AIC 41st Annual Meeting – Contemporary Art Sessions, May 31, 2013, “When Conservation Means Stapling: Touring an Unsupported, Unglazed, 9ft x 21ft, Oil Paint Stick on Paper to Three Venues by Joan Weir”

Joan Weir, conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, gave an informative Contemporary Art Session talk about the exhibition of Richard Serra’s 9’ by 21’ oil paint stick on paper, Untitled, 1974. She presented information about Serra’s working methods, and discussed challenges that conservators may encounter when working with oversize contemporary works of art on paper. I was particularly interested in learning about the process she used to mount the two horizontal sections of the drawing directly onto the wall with staples, because I had experienced the more modest challenge of how to mount an unglazed, unframed 8’ by 6’ contemporary charcoal drawing on a gallery wall.
Untitled, 1974, predated Serra’s use of the “bricks” he created from the individual oil paint sticks to facilitate the application of his medium. In 1974, he was still using individual oil paint sticks. When Weir unrolled the drawing from the 7’ storage tube, she observed that the oil paint stick medium on the upper sheet of paper was still flexible and in good condition, but had milky areas that appeared to be bloom.
After 30 years of being rolled, the paper remained strong enough to exhibit. The recto of the bottom sheet was disfigured with yellow stains. Since it contained no drawing media, Weir obtained permission from Serra to display the unstained verso side of the bottom sheet instead of the recto.
Untitled, 1974 had been exhibited without glazing or a frame less than four times, and had staple holes along the edges from the prior installations. Weir explored alternative hanging methods and finally embraced the idea of using standard 3/8” staples applied with a manual stapler. Prior to exhibition, she mended preexisting staple holes with Japanese tissue and a dry starch paste as needed. Post exhibit, she removed the staples with a Bosch staple remover, after inserting a protective Mylar strip beneath them.
To establish a safe procedure for the installation process, Weir created mockups of the same size as the drawing and practiced installing them. She determined that a courier team of two people was required to install and de-install the drawing, and used the same team and procedures for each of the three venues. The installation process also required 16’ of clear floor space in front of the wall, two scissors lifts, eight technicians, and shutting down the HVAC openings. A collapsible, portable raised work surface composed of Gator-board on folding tables “went on tour” with the rolled drawing. The stapling process was entrusted to a member of the Serra Studio team.
The installers practiced the installation two or three times at each venue prior to attempting the actual mounting of the drawing. They used tape on the wall to guide the placement of the drawing.
Weir described the installation procedure to AIC meeting attendees while she showed a video clip of the drawing being mounted on the wall. Seeing the actual process was very helpful. I hope she will add the video clip to the electronic version of her article as a valuable resource for anyone with a similar installation project.
During the first exhibit, she said that a sagging pouch formed along the top edge of the paper. By acclimating the drawing in the exhibit space overnight and refining the installation technique, she was able to prevent gaping by the third venue. The staples held very well.
Weir noted that the exhibited drawing accumulated many dust fibers and hairs, which she attributed to the HVAC systems. The requirement for constant supervision by a security guard prevented all but one touch incident, which she found remarkable.
Weir stated that this project had a number of high risks, especially the possibility of permanent damage from improper handling during the installation and de-installation process. Using the same people and procedures reduced the risk. This consistency was supported by all of the museums, the artist, and his studio, and it helped ensure the safety of the drawing.
This cooperative spirit extended to the relationship between the artist and the conservator. Weir respected Serra’s intent for how his work should be viewed. Instead of trying to promote traditional conservation ideals of how paper should be displayed, she worked to find the safest way to display his art without glazing or a frame.
Stapling art to the wall isn’t the first thought that comes to my mind when thinking about optimal exhibition methods. Contemporary art often requires unconventional approaches. Weir developed a workable solution that protected the drawing while allowing viewers to experience Untitled, 1974 as the artist intended.

