44th Annual Meeting—Book and Paper Session, May 16, “A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act & Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance, Michael Smith and Eric Hagan

A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act
The first half of the talk was presented by Michael Smith, Collection Manager, Textual and Cartographic, Unpublished and Unbound, Library and Archives Canada, who discussed the construction of storage and display cases for the two original copies of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
There are two original copies of the important document, sometimes referred to as the “raindrop” and the “red-stain” copies. It was raining on April 17, 1982 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act outdoors, and raindrops smudged the ink on one copy. The other copy, signed later indoors, was pristine until July 22, 1983 when Peter Greyson, a young art student from Toronto, requested to see the document at the Public Archives of Canada under the pretense of studying its design and calligraphy. As he leaned over the document, a pool of red substance spread over its surface. This was later found to be red paint coming from an Elmers glue bottle hidden in Greyson’s coat pocket. Greyson had defaced the Proclamation of the Constitution Act to protest a decision allowing the United States to test cruise missiles over Canadian air space. Conservation attempts to remove the stain from the paper were unsuccessful, and while suggestions were made to cut out the damaged area and replace it with a newly inscribed piece, the decision was made to keep the stain rather than carryout out a procedure would affect the document’s authenticity and integrity. The act of vandalism was the first time a document in the Public Archives of Canada had been willfully damaged, dramatically changing security and viewing procedures at the Archives.
The inks on both copies of the document were tested for light sensitivity, and studies concluded that the ink was extremely light sensitive. While designing the case for the Act in collaboration with CCI, Michael decided to segregate preservation components from security components, reasoning that it was stored in a secure vault for the majority of the time where security requirements would be fulfilled. The storage case with built-in compartments for silica gel and activated charcoal was designed to control humidity and oxygen levels, using OptiView™ UV filter/anti-glare glass to reduce UV levels. The document was secured in place using custom magnetic clips. The case was fitted with a Marvelseal® bag that expanded or contracted in relation to the atmospheric pressure in order to reduce stress on the glass. A display case was then designed to limit light exposure and for security during exhibition, using a layer of security glass, VariGuard Smart Glass™, and a top layer of glass for scratch protection. The VariGuard Smart Glass™ remains opaque to block light levels until a button is pressed to make the glass clear. In combination, the storage and display case made up two halves of one system for the security and preservation of the documents.
Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance
Eric Hagan, a conservation scientist at CCI in the Preservation Services Division, presented the second half of the talk on the design of mounts for seven books of remembrances displayed in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill. A high profile project to craft six new altars for the books using stone, bronze and glass led to a condition assessment of the books by Christine McNair, who recommended a better support system for the books when displayed. As the pages of the books are turned daily during the Turning of the Page Ceremony, the books have to be fully movable and go through a range of motion. To provide suitable support for these working books was a fascinating design challenge.
The counterbalance support system for the First World War book served as an inspiration for the versions used to support the remaining books. Eric’s new design relied on a linkage connection using four bars to form a gravity-activated mechanism, mirroring the motion of the book while the leaves were being turned. The low-profile mounts were each made of 24 pieces of custom-made aluminium parts and other parts sourced from outside Canada. A different design for each book had to be made due to varying dimensions. A surface of bonded Volara® foam was used to provide cushioning for the books. Eric ended his talk by describing the completion of the mounts with a black powder-coated fabric cover. It was amusing how he thought the anodized aluminium was quite appealing, and had not thought of the need to make a cover until the topic was raised up! A difference in aesthetics—I suppose the sleek, matte-black look of the aluminium did not match the more traditional look of the Memorial Chamber.
It was fascinating to listen to Michael and Eric describing their problem-solving process to deal with the requirements and challenges they faced. I was particularly intrigued by Eric’s counterbalance support mount, since a book cradle that adjusts according to how a book opens seems to be the dream everyone tries to achieve in book supports. While the mounts were amazing, the high profile project of the Books of Remembrance meant that there wasn’t really a budget limit. In hopes of finding a more affordable solution, I asked Eric afterwards what the previous supports for the books were like, but was told that none had been used before—hence a real need for the new supports! I’m curious how sensitive the mounts are, and whether they only respond to the movement of the books they were made specifically for. The concept of a cradle that adjusts its shape according to the book could possible be great for digitization projects or for the idea of reusable cradles.

43rd Annual Meeting-General Session, May 15, 2015, "Lighten Up: Enhancing Visitor Experience," by Linda Edquist and Sarah Stauderman

