AIC’s 45th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper + Research & Technical Studies group talks, May 31, 2017 – “Revisiting paper pH determination: 40 years of evolving practice in the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Laboratory” by Cindy Connelly Ryan

Cindy’s talk was a mightily condensed summary a few of the techniques for measuring the pH of paper that the Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) at the Library of Congress has investigated over the last 4 decades. Her introduction was a summary of the challenges presented by this task. Due to the chemical structure of cellulose and the nature of paper, most methods can only approximate the pH of paper. The method of sample preparation can impact the results of measuring. How paper ages means that there may be a different pH in different regions. The ions that dictate the pH may not be soluble in water, making measuring pH harder. And atmospheric carbon dioxide can react with your solution and affect your results. Notice that I said “solution.” Cindy ended her introduction by noting that you can’t measure the pH of a solid. But you can approximate it, and the PRTD has been trying to identify the best way to do this for decades.

The PRTD’s focus on the pH of paper began in 1971 with the deacidification program. Chemist George B. Kelly used titrated alkalinity and titrated acidity as an “external yardstick”, and four different extraction methods: TAPPI cold method, TAPPI hot method, surface pH measurement, and “pulped” pH method. Kelly determined that for acidic papers, the method of measuring pH didn’t matter much, but the alkaline papers had an acidic pH despite their 1% alkaline reserve. The hot extraction method was shown to be much more accurate with alkaline papers, as it was likely better at getting all the ions into solution. The pulp method came close. Cindy then went on to talk about the uncertain origins of the pulp method (i.e. it’s not discussed in any published literature, but is mentioned frequently in internal documents from the PRTD). (I do wish that Cindy had gone into detail about the process of each method of extraction, because I wasn’t too sure about how each process worked. She doesn’t mention pH strips, gels, or pH meters at all in this talk. And TAPPI stands for the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.)

Then Cindy skipped to the late 1990’s (she does mention that a few papers had been published in the decades between). By this time, the PRTD ramps up its documentation efforts, as well as its protocols for sample collection and homogenization. Most of these protocols were put on their website. During the renovation of the instrumental suite in 2007, the lab’s emphasis shifted to developing non-destructive and micro-invasive techniques, which were more appropriate for art objects rather than circulating collections materials. This meant that the sampling methods had to adjust accordingly.

To address the new challenge of micro samples (or none at all), the PRTD tried to make surface pH measurement work, but found that tideline formation and sensitive media made that difficult. “Miniaturization” was another method the PRTD tried. For this technique, sample size can be a few milligrams to a few micrograms, depending on the paper to water ratio and other details of sample preparation. They found that slurrying helps, but filtration makes no difference in pH measurement.  In addition, controlling the amount of carbon dioxide was key to getting an accurate reading with acidic papers. Both purged bags and sealed vials were tried, with comparable standard deviations but slightly different pH readings. The pH readings from the micro methods agreed fairly well with macro methods.

One of the best takeaways from Cindy’s talk was when she shared that during their renovation, the PRTD was sending out samples to a contractor for pH measurement, and papers that had an alkaline reserve were coming back with an acidic pH. Their conclusion was that not every method is appropriate for every type of paper, and that sample preparation can also affect results.

Here were some tips about each of the methods, taken from Cindy’s recap slide: The Hot Method is closest to objective measurement, but takes two hours per sample. The Pulped/Blender method generally agrees with the hot method, but is faster. The ISO cold method has a much higher standard deviation than the TAPPI cold method. Thea Surface pH method has the highest standard deviation of any method tested, and is difficult with alkaline papers, thick boards, and boards with adhesives. This method also causes tidelines. And the Mini Method is also difficult with thick boards, but the results comparable in repeatability to large scale extraction methods.

So, what does it take to accurately measure the pH of a piece of paper? A focus on repeatability and an optimistic attitude! The scientists and preservation specialists at the PRTD struggle with many of the same challenges that the rest of us do, albeit with fancier equipment. It sounds like just getting a ballpark figure for pH is as close as we can hope for for now. The PRTD is still investigating methods, and we should all look forward to their results!

Finally, one cool tip: You can make your own micro blender with a homemade Mylar blade attached to a Dremel tool!

45th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 1, “Sidewalks, Circles, and Stars: Reviving the Legacy of Sari Dienes,” by Samantha Sheesley

“Marcy,” Sari Dienes, mid-1950s

As a library conservator, I enjoy breaking out of my niche by attending art-related talks, because it gets me back in touch with my roots as an artist once upon a time. I knew Samantha’s talk was not to be missed. She has shown through previous research that the conservation of modern and contemporary art on paper is exciting, as you often have a more direct link to the artists when treating their work. While the Hungarian-born artist Sari Dienes (1898-1992) is no longer living, I was confident Samantha would still get to know the intricacies of this unique artist thoroughly. There has never been a better, more urgent time to focus on the influence and mastery of women artists as it is now, in our current political climate, where suppression of the female voice rises as a concern once again. Samantha’s timely and engaging talk grabbed my attention not only for its focus on an unsung 20th century female artist but for the way Samantha, paper conservator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), throws herself into her projects wholeheartedly.

By now many colleagues have heard about Samantha’s research and treatment of original artwork by the tattoo artist “Sailor Jerry” during her time as paper conservator at CCAHA. I admired how much her work on this project became a part of her, literally and professionally. The tattoos she took away as a permanent “souvenir” of this work, on her own skin, really left an impact on me. Having overlapped with her in grad school at Buffalo, I remember how much Samantha loves her work and shows a special curiosity. Samantha’s project on Sari Dienes’ large-scale rubbings was no exception.

