One of the many awesome things I get to do as the paper conservation fellow is to visit conservation labs around the country. There is so much to learn when touring other conservation labs. Space is always a limiting factor in an institution, and looking at how other conservators maximize their space, as well as the equipment and tools they choose to incorporate, is always informative.
This month, my colleague Jodie and I got a chance to snoop around several conservation labs in Austin, including Carrabba Conservation, the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin, and the Harry Ransom Centre (HRC). Each lab represented a different facet in the conservation field: private practice, an educational institution, and a cultural institution.
In each of these places, we were given the grand tour (much like what I gave you on my last blog post but slightly more. . . . technical). Each institution had their current projects set out so we could see what they were up to. The most fascinating thing was how open all the conservators were with sharing their knowledge and experience, and how willing they were to collaborate, often asking us for our opinions. There is always more than one way to treat an object, and it is refreshing to hear other treatment ideas, methods, and materials.
In private practice, conservators work on a large number of objects at a time. Here at Carrabba Conservation, you can see a print being washed to remove degradation products and discoloration.
The book conservation lab at the School of Information at The University of Texas is used for students who take courses in conservation, preventive conservation, and material science. They also have a paper conservation lab on site.
Examples of different book bindings for students taking courses in book conservation.
The paper conservation lab also has a reference collection of photographs to help students identify different photographic processes.
The bulk of our time was spent at the HRC, known for its world-class collection that ranges from the first photograph to a Gutenberg Bible to storyboards from the 1929 film Gone with the Wind. Coinciding with our visit was the special exhibition Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West, which was a treat as the Amon Carter recently acquired a pastel drawing by Reaugh, and research conducted by HRC’s exhibitions conservator Kenneth Grant (in collaboration with the exhibition) was valuable in providing insight to our example by the artist. Naturally, we spent a great deal of time learning everything we could from him.
Exhibitions conservator Kenneth Grant giving us a guided tour of the Frank Reaugh special exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center.
Our very own Frank Reaugh. Double Mountain from Salt Fork, 1930s, pastel on board, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 2015.1
The versatility of the HRC’s collection is reflected in their conservation department. Not only do they have a designated lab for paper conservation, they have one for photographs and one for books, too. Their labs house seven conservators and two conservation interns who were extremely welcoming, engaging in tabletop discussions of different tips and tricks they’ve picked up over the years.
When two conservators get together, they talk about bugs! Left: Jodie Utter, our Paper Conservator; Right: Mary Baughman, Book Conservator at the Harry Ransom Center
All in all it was such a great experience to meet so many knowledgeable individuals in the conservation field. Unfortunately, we spent all our time in the labs and did not get a chance to try all the amazing food I heard so much about in Austin. Time to plan a second “work trip”!
Last weekend, the museum screened John Ford’s epic 1940 drama Grapes of Wrath starring a young Henry Fonda. On April 10, visitors can see They Died With Their Boots On, the 1941 western directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn. These free films are being shown in conjunction with American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, currently on view in the museum’s special exhibition galleries. With the museum awash in movie magic, it seems a good time to highlight some of the film-related treasures from the museum’s Karl Struss Archive.
Karl Struss (1886–1981), [Filming Ben-Hur], Rome, 1924-25
Struss was a cinematographer in Hollywood for 50-plus years, starting in 1919. He filmed some of the great movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age and won the first Academy Award in 1929 for his work on Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The museum’s photography collection has thousands of prints and negatives from Struss’s work on various movie sets and publicity shoots. Here are some great stills from the set of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).
Karl Sruss (1886–1981), [The Circus Maximus — Chariot Race Set], Rome, 1924-25
The chariot race in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur remains, even by today’s standards, a thrilling action sequence and was essentially recreated for the 1959 version starring Charleton Heston. Struss’s snapshots on set often reveal the behind-the-scenes magic of movie making—as is the case in [The Circus Maximus], which shows a set crew tending to an automobile being used to film the racing chariots.
Karl Sruss (1886–1981), [Rome Set — Front], Rome, 1924-25
Karl Sruss (1886–1981), [Rome Set — Back], Rome, 1924-25
These are just a few of the myriad images housed in the museum’s Struss Archive. The museum’s library has more items from his archive on view, including an original program from the first Academy Award ceremony and the institute’s formal letter to Struss announcing his award. The Library, which offers support to researchers at all levels, is open to visitors Wednesday through Saturday and other times by appointment.
