44th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 16, “A Technical Exploration of a 19th century Qajar Artists’ Album”, by Penley Knipe

Attendees of the Book and Paper Business Meeting, and other early-morning risers, were rewarded with a technical investigation of a 19th century Persian album owned by the Harvard Art Museums, presented by Penley Knipe, the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper and Head of Paper Lab at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies.
An exhibition scheduled at the Harvard Art Museums in 2017 will feature the album and other Qajar period work, and Knipe used this opportunity to research and document the various papers, media and techniques. The album is a carefully arranged collection of 141 drawings on paper cut and adhered onto folios of colored paper. Included are, sketches, finished drawings, and design patterns. The album will be disassembled for the exhibition, and rebound after it comes off view, allowing Knipe to complete extensive documentation and research on each sheet. Thus far she has identified seventy-seven wove sheets and forty-seven laid sheets. Twenty-six sheets contained watermarks. Surprisingly, as the watermarks were identified, it was discovered that the majority were of European origin. Seventeen watermarks were Italian, including the Magnani paper mill (Cartiera Magnani, established in the early 15th-century), two were English, and seven watermarks were from the Islamic world. All the watermarks were documented using digital beta radiography. This imaging revealed matching partial watermarks, allowing certain sheets to be reassembled, and adding more clues to the use of the paper. The variety of papers in this album, and preponderance of European papers, provides evidence for the paper trade during this period, as well as the transfer of papermaking technologies between east and west. Knipe’s research will make significant contributions to future scholarship on the history and manufacture of these papers.
After Knipe presented her exploration of the paper in the album, she focused on the techniques employed on the sheets. Many of the drawings were used for transferring images to other objects, evidenced by their pounced or inscribed lines, rubbed media, and thin/transparent quality of the paper supports. As the album was examined, it became clear that the drawings were arranged according to degree of use, and many had not been used at all. Knipe linked some of the patterns to objects bearing very similar designs, and illustrated this by showing us a (transferred) drawing of a long floral pattern next to an image of a lacquered pen box.
Investigation of the various papers and transfer techniques became a teaching tool for a graduate seminar in the Materials Lab at Harvard Art Museums where, over multiple sessions, the materials’ fabrications and use were explored through hands-on activities. The author had an opportunity to visit the Materials Lab after the 44th Annual Meeting, which is stocked full of artists’ materials for a variety of techniques in all media: from screen printing, to ceramics, to gilding. The benefit of teaching with real materials, and practicing the methods firsthand, is clear; for example, sight nuances, such as the manner in which “red chalk” rubs into and stains thin paper is directly observed and becomes much more easily recognizable in actual drawings. Knipe expanded on these practical sessions by leading a graduate seminar later in the year that explored both the media and the papers comprising the album.
Knipe’s research will be incorporated into the upcoming exhibition, where the technical results will be shared online and through gallery talks. In the meantime, high-quality, digital images of the album pages are available to explore online: http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/search-results?q=1960.161.