While Dienes worked in many mediums and styles throughout her lifetime, Samantha presented Dienes’ rubbings of manhole covers, which she created using brayer-applied ink on Webril – a material used in the medical field as padding between skin and cast. While Webril today is commonly 100% cotton, it was not in the past, and the fiber composition of the Webril Dienes used was not recorded. True to her immersive spirit, Samantha travelled to the Sari Dienes Foundation in Pomona, NY, where she was able to collect historic samples of materials from the artist’s collection to use for testing and analysis. She explained that identification is not resolved as she seeks colleagues with fiber samples she might use for comparison, since her reference library did not provide a match to her FTIR analysis.

Samantha Sheesley creates a rubbing of a manhole cover in the style of Dienes

In her presentation, Samantha led the audience on a manhole scavenger hunt through the streets of NYC, where she traced Dienes’ steps at the artist’s preferred working time, Sundays at 5am. Samantha wondered how Dienes navigated the city streets with all her required bulky supplies, and explained that Jasper Johns sometimes served as her assistant. Dienes would talk to people passing by on the street as she worked, which is inevitable in the extroverted city of New York. To get a sense of the physical work required, Samantha produced rubbings in the same manner as the artist.

It’s impressive how well-connected Dienes was to artists of the time, but because she was a woman, she was not well-liked or accepted by the many of her male contemporaries. Jackson Pollock spoke poorly of her, but she collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg for an exhibit in the Bonwit Teller department store in 1955. The VMFA acquired two of the manhole rubbings that were at Bonwit Teller, which were in poor condition. One of the pieces Samantha focused on is titled “Marcy.” It was stapled to an acidic cardboard backing, which subsequently discolored the Webril, along with displaying many other condition problems.

Samantha Sheesley treats “Marcy” at the VMFA

The goal was to repair Dienes’ work in order to restore her legacy and display all the manhole rubbings together again. After much testing on samples, Samantha decided to wash the delicate Webril supports using wet Tech Wipe, and created over 70 inserts using acrylic-toned Hanji adhered with methyl cellulose. Pastel pencils were used for visual integration. The work was logistically challenging and time consuming, to say the least, but the audience was able to see clearly how much care was taken with excellent results depicted in Samantha’s treatment photos.

I was thrilled to be exposed to an artist I never heard of, but who was in fact so very influential. Samantha explained that Dienes’ work not only influenced Rauschenberg and Johns, but was associated with Fluxus artists such as a personal favorite, Naim June Paik. Dienes believed any material could be used to create a work of art and to end her presentation, Samantha shared an inspiring Dienes quote that deserves to be passed along: “Spirit lives in everything. It has no age, no color, no sex.” Samantha should feel proud of sharing the life and work of a woman who influenced many, while standing in the shadows of history. One of our greatest responsibilities and joys as conservators is to repair artifacts so that silenced voices can be heard once again. Samantha continues this charge with admirable determination.

45th Annual Meeting – Pre-session, May 29, 2017, “ECPN Poster Lighting Round,” moderated by Rebecca Gridley and Michelle Sullivan

This year ECPN rolled out a new program during a pre-meeting session that allowed poster presenters another venue to share their projects and research. I was very excited for this session because I have felt overwhelmed by the number of posters and limited free time to view them. A similar sentiment was later echoed at the AIC Business Meeting. I hope that ECPN (or AIC generally) considers organizing a similar session next meeting and I would encourage anyone looking for more engagement with poster authors to attend.

This session was in no way comprehensive of all the poster submissions. ECPN members received a notification about the session about a year before the meeting. However, ECPN contacted all poster authors once they were accepted to the general AIC poster session. The email solicitation encouraged “emerging conservation professionals” and “topics relevant to ECPs (not necessarily authored by ECPs)” according to Rebecca Gridley, ECPN Vice Chair and one of the organizers of the session. There were 14 presenters total this year, which were chosen from email responses of poster authors indicating an interest in participating. The final selection was chosen to offer a range of talks across specialties and include speakers spanning the ECPN demographic, according to Gridley. Unfortunately not every author interested was able to be included due to time restraints of the session, but ECPN is considering how this could be improved in the future.

This year’s inaugural Lightning Round did seem to have mostly young presenters including pre-program, graduate students, and recent graduates. It does seem that ECPN is trying to be more inclusive and the demographic of “ECP” is only loosely defined. Certainly the audience this year was more diverse than the presenters and included AIC Fellows and other more established professionals in the field. At the same time, the environment of the Lightning Round felt very safe and welcoming. We were seated at round tables, which was more casual than auditorium seating. This was a great opportunity for first-time presenters to get their feet wet. One of the speakers was a first-time attendee and presented on her first conservation treatment ever as a pre-program. This session promoted information sharing and dialogue—activities that I personally feel will only help strengthen our field.

Alex Nichols reflecting on the benefit of the Lightning Round said, “I was approached by several conservators and researchers in specialties other than my own [modern and contemporary objects] who said that they were introduced to my research through the lightning round presentations.” In comparison to the last time Nichols presented a poster (at the 43rd Annual Meeting in Miami), she had more people ask about her research, which she attributes to the exposure from the ECPN Lightning Round.

Cathie Magee presenting alongside Michiko Adachi at ECPN Poster Lighting Round. The moderators are seated at the table. 

The 14 poster topics were divided into two rounds, which allowed for a necessary intermission/bathroom break. The rounds were moderated by Michelle Sullivan, ECPN Chair, and Rebecca Gridley, ECPN Vice Chair.

In the spirit of the “Lightning Round” each presenter was given two minutes and three content slides to summarize their poster at the podium. This seemed like a daunting task and like I might not receive much more information than the title of the poster. I was really impressed with how clear and concise all the speakers were (I think the tambourine—symbolizing time’s up—only had to be used once). I learned a lot from the brief presentations and there was even time for one or two questions for every speaker. Having the visual component of the slides I felt took this beyond what a written abstract can offer. The Q & A was also very lively and I think emphasized how valued the poster presentations are to the conservation community.

