as it developed on November 22, 1963.

In a time before personal computers and the internet, UPI transmitted news bulletins across wires to Teletype machines, which continuously printed updates on a paper scroll.  Publishers and broadcasters could then communicate the news to their audiences.  On November 22, 1963, UPI teleprinters rattled frantically, and the events of the day unfurled on long sheets of canary yellow paper in newsrooms across the country.  Numerous misspellings and factual corrections emphasize the haste and intensity of the moment.  Walter Cronkite’s famous on-air announcement of Kennedy’s death was based on a UPI teleprint just like the one in TSLAC’s exhibit.

UPI teleprint from November 22, 1963.

UPI teleprint from November 22, 1963.

TSLAC’s teleprint is over seven feet long and folded into eight panels for flat storage.  The document is fully digitized in our online exhibit (1, 2, 3, 4), but the physical teleprint itself also tells a powerful story.  Accordingly, TSLAC conservator Sarah Norris designed and built a custom exhibit cradle to display the physical object and safely maximize its visual impact.

UPI teleprint on zig-zag exhibit cradle.

UPI teleprint on zig-zag exhibit cradle.

To support this unique item, the exhibit cradle has a zig-zag shape that conforms to the teleprint’s exact measurements and contours.  The cradle is built from archival, acid-free corrugated board, whose lightweight strength allows an overall cradle height of 31 inches.  A five-inch-tall model illustrated construction details, including ideal angle measurements for internal supports.  Light monitoring is periodically conducted to ensure that the paper’s yellow dye is not adversely affected by exhibit conditions. 

As exhibited, the teleprint encourages visitors to consider past communication technologies and to appreciate the impact of physical archival objects.  Visitors can imagine themselves standing before the Teletype machine in a busy newsroom as events unfolded on November 22, 1963.  Along with Governor Connally’s suit, the teleprint helps convey the immediacy and urgency of the day.

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For several months, TSLAC Conservation has been preparing for TSLAC’s upcoming exhibit, “Texas Investigates: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally.”  This exhibit will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX.  The exhibit’s centerpiece, on display for the first time since 1964, is the suit worn by Texas Governor John Connally in the Kennedy motorcade.  Connally was non-fatally wounded by gunfire that day, and his suit bears silent testimony to the tragic event.

Careful support and cushioning are required in the display of historical clothing so that fragile garments are not damaged by their own weight.  In July, conservator Sarah Norris began the process of customizing the dress forms on which the Connally suit and shirt will be displayed.  Shoulder supports and stomach padding were created to fit the exact measurements of the clothing.  Arm and leg supports were also added.  Though the shoulder supports are highly structured, the arm supports are very pliable so that the figure can be dressed with minimal stress to the garment.   A slick, spun polyester fabric allows the shirt to slip easily over the arm supports and onto the customized dress form.

Exhibit dress forms

Dress forms before and during customization. All supports are made with archival materials and sewn by hand to fit the measurements of the shirt and suit.

The French cuffs on Governor Connally’s shirt posed a special challenge.  These cuffs must be exhibited folded in the manner they were worn to allow logical display of the bullet holes in that region.  Cufflinks were originally used to maintain this fold, but the Governor’s cufflinks were not included when the suit was donated to TSLAC.  To solve this problem, Norris constructed two small stays made of linen thread, museum board, and cotton muslin.  The stays function like the original cufflinks, but their color and texture blends with the shirt without drawing visual attention to non-original items.

Exhibit cuff stays

The small size and neutral cotton fabric of the cuff stays allow them to blend sympathetically with the shirt.

“Texas Investigates: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally” opens October 22.  In addition to the Connally suit, the exhibit will spotlight Texas state investigations of the assassination, including those conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety.  TSLAC Conservation welcomes the opportunity to prepare these meaningful items for public observation and commemoration.

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In the lab in May is Pressler’s Map of Texas from 1867.  Charles Pressler was a noted draftsman and cartographer who immigrated to Texas from Prussia.  He created well-known Texas maps while working with land empresario Jacob de Cordova and with the Texas General Land Office.

Pressler’s Map of Texas is a pocket map, which is the 19th century version of the Rand McNally road map one might have carried in a car’s glove box prior to GPS systems.  Pocket maps are generally large, hand-colored documents that fold down into a small, textile-covered case that is stamped with gold foil and other decorative elements.

Pressler's Map of Texas

Pressler’s Map of Texas, an 1867 pocket map.

Because repeated folding can damage fragile paper, conservators often remove pocket maps from their cases and flatten them for future storage and use.  While this treatment is usually the most responsible course of action, it detracts somewhat from the item’s artifactual value.  After treatment, the map is quite physically different.