Hello! It’s Stacey, the paper conservation fellow at the Amon Carter, here to give you more insight into what a conservator does.
I have recently learned that my sister has been going around describing my job as similar to that of Diane Kruger’s character in the Disney film National Treasure. Naturally, I decided not to correct her. I rather like the idea of myself finding clues on precious artifacts, discovering treasure, and outsmarting the bad guys. I will, however, draw the line at dripping lemon juice all over works on paper! But really, conservation is awesome, and it’s nice that my sister views it in such an adventurous light. Unfortunately, I’m going to burst that bubble right now and show you a part of our job that is far from glamorous: pest management.
In National Treasure, Diane Kruger plays Dr. Abigail Chase, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC
Pest management is essential in a museum because pests can cause serious damage to works of art. As you probably know from your own experience, it’s impossible to keep your house (or in our case, building) completely free of them. Because of this, we do our best to monitor the “ecosystem” inside the Amon Carter. This involves the placement of insect traps around the building to allow us to identify which bugs are getting in, to know how many there are, to better understand their distribution patterns, to recognize trends, and to preempt any risk of infestation. So, every month I push my little cart around the museum, armed with garbage bags and a handy notebook, leaving no corner in the museum unexamined. In each of these locations, I observe and record my findings and take appropriate action when needed.
Here I am inspecting one of the tent traps placed around the museum.
There are some insects that we keep an increased look out for based on the nature of our collection (photographs, works on paper, and paintings); these include silverfish, powder-post beetles, and cockroaches.
These reference cards help us identify insects; they were created by museumpests.net and given to us by Mary Baughman, Book Conservator at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.
We also have strict measures to monitor artworks that enter and exit the museum. Each item is quarantined and thoroughly examined to make sure no insects are present before it can join the rest of the artwork in the museum.
Magnified image of a dead carpet beetle found in an artwork entering the museum.
Live pests are every conservator’s nightmare. If such situations occur, the offending object is immediately isolated, double-bagged, and put in a freezer (less than 20°F) for as long as required to eradicate the pests (including their eggs). Dead insects also present a risk, acting as food for other pests. In such instances, the artwork is isolated and cleaned using suction. It is then monitored to ensure no other insect activity unfolds--eggs may be present after all! Once we are satisfied no further risk exists, the work is allowed to join the collection.
So there you have it, a small (and perhaps less glamorous!) part of a conservator’s day-to-day job in a museum. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographer Doris Ulmann came from an affluent white New York City family. She took teacher training with photographer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School and subsequently studied psychology and law at Columbia University. She also studied photography with Clarence H. White, a founding member of the Photo-Secession movement known for teaching the Pictorialist style.
Ulmann collaborated with novelist Julia Peterkin on a book project titled Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York: R.O. Ballou, 1933). The book focuses on the lives of former slaves and their descendants on a plantation in the Gullah coastal region of South Carolina. Peterkin, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Scarlet Sister Mary (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928), was born in South Carolina and raised by a black nursemaid who taught her the Gullah dialect. She married the heir to Lang Syne, a 2,000-acre cotton plantation, which became the setting for Roll, Jordan, Roll. Ulmann began photographing there in 1929.
Doris Ulmann (1884-1934), [People seated at church service], 1933, Photogravure
Doris Ulmann (1884-1934), [Baptism], 1933, Photogravure
Roll, Jordan, Roll is titled after the spiritual written by English Methodist leader Charles Wesley in the 18th century which became well-known among slaves in the United States during the 19th century. Appropriated as a coded message for escape, by the end of the American Civil War it had become known through much of the eastern United States. In the 20th century it helped inspire the blues, and it remains a staple in gospel music.
Doris Ulmann (1884-1934), [Girl standing in doorway], 1933, Photogravure
Doris Ulmann (1884-1934), [Two boys riding a mule], 1933, Photogravure
Roll, Jordan, Roll was illustrated with 90 photogravure plates made from Ulmann’s large-format negatives. Although they comprise an amazing ethnographic study, today Ulmann’s Pictorialist aesthetic seems a strange choice for making documentary images. The hazy, soft-focus photographs lend a sentimental, nostalgic impression that belies the underlying exploitative history of her subjects.