I found this Lightning Round useful not only for the direct information, but also in helping me be more efficient with my time in the exhibition hall with the posters. Each PowerPoint included the poster number for easy reference to the location in the exhibit hall. Feeling similarly, Claire Curran, Assistant Objects Conservator at the ICA, also in attendance, and reacted, “definitely visiting this one—sounds really cool” in response to a treatment of a Hopi Katsina doll. The room was filled and there seemed to be a strong positive response to the session.

To keep things light and encourage additional networking during the ECPN Happy Hour (which immediately followed the Lightning Round) a fun fact about each presenter was announced in addition to his/her professional bio. For example, Sarah Giffin was introduced as the “meat whisperer” because of her delicious slow cooking brisket recipe.

I am embarrassed to say that I did not know that the posters are published on the AIC website after each Annual Meeting. You can access them here.

To help your exploration of the .pdf files online, here are some of the highlights each presenter chose to emphasize during the ECPN Lightning Round.

#30 Conservation in Miniature: The merger of museum object and historic interior in the treatment of a Victorian era dollhouse

Sarah Giffin

  • Applied in situ treatment methodology used for full-scale interiors to miniature interior of Horniman dollhouse
  • Mist consolidation with nebulizer using Klucel G in acetone (tests in water solubilized tannins in wooden walls creating issues with tidelines)
  • Condensation in the small tube was a challenge and had to tap out liquid droplets at times


#60 Conservation and Art Historical Data goes Digital at the Art Institute of Chicago

Kaslyne O’Connor

  • Interactive website for conservation treatment of a collection of Alfred Stieglitz photographs and some contemporaries
  • Used WordPress platform because easy interface and allowed for frequent updates to content
  • Provides links to art historical information as well conservation/ technical information and research


#44 Applying Fills to Losses in a Flexible Polyurethane Foam Chair at the Museum of Modern Art

Alex Nichols

  • Research and analysis to confirm type of foam composition of the chair
  • Bulked methylcellulose and grated polyurethane foam for consolidation and filling of losses; liquid nitrogen helped harden foam enough to easily grate and shape
  • Inpranil DLV/1 is a traditionally favored consolidant for polyurethane foam but has been challenging to acquire


#92 Chemical Cleaning and Intervention Criteria in a Brass Dial Clock from the XIX Century

João Henrique Ribeiro Barbosa

  • Clock face (only surviving element of the clock) composed of three different metals joined together with rivets
  • Previous cleaning by polishing left white residues and new corrosion products developed underneath
  • Ammonium citrate solution addressed polish residues with “DTCNa” or sodium diethyldithiocarbamate solution addressed corrosion products


#24 History, Treatment, and Preparation for Digitization of 14th-century Estate Rolls

Annabel Pinkney

  • Surface cleaning, humidification, repair with Japanese tissue
  • Rehousing to handle during treatment, digitization, and future research


#42 Treatment and Reconstruction of a Badly Damaged Hopi Katsina Doll Made of Gourd

Hayley Monroe

  • Gourds painted in acrylic
  • Treatment included surface cleaning, consolidating cracks, introducing new internal armature to help with reassembly and stabilization
  • Used silicone self-adhering bands to secure while mends were setting
  • Armature was set in place before doll head was reattached; tensioned wire extending to wings before head was placed back on


#10 Towards Nondestructive Characterization of Black Drawing Media

Nathan Daly

  • Redon drawings were used for case study
  • Redon working period overlapped with commercial materials available in 20th century
  • Macro XRF scanning used to map elements combined with micro Raman spectroscopy
  • Characterization relied on peaks in fingerprint region and peaks indicative of known additives to distinguish between different carbon-based media
  • 785nm laser for Raman because of heavy use of fixatives on the drawings


#27 (I Can’t Get No) Documenation: Preservation reporting in the Archives

Marissa Vassari

  • Established a template “Preservation Report” for standardized documentation and condition reporting
  • Focus on up-to-date condition and documentation of current status of projects and personnel involved; address realities of institution with changing/temporary staff and disruptions project workflow
  • Format based on feedback from other institutions and existing condition reports in the archive


#80 Bedbugs: A pesky problem

Meredith Wilcox-Levine

  • Addressing infestation of a Lakota teepee in private hands installed behind owner’s bed
  • Freezing unsuccessful likely not able to achieve low enough temperatures throughout
  • “Solarization” using hatchback car appeared to work (i.e. no live bugs remained)
  • For domestic infestation chemical treatment often necessary for bed bugs; they are night feeders and hide during the day


#32 Treatment of a Shattered Bark Basket from Australia

Marci Jefcoat Burton

  • Basket likely eucalyptus bark sealed with natural resin
  • Consolidated with B-72; bridged with tissue and blend of Lascaux adhesives
  • Removable internal support for storage constructed of backer rod (trapezoidal shaped Ethafoam strips) shaped to the contour of the basket and padded with Volara


#84 Lifting the Microfiber Veil: Utilizing Evolon fabric at the Mauritshuis to remove aged varnish from Hendrick Heerschop’s A Visit to the Doctor

Julie Ribits

  • Evolon is 70:30 polyester: polyamide spun-bond fabric
  • Evolon originally developed as anti-bug fabric
  • Used to lift and remove aged varnish; gentle and appropriate for surfaces with extensive lead soap networks
  • Polyamide fibers are hydrophilic and contribute to aqueous cleaning


#22 Captain America Encounters Klucel M

Michiko Adachi and Cathie Magee

  • Captain America pages had been stapled together in case binding
  • Mending utilized solvent reactivated tissue to avoid solubility issues and tidelines from acidic migration of newsprint substrate
  • Klucel M used as adhesive because of strength and transparency
  • Klucel M artificially aged by Library of Congress and seems to have similar properties/behavior to Klucel G


#67 Initial Treatment Techniques for Japanese Lacquer-based Metallic Thread and Cut Paper Applique

Elinor Dei Tos Pironti

  • Solubility testing was used to characterize original adhesive for metallic paper threads on a Japanese garment
  • Urushi was used to consolidate metallic threads