Postal Museum Paper Conservator Linda Edquist was unable to attend the conference, so Sarah Stauderman presented in her place. Sarah began by describing the practice of philately and placing it within the context of the recent 18,000 square foot expansion of the National Postal Museum. A collective cringe radiated through the audience like the “wave” in a football stadium, when Sarah revealed that a key component of the building program was the plan to expose a large bank of southwest-facing exterior windows over the new exhibit space. Fortunately, the museum was able to use a variety of active and passive approaches to control light in the galleries.
First, there were translucent window films printed with large images of famous stamps. These required approval by the local architectural review board, since they were not in keeping with the period of the historic building. The stamp windows added an interpretive element, while reducing the ambient light level in the sunlit galleries.
Motion detectors were used to activate LED lights in the “GEMS” gallery, which houses the “inverted Jenny” and other famous or infamous stamps. The ambient light levels were kept low, while “Why is this room so dark?” interpretive signage allowed the museum to provide preservation outreach within the gallery.
inverted jenny stamp
A variety of interactive cases and open storage designs used a somewhat low-tech approach to reducing the light exposure of these works on paper. There was a series of pull-out frames filling the walls of what appeared to be a print reading room with the somewhat grandiose title of “National Stamp Salon.” A similar type of open storage housing was used in the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building in the 19th century. An updated version was manufactured by Goppion to meet current museum conservation and security standards in the Stamp Salon.
There were also cases with interactive lift-up doors that created an intimate viewing experience for each visitor. Horizontal pull-out cases were essentially glazed drawers set into exhibit cases. Visitor engagement was enhanced by the act of lifting and pulling to reveal the collection, a side benefit of the museum’s light-protection system. Magnetic switches permitted case lights to turn off when drawers were closed. The light switches in the lift-up cases were not always reliable, so the museum may try to redesign the lighting for these cases.

lift-up doors
Lift-up doors (circled in red) in the Mail Marks History Exhibit

Collections staff members have been meeting monthly to clean the cases and to assess the security and mechanical stability of all of these moving cases, yet they have continued to rely on some stationary case designs. To avoid the physical stress of constant movement, the museum sought a passive solution for reducing light levels in exhibits of the most fragile paper documents. In the months following 9-11, letters contaminated with anthrax had been treated with chlorine dioxide gas, making the paper more vulnerable to light. The museum selected VariGuard SmartGlass for the exhibit vitrine, blocking more than 99% of ambient light without moving parts. The glass is a laminate that can switch from opaque to transparent when an electrical current is applied. The National Postal Museum’s blog provides more information about the technology behind this interesting product, along with photos of the anthrax letters on exhibit.
Anyone who deals with works on paper or other light-sensitive collections would be likely to see some ideas to steal from this presentation. There were a wide variety of approaches, suitable for documents and works of art on paper in different formats and states of condition. Balancing the needs of the visitors to see the exhibits with the preservation of the collection can be very challenging. Linda Edquist and her colleagues at the National Postal Museum have provided a great set of models for the rest of us.

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’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach to Allies Session, May 9, Collection Care Network Brainstorming Session: Table 1 – Mountmaking

The last presentation of the Outreach to Allies Session at the AIC Annual Meeting 2012 was an interactive session organized by the Collection Care Network. The leadership team of the network designed it as a way to identify priorities and projects for the network. Imagine nine groups of 7 to 9 people sitting around tables discussing the content of a nine different short videos. Each video presented a collection care challenge or question. The discussion aimed to suggest projects the Collection Care Network could develop that would provide tools to overcome the challenge or answer the question. Now imagine people engaged in conversation. So engaged they didn’t get up for food when asked to do so! So engaged they had to be asked a second time!! Now you have a very small idea of what the session was like. This particular post gives you more details about the discussion at Table 1. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.

Table One: I greatly appreciate the importance of good mounts both for visitor experience and for conservation so I was quick to volunteer to moderate the discussion at this table.  Due to the diversity of issues raised in the video and of perspectives around the table our discussions quickly became wide ranging.  Our table’s discussion dealt more with how we collaborate rather than what topics we deal with first.

The video: The video presenter was Shelley Uhlir, staff mount maker at the National Museum of the American Indian.  Shelley loved the idea of bringing together different but complimentary disciplines, of mount making and conservation.  She had seen the power of such collaboration in a mount-making forum held at the Smithsonian in 2010.  In that venue a wonderful conversation and exchange of ideas between mount makers and conservators took place.  Shelley hopes the CCN could make that sort of exchange available anywhere and anytime.   She went on to suggest a wide range of issues to address and kinds of information to exchange.

The discussion: Probably because the video was so clear and comprehensive in describing topics for interaction between conservators and mount makers the group discussion quickly turned to issues of how to facilitate exchange of information, particularly over the internet.  Concerns were raised about the person time required to maintain currency of information and several good suggestions were made.  The idea of having a credible source for information on the internet was especially appreciated and the importance of maintaining credibility emphasized.

The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:

  • Establish a Wiki or similar platform for sharing relevant information, especially providing links to the most reliable current information and not striving to reinvent the wheel.
  • Provide a venue for publishing reports on specific, small collection management and care related studies.  Such reports might be too narrow and focused for traditional publications but be valuable to colleagues facing similar challenges.
  • Establish dates for themed discussions, for example, selection and use of materials for mounts.
  • Possibly in conjunction with themed discussions, have a small group work intensively for two days to bring together a news report like summary of best current methods and information on a specific topic.

The contributors: Moderator – Robert Waller; Note Taker – Rob Lewis; Table participants – Priscilla Anderson, Jody Breek, Jennifer le Cruise, James Gilbert, Pip Laurenson