In this case, we encountered a unique circumstance: there are actually two copies of this item in our collection.  It so happens that the other copy has already been removed from its case and flattened.  Since the flattened copy will be the primary access copy, this created an unusual opportunity to preserve a pocket map in its original format.

First, creases and wrinkles received local humidification and flattening to help the item fold more efficiently.  Then, existing tears at fold lines were mended with wide strips of Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.

Mending tears at fold lines.

Mending tears at fold lines.

The map was carefully folded back into its case and the front board (detached) was reattached with toned moriki tissue.  Because there is another access copy, this pocket map has been returned to its original format.

Repaired case with map folded inside.

Repaired case with map folded inside.

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In November, I built a custom housing for an object in our collections known as the Journeay Violin.  The violin was made by Henry Journeay while he was imprisoned in Mexico during the 1842 Mier Expedition.  Journeay was a skilled woodworker, and is thought to have later made the instrument’s wood and glass case.

Journeay Violin

Journeay Violin

Drop-spine book box

My housing, modeled roughly on the common drop-spine book box, aims to protect the instrument and its case during storage and to allow for easy access for periodic display.  My basic design comprises a textile-covered, paper lined tray and a large, textile-covered box lid.  The lid rests on a small ledge inside the tray when closed.  The instrument case need not be fully removed from the box for viewing; it can stay in the tray except when needed for exhibit.

As often happens with custom housings, design demands reveal themselves during the construction process.  Here, I initially built a flat-bottomed tray, only to find that this would unduly challenge staff members trying to pick up the item, inviting them to slide one end of the case precariously off the table to establish a grip.  I then built feet for the tray from laminate, textile-covered binder’s board.  I mounted the feet underneath the instrument case’s feet to support its weight.  This created a safer, more user-friendly design with finger room under the tray.

Textile-covered tray corner with foot

Textile-covered tray corner with foot

One of the efficient features of a drop-spine box is that its attractive covering material also adds strength by reinforcing its cardboard joints.  Unfortunately, the violin’s box lid couldn’t share this efficiency, because I couldn’t cut a large enough piece of textile to cover the box in the continuous, traditional style.  Instead, I reinforced all the lid joints inside and out with gummed linen tape before covering with textile panels for aesthetics only.

Lid joints were reinforced with linen tape.

Lid joints were reinforced with linen tape.

One further similarity between this box and a drop-spine box is how air suction is created upon opening.  Because this box is more enclosed than a typical drop-spine box, it actually creates a much stronger vacuum.  (Trust me, it was rather alarming the first time I tried to open it.)  In order to open this box, it is first necessary to break its air seal by gently depressing its long, flexible walls.  After this, opening is quite easy.  Instructions have been attached.

Box label

Box label

This exercise highlights some of the overall challenges of building custom housings.  The goal is to balance the needs of the object against the needs of those using the object, while hopefully avoiding completely reinventing the wheel.  While I briefly considered a version of this housing with break-away walls, I decided such a design would be too complex for hurried reference staff to operate with confidence.  As always, housing projects are problems with many solutions – perhaps you have one!

Completed custom housing for violin and case

Completed custom housing for violin and case

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On Penmanship

During a recent conservation treatment on a 19th century manuscript, I was drawn to one aspect of its handwriting: the writer’s intentional control of the width of each line.

19th Century Penmanship Sample

This repeated downward arc ranges from 0.25 to 2 mm in width.

Looking at this repeated, fluid curve, I was suddenly struck by the writer’s deft articulation. Here is evidence of the vanished craft of penmanship, with its accompanying tools and practice. Here, too, is a precise method of expression no longer available to modern people using modern writing utensils. It’s hard to imagine what it might be like to regain this means of written expression. It might be as if, in your daily speech, you were suddenly granted an entirely new class of adjectives. Or as if a controlled stroke at the computer keyboard produced varied shades of meaning, much like playing a piano.

Modern Penmanship Sample

This admittedly bland photo documents my own attempt to replicate the previous 19th century stroke with a ball-point pen.

I am advised by parent and teacher friends that children in the digital age don’t formally practice handwriting anymore. This begs an Andy Rooney-style, kids-these-days argument that would sentimentally bludgeon complexities of the modern world. Yes, penmanship enabled genteel expression; it likely also signified class and education in ways that excluded those it didn’t empower. But it’s worth noting anytime a craft passes from practice and especially from appreciation. Penmanship is so long-gone that few of us today can look through its words to read what the craft said. I’m curious to hear any readers’ insights on practice or connoisseurship in this area.

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