#31 Under Close Observation: A pilot study monitoring change in objects’ conditions

Ashley Freeman

  • Summarizing current research and findings of the Managing Collections Environment Initiative at the Getty
  • Comparing different methods of monitoring conditions of objects including photographic documentation (DSLR, point and shoot camera, iPhone), caliper measurements to monitor cracks, acoustic emissions
  • 14 objects representative of materials found in institutional collections used for case study; exposed to humidity cycling

45th Annual Meeting – Unique Objects/Unique Treatment, Weds. May 31, 2017, “Nanocellulose films: properties, development and new applications for translucent and transparent artworks and documents,” presented by Remy Dreyfuss-Deseigne

Remy Dreyfuss-Deseigne described research related to mending methods for transparent materials using nanocellulose films. His research has been carried out with several institutional partners, at the National Library of France (BnF, Paris, France), Research Center for Conservation (CRC, Paris, France), French Museum of Cinema,  and during his 2015-2016 NEA fellowship in paper conservation at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA, Philadelphia, PA).

Remy opened with some images of difficult structural problems: torn gelatin windows, animation cells, and architectural drawings on tracing paper. He then introduced nanocellulose, explaining how it is made, what its properties are, and its potential for use in conservation.

His work focuses on one kind of nanocellulose, microfibrillated cellulose (abbreviated MFC).  Nanocellulose materials are produced for a variety of uses in electronics and biotech, and are being researched and manufactured by several universities including in Grenoble, France  and at the University of Maine.

Nanocellulose is produced by mechanically shearing wood to rip apart the fibers until they are nano in scale.  Cotton, spruce and birch can all be used as sources for nanocellulose. The amorphous parts of the remaining cellulose structure are treated with acid in order to dissolve them, leaving highly crystalline fibrils.   There is a lot of ongoing research into the production of nanocellulose in the nanotechnology, renewable materials, and sustainable engineering fields.

Nanocellulose fibrils vs. crystals, image from:


For conservation applications, Remy compared the properties of nanocellulose films to  lightweight Japanese papers like gampi and kozo used to mend tears on translucent artworks. Nanocellulose is supplied as a gel that can be cast out by pouring into a petri dish and evaporating out the water, creating films that vary proportionally in thickness related to concentration. Remy’s research investigates its properties in combination with different adhesives, and its response to artificial aging tests (light, temperature and humidity) as well as mechanical strength tests.

He found that the nanocellulose films were thinner than papers but quite strong (nearly as strong as Gampi), and mostly behaved like cellulose, a good thing for their use as a paper conservation material. Most importantly, mends made with the thin films are practically invisible in regular and transmitted light. These mends were demonstrated on translucent slides with tears from the collection of the  French Museum of Cinema (impressive work!).  Ongoing testing will include further analysis of the material, e.g. pH and mechanical strength measurements and fungal resistance tests.

While this was the first time I had heard about nanocellulose it has many potential uses, and not just for mending translucent materials. As a biomaterial derived from renewable forestry resources, nanocellulose has gotten a lot of attention over the past five years for its potential in industrial applications. Given its high ratio of strength to weight it has great potential for use in fill materials of all types, and has already found applications in industrial 3D printing as a substitute for carbon fibers in composites.  Since it is compatible with many adhesives, it may find wide-ranging applications in conservation. I am looking forward to hearing more about Remy’s ongoing research and thank him for the excellent introduction to an interesting material. You can learn more about Remy’s work at his website.

45th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper + RATS Session, May 31: “Contacts that Leave Traces: Investigations into the Contamination of Paper Surfaces from Handling,” by Karen van der Pal

In libraries, archives, and museums around the world, those in charge of protecting cultural heritage struggle with the topic: Gloves or No Gloves? Karin van der Pal’s talk on the contamination of paper surfaces from handling gives measurable data pertaining to the debate.

Van der Pal’s studies in forensic analysis are being conducted at Curtin University in Western Australia. She is currently collaborating with the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the chemistry of latent fingerprints and with Flinders University, in South Australia.

Van der Pal received paper samples from an Australian paper mill to conduct her research. She first solidified her own approach on how to not contaminate the papers she was testing: wearing cotton gloves underneath nitrile gloves she could take off the top layer and replace with a new set of gloves during the process without any of her marks coming through.

Historically, we know that dark fingerprints appear on paper. The edges of leaves in books become discolored as well. But is this a result of dirt, or could it be because of fingerprint oils? Van der Pal explained that the residue left by fingermarks include aqueous deposits, lipids, and dead skin. The proportion varies based on a person’s age, gender, and diet. Another variable on the kind of mark that is left is environmental exposure. If the pages with the contamination are left in the dark, there is little discoloration, but exposure to light causes the marks to darken.

Fingerprint deposits can be a combination of sebaceous oils and sweat from ecrine and apocrine glands. Typically, van der Pal explains that when a finger print is left, the oily sebaceous residue is on top, while amino acids sink into the paper, and the oil residue evaporates. In van der Pal’s experiments, the fingerprints are not visible to the naked eye, so it was necessary to apply an indicator agent that could show the intensity/saturation of the print left on her test papers. Ninhydrin has historically been used, that develops a fingerprint into a pink-purple. 1,2-Indandione/Zn Chloride exhibits color and luminescence and can show marks left up to 150 years old, so van der Pal selected this to use as an indicator.

The goal of the speaker’s most current experiments was to determine how effective hand washing is, if contaminants pass through gloves, and what effect hand gels and sanitizers have on papers. Using the 1,2 Indandione/Zn Chloride, van der Pal was able to determine that no contaminants come through nitrile gloves up to 2 hours. She cautioned that fingerprints and oils can still be picked up onto the outside of the nitrile gloves if one handles doorknobs and keyboards, for example. One also has to be mindful that wearing nitrile gloves for an extended amount of time is very unpleasant, so an option could be to wear cotton gloves underneath.