AIC 41st Annual Meeting – Research and Technical Studies Session, May 31, “Artificial Aging of Paper-Based Cores Wrapped in Various Isolating Layers for use as Archival Storage Supports by Amy Williams and Catherine H. Stephens”

When faced with a budget dilemma for oversize mining maps storage, Amy Williams, project conservator at the University of Pittsburgh, asked herself “the $13,500 question:” Is there a benefit to using an archival 12” diameter storage tube core versus a non-archival 12” core wrapped with an isolating layer?
It would be easy to assume that archival cores were significantly better, well worth the extra $13,500. However, when faced with the substantial cost difference, Williams decided to conduct a scientific research project to determine the most cost-effective and preservation-friendly rolled storage system for the 5’ by 15’ maps of the Consol Energy Mine Map Preservation Project. She and her co-investigator, Dr. Catherine Stephens, presented their results on May 31, 2013 during the Research and Technical Studies Session of the AIC annual meeting.
If Williams and Stephens could prove that there was an acceptable, more affordable alternative to archival tubes, the news would be of great benefit to cultural institutions, collectors, and conservators. I was eager to hear their results.
Williams partnered with Stephens, Senior Research Scientist at the Art Conservation Research Center, Carnegie Mellow University (now at Yale University) for the investigation. They studied four types of tubes and six wrapping options suggested by conservators: no wrapping, polyester film, Tyvek, Marvelseal 360, heavy weight aluminum foil, and tissue paper buffered with 3.5% calcium carbonate. For the cores, they selected two archival tubes with different adhesives (sodium silicate versus a blend of polyvinyl alcohol and polyvinyl acetate), a non-archival core of kraft paper with an unidentified adhesive, and a Quik-Tube concrete pouring tube composed of recycled paper and a polyvinyl acetate/acrylic adhesive.
In the experiments, the maps were simulated by using Whatman #1 filter paper. The use of Whatman #1 paper versus historic papers was discussed in another 2013 RATS talk by Bill Minter and John Baty, “The Role of Polyester Film Encapsulation—With and Without Prior Deacidification—On Paper Degradation, Studied During Long-Term, Low Temperature Aging.” Minter and Baty chose historic papers for their research. I think it would add to our understanding if Williams and Stephens conducted a second phase of their research using commercially available papers or naturally aged historic papers to compare with the Whatman #1 results.
Their test samples, each consisting of a “map,” an isolating layer (or none), and a core, were aged at 90˚C and 50% relative humidity in an oven for up to 24 weeks.
The researchers’ first discovery was the unexpected impact of the adhesive, which caused staining on the tubes at the seam gaps between the narrow strips of paper comprising the tubes. This staining transferred onto the Whatman paper “maps.”
To prevent this problem, Williams recommended obtaining seamless tubes by asking the manufacturer to skive the edges of the paper. She also emphasized the importance of knowing the composition of both the paper and the glue of the cores.
I wonder how problematic the adhesive would be during a natural aging process or during a lower temperature artificial aging, and hope the researchers will consider exploring this in the future.
Williams and Stephens reported that the linen ties on the samples caused staining during the aging process. They switched to rare earth magnets, which caused no reported problems. Would a lower temperature during testing have prevented or reduced the problem with the linen ties? If this is a significant problem at all temperatures, linen ties may not be appropriate for rolled storage.
The experiment produced more unexpected results. The researchers evaluated the effects of the cores and isolating layers on the “maps” by measuring the chain scission of the cellulose, the yellowness, and the pH of the “maps.” I was surprised to learn that both the Tyvek and the Marvelseal 360 actively promoted degradation, yellowing, and a lower pH.
The aluminum foil, polyester film, and buffered tissue offered varying amounts of protection, depending on the type of core used. The best isolating layer overall was the heavy weight aluminum foil, and the best wrapper for the kraft tube was polyester film.
I wondered if the high temperature during aging might be responsible for the poor performance of the Marvelseal and the Tyvek, and whether the heat caused chemical changes within these two films. How much of the unexpected results overall was caused by the elevated temperature? Would similar results occur during natural aging at room temperature?
The researchers did speak about this issue. Stephens said that they chose the high temperature for artificial aging to ensure detectable changes, and stated that more research was needed lower temperatures.
From what I understood about the test results that Williams and Stephens presented, it seemed that wrapping a non-archival core with heavy weight aluminum foil could give comparable results to using an archival core. I would like to know more the amount of difference they saw, and hope they will offer a detailed discussion of this in their article about the research.
The results of their experiment have caused me to question my own assumptions about the storage materials we use. I hope Williams and Stephens will continue their valuable research, to determine what results are typical at lower temperatures and answer some of the other questions they raised during this first phase of the investigation.

