AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 9 “Study on the Influence of Gunpowder Residues Found in Paper-Based Materials”

Study on the Influence of Gunpowder Residues Found in Paper-Based Materials. Jen Jung Ku, Research Assistant and Paper Conservator, and Fei Wen Tsai, Associate Professor, Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan.

Gunpowder is used as a medium in modern physical and conceptual art. This presentation described experiments in artificial aging of gunpowder on paper in order to develop preservation standards for dealing with this material.

The presenters concluded that keeping gunpowder affixed to the artwork is a foremost problem for this form of art; therefore consolidating gunpowder without changing its physical texture is a subject for further exploration. Since gunpowder is a hazardous material, safe storage is another consideration.

Artists who have used gunpowder as a medium include Edward Ruscha, Matthew Stromberg, Aoife van Linden Tol,  Rosemare Fiore, Cai Guo-Qiang ,and Robert Weibel .

Here is a short video in which Edward Ruscha discusses gunpowder art:

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 9 “The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript:  Collaboration yields new insights”

The Mysterious “Voynich Manuscript”: Collaboration Yields New Insights.  Paula Zyats, Assistant Chief Conservator, Yale University Libraries; Gregory W.L. Hodgins, National Science Foundation—Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) Laboratory, University of Arizona; Joseph G. Barabe, Senior Research Microscopist, Director of Scientific Imaging,  McCrone Associates, Inc.

The Voynich manuscript, also known as “The Book That Can’t Be Read”, was donated to Yale in 1969. It is a vellum manuscript, bound in limp vellum (the binding is probably not contemporary, according to Paula Zyats), and is of unknown origin. It is written in either code or an unknown language and contains fantastic and garish illustrations. There have been a number of theories as to who authored this work, ranging from Francis Bacon, Leonardo Da Vinci, to Voynich himself. 

This presentation described the materials analysis and conservation treatment that were undertaken, partly as a result of a proposal by an Austrian film crew in 2008, to discover more about the creation of this work. Curators, conservators, and scientists collaborated to sample portions of the manuscript in order to identify and date the inks, paints, and parchment used in the manuscript. The manuscript was in good condition and conservation treatment focused on stabilization. Some fold-outs had cracks and tears needing repair, and some corners were turned up.

Carbon dating at the National Science Foundation—Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) Laboratory at the University of Arizona revealed that the parchment used for the folios dated to the 1450’s. Analyses by McCrone Associates suggest the drawing and writing inks are from the same period. Numbers on the folios were from a later period, but it was determined there are no modern components in the volume.

The Beinecke Library has made digital images of the manuscript available at:

The documentary can be accessed at:

And, Renee Zandbergen has a comprehensive website describing this work:

Ms. Zyats expressed her initial surprise that Yale agreed to this project, and there was some discussion about libraries and museums being willing to promote unique items in their collections. There is an understandable reluctance to market these materials since that may increase their handling and use. Rather than acting as a substitute, digital images often serve to increase curiosity about the real artifact. Nonetheless, it is exciting for conservators, scholars and the general public to learn more about the provenance and materials of such a unique item.


AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 9 “The Conservation of the Jefferson Bible at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution”

The Conservation of the Jefferson Bible at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.  Janice Stagnitto Ellis, Senior Paper Conservator, and Emily S. Rainwater, Post Graduate Fellow, NMAH; Laura A. Bedford, Assistant Book Conservator, NEDCC.

The Jefferson Bible is an assemblage of texts from the New Testament created by Thomas Jefferson, and bound into a book by Frederick Mayo. Jefferson titled this work The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.  According to the presenters, it has been in heavy demand and exhibited frequently during its lifetime.

This project was a team effort between conservators and curators. Before beginning treatment,  the conservators in consultation with the curators, thoroughly analyzed  its condition, materials and sewing structure, and together developed a plan for treatment and materials testing. As  the folios were separated conservators and curators examined each one before it was professionally photographed, and together decided where paper repairs should occur.

The treatment goal was to not improve the appearance of the folios (through flattening, for example) or to change Jefferson’s work.  Aqueous treatment and humidification were deemed too risky. Treatment consisted of removal of the textblock from the binding, replacement of the stubs, page repair, resewing and replacement into the original binding. The original endbands and their tie-downs were retained.

It is to the Smithsonian’s (and the conservators’) credit that they were willing to share the treatment of this artifact. The Smithsonian produced a facsimile and documentary, both for sale from the Smithsonian Store, and digital images are available online. An exhibition was installed in 2011, and the conservators allowed tours of the lab while work continued.

The UVA magazine has an illustrated description of the treatment:

The presentation also included a description of the conservation of 2 of the source books for Jefferson’s work. It was exciting to learn more about the life-cycle of this unique work.


AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 9 “Exploring New Frontiers: Outreach and collaboration across institutional boundaries with the treatment of De Brys’ Collection of Voyages”

Exploring New Frontiers: Outreach and Collaboration across Institutional Boundaries with the Treatment of de Brys’ Collection of Voyages. Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections, Duke University Libraries.

This presentation addressed the challenge often faced by book conservators: do we treat the item for maximum use by scholars even if that means some of the components of the current binding might be lost; or, do we retain everything that’s “original” even if some of these components might be harming the text? The conservation staff and their curatorial partners at Duke chose the first option in the treatment of 3 volumes of de Brys’ Voyages. These volumes were pulled, washed, resewn on tapes for maximum opening, and rebound in full calf bindings. The half leather bindings on 2 of the volumes were removed and stored in the new clamshell boxes constructed for each volume.

This treatment provided an opportunity to not only maximize the durability of these bindings for use by scholars, but to also make digital copies of the text, thereby making these materials even more accessible.
I have to question the decision made by the conservation and curatorial team involving an incomplete map in one of the volumes. Although a complete copy of the map was obtained from UNC and used for the placement of a fragment found tucked into the volume, the missing area was left blank. Since the goal was to make the volumes useful to scholars, why not take this opportunity to make the volume complete? This question was posed during the question and answer portion of the presentation, and the answer seemed to relate to the size or “newness” of the replacement portion. It seems to me that there were several options here. Since the book was resewn, the copy of the map could have been inserted after the original, incomplete map. Or, it could have been included with the other material in the clamshell box. The digital copy could have at least been made complete, with a note to that effect somewhere in the restored volume (perhaps it was).
The conservation of the de Brys’ Voyages coincided with a symposium of de Brys scholars that was held at Duke. The conservator (Ms. Hammeke) made the most of this opportunity by meeting with the scholars and discussing her treatment with them. She also enhanced her treatment documentation with short videos.

Generally, the information contained deep in the binding that is discovered by conservators remains hidden from scholars and curators, but this project is an excellent model of how collaboration between conservators, curators, and scholars can allow that knowledge to be shared.