Van der Pal’s experiments show that 5 minutes after handwashing, the oils in the skin come back, and that 15 minutes after washing, there is more oil than prior to washing because the body is working to redevelop the oil lost.

Hand creams are left on the surface of the paper.

Antibacterial gels also do not prevent oils from being left on paper.

In the future van der Pal expects to study how drying/aging affects a wider range of paper, how long the fingermarks last on the paper, and what effects whether the marks darken.

Questions from the Floor:

Q1: Can you still detect marks on paper that have been washed? A1: Yes, you can still detect marks on paper that has been subsequently washed up to 3 months.

Q2: Regarding gels, how long did you wait until you tried to detect the oils? A2: we tested at different intervals of time.

Q3: Was there a transfer of the materials/paper to the gloves? A1: Reusing gloves can cause a transfer. Some gilding can attach to cotton gloves. Nitrile shouldn’t pick much up.

45th Annual Meeting- BPG Session, May 31, “The Codex Eyckensis (8th century). Re-evaluation of the 20th century restoration & conservation treatments by Lieve Watteeuw

Professor Lieve Watteeuw introduces her presentation with a description of the Codex Eyckensis, the subject of her talk. The Codex is comprised of two distinct gospels bound as one, most likely made at the scriptorium of Echternach in Luxembourg in the 8th century. A study in 1994 showed that both of the gospel manuscripts were made in the same scriptorium, and most likely by the same scribe. The manuscripts were held in the treasury of the Abbey of Aldeneik until they were transferred to the treasury of St. Catherine’s church in Maaseik in 1571 during a period of religious unrest. In 1596, a pilgrimage feast was arranged to honor the pilgrimage of the Codex and the other treasures from the Abbey of Aldeneik. Every 7 years thereafter, in tandem with the holy feasts of Aachen, the Codex would be on view, processed to its former home at Aldeneik.  The manuscripts were turned over to private ownership in the years following the French Revolution, until they were returned to Maaseik in 1871. From that date, the manuscripts were again part of processions, but only every 25 years.


It was observed in 1957 that the manuscripts were in very poor condition, so an attempt was made to preserve them. At the time, bookbinder Karl Sievers of Dusseldorf laminated the pages of the manuscript with Mipofolie, a polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In the late 1980s, Professor Watteeuw noticed that the leaves had suffered from this treatment. The PVC had turned yellow and had hardened, and it was decided to remove this damaging material.

The conservation treatment spanned from 1989-93. The removal of the mipofolie was accomplished using a technique developed in Budapest, which involved suction and a light table. Once the mipofolie had been removed, losses in the leaves were filled with parchment pulp. In removing the plastic foil, some pigment was removed as well. All of the mipofolie sheets were kept that had been removed from the Codex Eyckensis with the idea that they might be able to be used one day. At the time of this intervention, the curators decided to rebind the two distinct manuscripts separately using glue free bindings with deer skin covers over oak boards. The manuscripts were put on permanent display.


After years on permanent display, Professor Watteeuw was asked to perform a condition report of the Codex in 2008, and in 2016-17 she began the process of analyzing the manuscripts. Her studies showed that there was still residue of the PVC within the pores of the parchment. With the Hirox 3D microscope, parchment fibers from the leafcasting treatment could be seen overlapping into the pigment on the leaves as could Japanese paper fibers from paper mends. MA-XRF (macro x-ray fluorescence ) analysis demonstrated the presence of Cu, Fe, Pb, and Iron Gall Ink, suggesting important similarities to the pigments used in the Book of Kells. The MA-XRF also showed that the same palette was used for both of the manuscripts of the Codex Eyckensis. Watteeuw used photometric stereo to document the thickness of the paint layers along with their texture. Using the pigments peeled away from the manuscript leaves on the mipofolie foils, Watteeuw could analyze the pigments using Raman, essentially making the best of a bad situation set in motion when the mipofolie was applied in 1957.

All of this analysis gives information on the possibly very close connections between the manuscripts of the Low Countries to Anglo Saxon lands. During this analysis,  Professor Watteeuw also played a crucial role in digitizing the Codex, which is now available online.

Questions from the floor following the talk:

Q1: Were you able to ID the green pigments? Can you see corrosion? A1: yes we were able to see corrosion, but undetermined green pigment, since some green not corroded.

Q2: Was there treatment strategy of stabilizing copper green? A2: no consolidation in the 90s, but parchment pulp might not have been the best choice of fill material (could have made worse?) Watteeuw notes she is afraid to turn the pages because she can hear the PVC within the leaves.

Q3: Any underdrawing? A1: yes, underdrawing or “mise en place” of canon tables is visible

Q4: Is it on permanent display? A4: yes, was on permanent display at fixed page. Now it’s in the lab, but will eventually be on permanent display again, for which we are developing lighting scenarios.

What a great, informative talk! Thanks to Professor Watteeuw, and I look forward to seeing what more they discover about these incredibly important manuscripts!



45th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 1, “The Challenge of Scale Revisited: Lessons learned from treatment and mounting an exhibition of 160 illuminated manuscripts” by Alan Puglia and Debora Mayer

At last year’s annual meeting, Debora Mayer described the approach of Harvard University’s Weissman Preservation Center to the treatment of 160 illuminated manuscripts for the exhibition “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” That talk had focused on the challenges of undertaking a massive amount of media consolidation, which they had done by forming two teams of conservators, each following the same procedure in treating the manuscripts. This year, her colleague Alan Puglia followed up on that talk with a reflection of what they learned in the effort.

It is rare that a conservation lab can review a large body of conservation work that was, at least theoretically, conducted in the same way. This is particularly true when one considers media consolidation. Likewise, few labs are large enough to have so many conservators collaborate in trying to create consistent treatments. As such, the two teams decided to review a segment of their consolidation treatment to evaluate its efficacy.