Conference Review for “The Next Chapter: Rare Books in Modern Times,” November 13-14, 2012

Speakers Abigail Quandt, Will Noel, Renee Wolcott, and Jim Hinz answered audience questions during the first day's question and answer session. Laura Hortz Stanton (right) was the moderator. Photo credit: CCAHA
Speakers Abigail Quandt, Will Noel, Renee Wolcott, and Jim Hinz answered audience questions during the first day’s question and answer session. Laura Hortz Stanton (right) was the moderator. Photo credit: CCAHA

A question and answer session at "The Next Chapter" conference.  Photo credit: CCAHA
A question and answer session at “The Next Chapter” conference. Photo credit: CCAHA

“The Next Chapter:  Rare Books in Modern Times” conference had an ambitious goal, to offer talks of benefit to anyone with a professional interest in rare books. The conference was presented by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, and hosted by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

One of the aspects I most appreciated about “The Next Chapter” was the collaborative spirit fostered by having speakers from a diversity of rare book-related professions. Librarians, preservation administrators, conservators, a curator, and a professor of book arts shared their expertise and insights with an audience of more than 100 rare book professionals and students. The presentations ranged from practical preservation basics to inspiring achievements in conservation, digitization, and exhibition methods.

Chela Metzger, Conservator of Library Collections at the Winterthur Museum, gave an overview of contemporary rare book conservation and a brief historical perspective of book conservation. She discussed collaborative digitization and public engagement projects involving conservators and other professionals.

Abigail Quandt, Senior Conservator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum, presented the historical evolution of codex bindings from Coptic Egypt through the early European Renaissance, and some examples of later handwritten Eastern Mediterranean books.

For altered or damaged rare manuscripts, digitization methods may help to reveal the original text and page order. Will Noel, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s  Special Collections Center and The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, discussed the challenges of digitizing and conserving the Archimedes Palimpsest and three other Byzantine manuscripts.

Not all rare books were originally ornate or expensive. Renée Wolcott, Book Conservator at CCAHA, discussed the construction, history, and preservation challenges for the simple, inexpensive American scaleboard bindings of the mid-17th to early 19th centuries.

Jim Hinz, CCAHA’s Director of Book Conservation, spoke about projects that combined book conservation and digital imaging, including the preservation of Bruce Springstein’s original spiral-bound notebooks of lyrics.

For those seeking basic how-to information, Janet Gertz offered two talks on setting preservation priorities and selection for digitization. She is the director of the Columbia University Libraries Preservation and Digital Conversion Division.

Maria Fredericks, Drue Heinz Book Conservator at the Morgan Library & Museum, discussed her institution’s impressive state-of-the-art exhibition program.

Public outreach is an important focus for rare book collections. Christine Nelson, Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum, presented digital strategies to engage the public, educate, and inspire dialogue about special collections.

Eric Pumroy, Director of Library Collections and Seymour Adelman Head of Special Collections for Bryn Mawr College, spoke about ways of promoting and preserving rare book collections, including the use of social media, adopt-a-book programs, exhibits about conservation, and recognition of donors.

In his talk about the University of Alabama’s hands-on MFA book arts classes in Cuba, Professor Steve Miller shared the joy of creation, and a welcome perspective from contemporary makers of hand-crafted, limited edition books.   Miller is the Coordinator of the MFA in the Book Arts Program, School of Library Sciences, for the University of Alabama.

Conference participants were invited to attend two optional events, an open house reception at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, and a rare books talk in the American Philosophical Society’s reading room by Roy Goodman, Assistant Librarian and Curator of Printed Materials. At the reception, CCAHA staff discussed their current conservation treatments and storage housing projects.

