Angela Campbell, Assistant Conservator in the Department of Paper Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented the research and treatment of a complete set of Himalayan initiation cards (tsakalis) in their collection. She focused on the condition, consolidation, and loss-compensation techniques done by herself, Rebecca Capua, and Yana van Dyke for this set. In conjunction with the treatments, there was a social media campaign to increase public outreach using this piece. For a great resource on the full treatment details, background, and purpose of these tsakalis, see the three posts available online through the Met blog:
I appreciated that Campbell addressed concerns of treatment consistency since the twenty-five cards were split among three conservators. Instead of having each conservator just do one treatment step for all the cards, each performed full treatments for 8 to 9 cards in the collection. Discussion was key, particularly in approaching the in-painting, and despite minor personal variations, a cohesive style was achieved.
Other rich questions that came up during the Q&A session focused more on the pre-treatment component of these cards. There was a question regarding the sacred nature impacting treatment decisions, which had only been brought up with the decision to maintain surface residues affiliated with handling. In conjunction with the sacred aspect, another question was raised about outreach and consultation with the surrounding Tibetan community in New York regarding the handling and treatment. While it was unclear if there was any contact before these cards reached the treatment stage, this comes back to a bigger question of who we perceive to be the actual stakeholders of the collections, particularly with cultural properties of living cultures.
The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) has been making heat-set mending tissue in house for many years. Recent digitization initiatives have increased the need for efficient stabilization mending. NARA prefers heat-set tissue for this type of mending for many reasons. The tissue is flexible and easily reversible. It requires no moisture for application and is easy to use. The transparency of the tissue, which they can control by making the tissue in house, does not interfere with the digitization of text. To make the heat-set tissue, NARA starts with an appropriate weight of Japanese tissue, which is toned (if necessary) before application of the adhesive. The tissue is wetted and smoothed out against silicone Mylar to remove bubbles. A batch of the acrylic emulsion polymers Rhoplex AC 234 + AC 73 were mixed and applied through a screen onto the wet tissue. The tissue was then allowed to dry on the Mylar until ready for use. Unfortunately, the Rhoplex adhesives they had been using for many years have been discontinued, and they had to search out a new blend of adhesives to continue making the tissue. NARA tried two different blends of adhesives: Avanse MV-100 + Plextol B500 and Avanse MV-100 + Rhoplex M200. NARA settled on a 4 : 1 : 1 ratio of water : Avanse MV-100 : Plextol B500 for their new mix. PROS:
FTIR analysis showed that the adhesive, when applied through a screen, does not sink through the Japanese tissue.
Blocking tests also showed the tissue safe to use on multiple layers of documents.
The mixture passed the PAT test for use on photographs.
Avanse MV-100 has optical brighteners in it, which is something of a concern. Advanced aging test showed that the optical brighteners did not migrate into the documents which had been mended, however, so it was deemed acceptable for use.
The tissue also has a high sheen from the silicone Mylar that can be objectionable to some clients. It isn’t bad enough to cause problems for digitization, however, and it can be removed with a swab of alcohol if necessary.
Todd gave a thought provoking talk on the biases a conservator brings to treatment proposals. His primary point was that while conservators have a responsibility to bring their expertise and ethical considerations to every treatment they do, they must also be flexible and considerate of curators’ wishes. He contended that while there were always wrong treatment decisions that could be made, there was no one right treatment decision. Every book is a living object. Treatment should be as unique as the treated item and should be considered in context with the item’s purpose and environment. To support his argument, Todd shared four examples from the NEDCC’s experience.
Example 1: Edward Kienholz’s The Minister
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery approached the NEDCC to treat a damaged bible. The bible was just one small part of a larger artwork by Edward Kienholz entitled The Minister. Like many of Kienholz’s artworks, The Minister was comprised of found objects, including the damaged bible. The NEDCC had been contacted because an overly enthusiastic patron of the gallery had accidentally separated the text block from the bible’s cover. Even before this catastrophic event, however, the bible had been in damaged, dirty and weak structural condition. This evidence of use in the bible’s pre-artwork past was an integral component of The Minister. As such, the NEDCC’s proposal for a standard treatment was not acceptable because it would have altered the appearance of the bible (and thus The Minister as a whole) too much. Instead, the bible’s structure was stabilized while carefully retaining all of the original spine linings and visible signs of damage.
Example 2: Riviere binding of Ben Johnson’s Works
The NEDCC quoted a 17th century copy of Ben Johnson’s Works which had been rebound in the early 20th century by the Riviere Bindery. During the rebinding, the text block had been bleached, oversewn, and bound in a tight red morocco binding. There was absolutely no question that the binding was causing further damage to the text, however the curator considered the piece to be a valuable teaching tool – not only for the original content of the text, but also as an example of an expensive personal possession from the early 20th century. It was important to the curator that the binding be preserved, not replaced with a binding sympathetic to the century in which the volume was published, regardless of the fact that disbinding the volume to address the structural problems would have provided stronger protection to the weakened paper of the text block. As a result, the NEDCC repaired the Riviere binding and otherwise left the binding and sewing structure as they received it.
(For those interested, Princeton University Library has a lovely collection of Riviere bindings online.)
Example 3: A View of Antiquity by Jonathan Hamner, et al
The discussed copy of A View of Antiquity came to the NEDCC in beautiful disrepair. The binding had parted way with the pastedowns, the sewing thread was missing entirely. All in all, it could have served as a wonderful teaching tool on bookbinding structure of the 17th century. As such, the NEDCC’s first instinct was to quote nothing more than a box to protect the volume; however, this volume was central to the institution’s identity. The volume was an important marketing tool for the institution, and it needed to look the part, so the NEDCC did a thorough and aesthetically pleasing restoration of the volume.
Example 4: Battlefield Bible
Todd’s last example was a bible covered in mud to the point of textual illegibility. As a conservator, one’s first instinct would be to wash the text block, but that would have destroyed the history of the volume – for its provenance was that it had been recovered from the battlefield at Gettysburg.
This last example reminded me strongly of the recent Preserving the Evidence: The Ethics of Book Conservation Symposium held at the Newberry library in April. Jeanne Drewes of the Library of Congress discussed a copy of Lincoln’s second inaugural speech that was found to have a fingerprint on it. They are currently doing DNA testing to find out if the fingerprint belonged to Lincoln himself. Had that document been cleaned, the evidence would have been destroyed.
The inaugural meeting for this group took place on May 31, 2013 at the AIC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, ID. Organized by Nancy Ash, Scott Homolka, Stephanie Lussier and Eliza Spaulding, the session presented the Draft Guidelines for Descriptive Terminology for Works of Art on Paper which is a project under way at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and supported by an IMLS 21st Century Museum Professionals Grant. Continue reading “AIC's 41st Annual Meeting- Art on Paper Discussion Group”