One of the main goals of the treatment protocol had been uniformity; that is, it should be impossible to identify which conservator had treated which items. Another goal was open communication. Over the course of the review, it became clear that there had been some degree of departure in treatment procedures due to a lack of communication between the two teams of conservators. The teams were efficient in themselves, but communication tended to occur within the teams. As such, when a team tweaked procedures in response to the needs of specific manuscripts, these changes were not communicated to the other team. Alan identified this as one of the major pitfalls of undertaking large-scale treatments of this type – communication between teams as well as that within teams needs to be prioritized.

A selection of treated manuscripts was reviewed, and this review process was also conducted in two teams. The review was conducted blind, without looking at pre-exhibit documentation. Where there were questions raised, the other team was asked to review the pre-exhibit documentation. Pre-exhibit treatment documentation had been conducted in Photoshop with specific colors depending on the type of consolidant used; post-exhibit treatment was conducted on the same files using different colors to show the extent of the need for additional treatment. The result of the review process was that, while most manuscripts did not require much further work, there were some that clearly required a more complete treatment. The reasons for this are complex. As Alan said, the best treatment is not proof against handling, and perhaps the stress of travel and handling was too much for the fragile media in some manuscripts. In one manuscript, the three leaves that had suffered the most damage were clearly by a different artist, and perhaps there was something relating to the quality of his materials that made the media more vulnerable. Other red flags included cockling and creases, and the presence of glazes or overpainting.

The review also raised additional questions. When should the conservators stop treatment? Is their handling causing damage even as they seek to preserve the manuscript? Ultimately, Alan acknowledged, updating consolidation protocols is an ongoing process.

45th Annual Meeting – BPG, Art on Paper Discussion Group, June 1, “Multiple Perspectives on the Treatment of Multiples”

Multiple Perspectives on the Treatment of Multiples: Innovative thinking on the conservation of prints

Participants: Judy Walsh, Anisha Gupta, Sarah Bertalan, presenters; Rachel Freeman, Cyntia Karnes, Harriet Stratis, moderators.

This panel offered three presentations followed by a discussion that touched on how we define a group of multiples, how we determine treatment goals and exhibition parameters for the group (i.e. by looking at other examples of the same impressions or by broadening our research to include similar works), and whether or not we should strive to apply consistent treatment protocols to each object in the group.

Judy Walsh, former professor of paper conservation at Buffalo State, presented the complex and nuanced treatments of three fifteenth century copperplate engravings carried out at the National Gallery of Art. Though these works were not identical impressions, nor were they by the same artist, she identified them as belonging to the same “cohort,” meaning that they shared the characteristics of age, materials, process, and in this case, a long tradition of scholarly reference and interpretation. An impression of St. Michael Defeating the Devils from 1467 by the Master E.S. is one of only five known to exist and Man in a Fantastic Helmet c. 1470/80 is unique. The third print, The Virgin and Child by Mantegna c. 1470, was drawing particular attention due to recent revelations about its condition. Ms. Walsh outlined the restrictions placed on all three treatments by NGA curators who were concerned that the prints might deviate too much from their long-published, damaged appearances.

Though the curators at first sought minimal treatment with little to no cosmetic compensation, in each case Ms. Walsh described how she was able to present a logical argument for reducing distracting damages and finding reversible methods of completing each image based on her research into other works in the cohort. Ultimately, her creative solutions allowed the prints to retain their status as time-honored works that presented indelible marks of storied pasts, while at the same time, she was able to stabilize each work and align it more closely with the visual standard of other fifteenth century prints presented in the Gallery.

Sarah Bertalan, conservator in private practice, presented several interesting observations that she has made over the years regarding multiples printed on Van Gelder Zonen, Arches, Rives, Montval, and MBM papers. These papers all have unique characteristics and respond to treatment differently. For many nineteenth century artists in particular, Japanese papers, Arches papers, and aged papers were desirable for printing etchings and drypoints. Sometimes the publishers of artists’ editions selected papers, and some papers were marketed by their manufacturers for specific applications. Rives BFK was originally produced for photographic mounts, for example. Depending on their intended function, these papers could be bulked with fillers, additives, and/or colorants such as yellow ocher or titanium dioxide. Ms. Bertalan wanted to stress that we often don’t know what is in a paper and shouldn’t assume that we can tell by looking or testing in a discrete area only.

Common problems that she has noticed include the development of white spots, generally referred to as “reverse foxing” when Van Gelder Zonen papers are subjected to aqueous treatment, certain Somerset papers preferred by artists like Hockney and Freud turn yellow when they are placed in contact with alkaline material, and some Arches sheets, initially white or off-white, can turn a buff/yellow color over time. This she suspects is due to the presence of titanium dioxide, which is a photocatalyst.

Ms. Bertalan suggested that we don’t necessarily know how or have the means to detect all of the components of any given paper, and that typical treatments may not really be addressing the root of their problems. This lack of understanding can result in reversion or reappearance of stains post-treatment.

Anisha Gupta, Mellon Fellow at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco gave the final presentation of the panel in which she presented a case study of her treatment of 24 Ben Shahn lithographs that had all received extensive, but differential light exposure over the course of 23 years. All were printed on Arches ‘cover’ paper that was specifically manufactured for printing. In this case, all of the works in the group were going to be shown together and moreover, the meaning of each print was directly influenced by those on either side.

Working with a curator, Ms. Gupta determined that light bleaching would be the best course of treatment and what the optimal paper tone would be. She used a spectrophotometer to establish baseline L* values for each of the 24 works, but she said that ultimately as treatment progressed, a sense of unity was more easily achieved visually than numerically. The treatment involved bathing and light bleaching in increments of 3 hours. Though she did note that spectrophotometer readings taken of each work after treatment confirmed that the prints’ L* values had converged.

Following the three presentations, the moderators solicited questions from the audience and initiated a conversation.