The diversity of subjects and perspectives presented during the talks ensured that there was something of interest for everyone. We learned from each other and gained a better understanding of other aspects of the field. “The Next Chapter “ was an inspiring and valuable conference.

Review of "Book Repair Techniques for Special Collections," The Campbell Center, July 30 to August 2, 2012

The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies offers valuable opportunities for conservators to update their skills, and to increase their productivity and scope of practice through its excellent series of conservation refresher courses.
Last summer I attended the new course, “Book Repair Techniques for Special Collections,” at the Campbell Center in Mount Carroll, Illinois. The four-day course provided me and the other four participants with an informative and practical immersion in the theory and ethics of rare books conservation, an overview of binding history and structures, and hands-on experience with rare books stabilization techniques.
Our instructor, Olivia Primanis, the senior book conservator at the University of Texas at Austin’s Humanities Research Center, presented the course as a combination of lectures, class discussions, technique demonstrations, and hands-on practice.
Each student filled out a condition report and treatment proposal for a damaged book they brought with them, then discussed it with the class so we could consider treatment options as a group.

Elise Calvi, conservator at the Indiana Historical Society, practiced book board reattachment with joint tacketing.    Photo credit: The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies.
Elise Calvi, conservator at the Indiana Historical Society, practiced joint tacketing to reattach a board. Photo credit: The Campbell Center

The hands-on portion of the course included opportunities to practice testing methods, paring leather, lifting leather and cloth covers, consolidating corners, rebacking, reattaching spines and boards, and repairing damaged sewing. The small class allowed Olivia to give each student plenty of individual attention.
I found Olivia to be a gifted and inspiring teacher who excelled at teaching treatment techniques and sharing the knowledge and insights she’d gained during her career as a bookbinder, conservator, and former library conservation program instructor.
An aspect of the class that I found especially valuable was Olivia’s emphasis on treatment decision-making and being aware of the factors that influence our decisions, such as time available for the treatment or the conservator’s knowledge of techniques. She spoke about how preferred treatment approaches have evolved over time, corresponding with changing bias in book conservation, and challenged us to consider how our current biases might be viewed by conservators in the future.
Olivia discussed the importance of determining the cause of the failure or damage before treating the book, considering whether the planned treatment would transfer the stress to a different location, and recognizing when repairing broken book structures might not be best for the book. Certain types of physical and bibliographic evidence may need to be preserved, such as wax in a liturgical book or a historical patina and fingerprints indicating use.
She reminded us that each step of the conservation treatment influenced the way the book moved. We had the opportunity to explore this for ourselves by handling an identical set of books she had treated using different techniques, and by trying the techniques during the hands-on practice.
The Campbell Center’s remote yet charming small town location could have been a disadvantage, but the staff and instructors worked hard to build community among concurrent classes through optional trips in the evenings to area restaurants and the Raven’s Grin, the town’s unique haunted house. The course fee included housing in the Campbell Center campus dormitory, communal breakfasts and lunches, and access to the library’s computers and wireless internet.
The informal, collaborative environment encouraged students and instructors from different classes to share and learn from each other. Our class was treated to an excellent guest lecture on leather and parchment when Dr. Sheila Fairbrass-Siegler, a conservator and chemist who taught the concurrent “Introduction to Organic and Inorganic Materials” course, offered to present the talk for us one afternoon.
Olivia’s course gave me the opportunity to learn and practice new treatment techniques, and to focus deeply on why and how we treat rare books, including the consequences of our treatment decisions.
“Book Repair Techniques for Special Collections” will benefit general collections conservators, conservation technicians, library bookbinders, and conservators of paper and photographs who wish to expand their skills.
The workshop will be offered again on July 24 to 27, 2013 at the Campbell Center. In addition, Dr. Fairbrass-Siegler will teach a new “Parchment Conservation” workshop at the center from July 17 to 20, 2013. A limited number of $300 FAIC scholarships are available. For more information, visit