Peggy Ellis, Professor of Paper Conservation at NYU, asked Ms. Gupta how she and the curator arrived at the “right color” for the paper tone of the Shahn prints and if she could remember some of the terminology that the curator had used to describe that paper tone. Ms. Gupta replied that the curator had repeatedly referred to the lightstruck prints as ‘dingy,’ and that she would like them to look “more alive.” The optimal paper tone was based on the maximum lightness that could be achieved by light bleaching the darkest paper for a set amount of time. Ms. Gupta mentioned that she thought that at some point, the treatment had hit a plateau and that had further lightening been desirable, she may have explored chemical bleaches, pH changes, or exposing the versos of the prints.

With the general topic of the risk of over-bleaching circulating, Judy Walsh speculated that many 15th century prints that look so bright white today may have been treated to a different standard (what we might now consider over-treating) in the past. She then raised the question of how to integrate current treatment standards and ethics when the challenge is to visually unify works that belong to a cohort.

Sylvia Albro, Paper Conservator at the Library of Congress, brought up the fact that many 15th century prints that have not been removed from bindings are quite white, and that contemporary books in good condition might be useful standards of reference when trying to determine “original” paper tones.

Ms. Walsh also stressed that when trying to determine how prints should look, our own experiences and visual memories are our best assets as conservators. For that reason we should be making more efforts to talk to colleagues in the field, especially those in private practice and at regional centers because they have seen and treated a volume and variety of objects that a museum conservator does not typically experience.

Antoinette Owen, Head of Paper Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago, offered her personal experience with Van Gelder Zonen papers, saying that there is definitely “something in them” that cannot be identified with XRF, and that whatever it is causes white spots to develop when they are exposed to moisture. Ms Bertalan said that it is unlikely that you would find a measurable difference because the staining is not necessarily related to a higher concentration of iron. She put forth one theory, that perhaps during long print runs paper may have been left to soak for days prior to printing. This situation could lead to fungal growth or other latent changes. Joan Weir, Paper Conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, chimed in to say that as a printmaker, she had witnessed some colleagues adding formaldehyde or other biocides to their baths to prevent mold.

Shifting topics slightly, Harriet Stratis, Senior Research Conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago asked for peoples’ approaches to showing (or not showing) individual prints that are part of a series. She wanted to know how other people managed opportunities for differential exposure. Victoria Binder, Associate Conservator at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, replied that her institution had recently required half of an Andy Warhol edition requested for exhibition to be swapped with its counterpart halfway through the show so that all prints in the series received equal exposure. This seemed to be a common practice.

Ultimately, the consensus in the room seemed to be that a centralized library of treatment protocols and results would be invaluable. At this, an impassioned plea went up to submit text and images to the Book and Paper Wiki. To contribute to the wiki, contact BPG Wiki Coordinators, Katherine Kelly and Denise Stockman.




45th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper, June 1, “Unexpectedly expert: Diversifying your skills to cover all the bases,” Moderated by Angela Andres, Sonya Barron, and Anahit Campbell

The end-of-conference BPG discussion groups are often the highlight of the week, and this year was no exception. The Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group (LCCDG) hosted a jam-packed session with seven presentations about how library conservators, who are often the only conservator at their institution and/or find themselves responsible for far more than just books and paper, become experts in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Sonya Barron, Conservator of Special Collections at Iowa State University Library, began the afternoon discussing approaches to accommodating 3D objects in the archives. Specifically, edible objects. First up was an ear of prize-winning corn. As Sonya emphasized to a chuckling audience, “Corn is very important in Iowa, that’s no joke!” The important corn was removed from its original display case, put through a few freeze/thaw cycles to kill off any pests, encapsulated in polyester film, and stored lovingly in a new archival box. A similar process was used for a small chunk of the Guinness World Record-holding largest Rice Krispies® treat (you can read more about that ISU invention at the Parks Library blog ). Sonya noted that though there may only be a few unusual objects tucked into your more traditional library and archival collections, 3D objects are often the ones that curators and professors want to show to classes and tours, so they need to be able to withstand frequent handling. 

Prize-winning corn in the Iowa State archives.


Deborah Howe, Collections Conservator at Dartmouth College, spoke next about being a conservator in the wilds of New Hampshire and the importance of reaching out to colleagues near and far. She emphasized the importance of networking with local experts – taking advantage of proximity to theatre, arts, engineering, and science resources on a college campus –  and not being afraid to cold call fellow conservators across the country for advice. She maximizes funding and other resources by bringing in experts to host workshops for conservators in the region (which helps her fill her own training gaps as well). And after a productive visit from University of Iowa conservator Giselle Simón, who assisted with moving and initial examination of a large, heavy antiphonal in need of treatment, Deborah suggested that a conservator exchange program could be a good idea (personally, I think it’s a terrific idea).  

Elizabeth Stone, Assistant Conservator at the University of Iowa Libraries, and Janet Lee, Conservation Assistant at the New-York Historical Society, talked about their long-distance collaboration to develop housing solutions for a small collection of Chinese dolls, shoes, and stuffed animals in the Iowa Women’s Archive.  Using video calls, text messaging, and shared folders for images and documentation, they were able to design safe storage solutions as well as investigate the history and background of these objects. This presentation did a good job of highlighting the advantage of technology to facilitate collaboration quickly across many miles, and also that collaboration across disciplines leads to more research and understanding of ephemeral objects in archival collections. 

Janet Lee discovered that the shoes would have been made by mothers for their children (the animals depicted can help date the shoes) and the dolls, which depict fashion trends fairly reliably, were made by girls living in missionaries.


Ashleigh Schieszer, Conservator at The Preservation Lab, a collaborative lab between the University of Cincinnati and the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, spoke about her experiences as an emerging professional in a managerial position. She offered suggestions for developing leadership skills, like looking for leadership and management training within your institution, utilizing professional organizations, and seeking mentorship. Ashleigh emphasized the importance of transparency, clear communication, and a “let’s try this” attitude. She noted that institutional and cultural knowledge are often more important and impactful than conservation skills and that team learning activities within the lab have built cohesiveness.

Suzy Morgan, Conservator at Arizona State University Library, implored everyone in the audience to make more conservation instructional videos after a few of her recent experiences illustrated the value in them. When confronted with a large dress in need of housing, Suzy found plenty of written and photographic instruction on how to properly pack it for storage, but it wasn’t until she came across a video produced by the Minnesota Historical Society demonstrating exactly how to pack such a dress that she felt confident enough to move forward. Suzy also found value in creating videos of her own; when the attendance at a training she was scheduled to do in Myanmar tripled, the solution was to have some students in an adjacent room watching training videos while others participated in hands-on activities. She found that tracking down existing videos was a challenge; while there are good ones out there, certain topics are covered frequently while others get no air time. So, leveraging local resources, she used digital video equipment at the campus makerspace and made her own videos. She’s hoping to do another edit on these and shorten them in order to make them available to wider conservation audience.

Justin Johnson, Senior Conservator at the University of Washington Libraries, talked about his experience of working on a new lab construction project and the need for conservators to learn the language of architects and contractors. He emphasized that terminology is important  – “design” doesn’t necessarily describe what we think it does, and calling your space a “lab” vs a “center” vs a “studio” can have unforeseen consequences in the architectural plans and execution. The need for clear, precise communication is critical, and Justin noted that misrepresenting priorities can be an expensive mistake. He cited the example that his team had designated a space as a meeting room, but were anticipating also using that space to construct boxes. They hadn’t conveyed this dual-purpose to the architects, though, and ended up with a lighting scheme appropriate to a meeting room but not sufficient for boxmaking.  

Susan Russick, Special Collections Conservator at Northwestern University Library, wrapped up the session with a summary of the many non-book and paper objects she’s treated, or chosen not to treat, over the past few years and some of the risk management decisions and ethical conundrums posed by these objects. She reminded us that while the details may differ, the basic tenets of conservation are the same no matter what you’re working with. She frequently refers back to the AIC core document Defining the Conservator: Essential Competencies (and encouraged the audience to the same). A few other guiding principles Susan shared about how she approaches objects in the collection included: talking to the curator and *listening* to the curator, keeping in mind that she doesn’t always know what she doesn’t know when it comes to objects, trusting that if she finds consistency of information across a range of trustworthy sources then she can feel confident to move forward, and that for some objects, bringing in experts for training and/or treatment is the best option, while sometimes no treatment at all is the appropriate choice.

Susan Russick uses funori to consolidate chalk on the chalkboard of a Nobel Laureate.


After the talks, the floor was opened for discussion. The audience was especially keen to discuss working with architects and contractors for new labs, lab management strategies, and instructional videos.


45th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, May 30, “Line up, Back to Back: Restoration of Korean Buddhist Sutra in accordion book format” by Hsin-Chen Tsai and Tanya Uyeda

This dynamic and thorough talk focused on the Dirghagama Sutra, a ten-leaf accordion format Korean Buddhist sutra dating from the 14th century, treated by the authors in the Asian Conservation Lab at the MFA Boston. Often produced by the ruling classes as a form of prayer for family members, a sutra typically consists of front and back covers decorated with lotus flowers and other Buddhist symbols, a frontispiece, a main body of text, and a dedication specifying the purpose, donor, and date of the sutra. The support is usually brush- or vat-dyed indigo paper, and the media gold and/or silver pigment. Today many sutra covers have lost their silver pigment and retain only the gold. The sutra’s accordion consists of lined sheets of paper joined together at the folds, with joins typically present at approximately every fifth leaf.

To better understand the history and manufacture of the sutra, the authors examined four other Buddhist sutras from the same time period and consulted with a modern-day sutra artist about his extensive experience studying and copying sutras. They learned that the paper is sized with animal glue, then burnished until it is shiny, smooth, and slightly water-resistant; sheets of paper are then layered and joined together to create the accordion. After the pigment is applied with animal glue, the surface is burnished with a bone folder. To achieve the desired results, climate in the studio must be carefully monitored and controlled.

Upon receipt, the Dirghagama Sutra had many condition issues. The surface was abraded, and showed yellow and white accretions. Portions of the paper layers were lifting and misaligned, and there were losses and previous tape repairs. The structure of the Dirghagama Sutra appeared different from the others the authors had examined, as it did not have readily visible seams in the accordion. After very close examination, they discovered two main segments of different lengths, each constructed of several layers of paper overlapping at the seventh leaf. Before beginning treatment, they diagrammed this structure and drew a condition map documenting the sutra’s many condition issues.

To begin treatment, they surface cleaned the paper with a brush, a vacuum, and erasers. Preliminary stabilization was performed on the tears with 1% methylcellulose gel. The front and back covers were released from the text mechanically with a bamboo spatula. The tape carrier was removed with a heated spatula, and the adhesive reduced with a crepe square and a kneaded eraser. To further reduce the tacky adhesive, which analysis showed was rubber-based, the authors experimented with low-polarity solvents. Though toluene was the most effective, they opted to mix it with acetone to give themselves more control while working and ultimately settled on a 1:2 toluene:acetone solution applied over a suction platen.

To fully stabilize the sutra, it was necessary to disassemble the segments and to add new lining layers. Concerned about dimensional changes that might result from exposure to moisture and drying, the authors made templates to record the original sizes of the paper and used the templates along with controlled applications of moisture to manipulate the sizes of the various pieces and to ensure that the folds would align properly when the object was re-assembled. The templates were also useful in determining the size and placement of the fill for a large loss between the eighth and ninth leaves. Though the various pieces of the sutra reacted to moisture differently, they found that once an overall lining was applied rates of expansion and contraction became more uniform. This, along with the use of templates and the carefully controlled exposure to moisture, were the main factors to which the authors attribute the success of the treatment.