We never know who will enter our lives and make an indelible impact. One of my best friends, someone who has always been there for me, is a long-deceased ostensible curmudgeon, arguably one of America’s finest painters. He goes by the name of Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Today is his birthday and I want to pay tribute to him.
Homer was the subject of my graduate work, specifically his scenes of rescue at sea and their ties to boxing, bodybuilding, and the power of water. The painting Undertow, 1886, at the Clark Art Institute has long had significance to me in times of turmoil. I am proud to return to it time and again to see new things and to write about it. It never ceases to amaze, confuse, and inspire me.
Homer gets a bum rap for being isolated, not that outgoing, and a hermit. He moved to the shores of Prout’s Neck, Maine, seemingly to escape life and company. And yet, he loved his family greatly, particularly his brother Charles, and Prout’s was the family compound.
At the Amon Carter, we have this great painting, Crossing the Pasture, 1871-72,
that seems to celebrate the bond between two brothers. Homer painted it after the Civil War, which pitted brothers against each other. I can’t help but see it as a reflection of Winslow’s relationship with Charles as well as a turn to simpler times after the difficulties of all Homer must have seen as a war correspondent for Harper’s.
In his own words, Homer told his friend the printer Louis Prang, “I deny that I am a recluse as is generally understood by that term. Neither am I an unsociable hog.” He engaged in puns, beginning that letter with the joke “But what’s your hurry…said the King of Russia.” Get it? Though Homer put a sign outside his studio that warned of snakes and mice to deter visitors from dropping by, I can’t help but think I would have enjoyed his company. After all, who doesn’t like someone who’s hard to get, with a dry wit?
I don’t believe I am Homer’s only friend. In an attempt to see how his relationships could have resulted in cross pollination of artistic ideas, I even made him a Fakebook page that allows us to think about his art differently both as influenced by and as influential to his friends.
Though this friendship seems a bit one sided—Homer will never bring me soup when I’m sick or watch my cat—art historians get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from research and study. And part of what we strive to do is to bring these artists to life for our visitors.
So, to my friend Homer…a very happy birthday.
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
Hi, I'm Pamela Skjolsvik, currrently a library science master's student at the University of North Texas. In January, I began my practicum at the museum's research library. As an author and an avid reader, I love books, not only for the information they provide, but as objects. I especially love preserving books so that others can continue to use them in the future, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work on a book preservation project in the research library.
So, what am I doing at the Amon Carter? I am helping to preserve the library's collection of bound Harper’s Weekly magazines published in the nineteenth century. As you can see, some of the books in this collection are in need of major repair work. Several have detached boards, while others simply need a custom mylar cover and a good dusting of the text block. Library patrons access these books quite often - mainly to view their spectacular wood engravings. The first step in the preservation process was to assess what the volumes needed. While I don't have time to fix all of the books, my goal is to make protective boxes for 8-10 books and to do minor repairs on those that need less work.
In addition to my focus on the Harper’s Weekly collection, I also repaired two of the library's rare volumes comprising Catlin’s Notes of Eight Years’ Travels and Residence in Europe With His North American Indian Collection. Both volumes had detached spine pieces and damaged corners.
I reinforced the spine with wheat paste and Japanese paper and created a new hollow back spine piece that I tucked beneath the old cloth. In addition, I created a new spine label. You will notice that I condensed the title of the book.
I fixed the corners with a mix of PVA, methyl cellulose and pressure. I also dabbed a bit of paint on the exposed board of the cover for purely aesthetic reasons. Ta da! These books are now stable and can be perused by the patrons of the library.
Here I am in my workspace at the museum:
It was a sloshy wintry day in Tieton today, one degree above freezing, which made the walk to and from the book arts studio messier but less treacherous. Tieton is situated fifteen miles west of Yakima near the confluence of the Tieton and Naches Rivers, and it was a typical agricultural town into the 1970s, when it slid into economic depression with the decline of its fruit warehouses.
A sloshy wintry day in Tieton
A Seattle resident, Ed Marquand founded Paper Hammer Studios in Tieton in 2007, and since that time he has launched seven other artisanal businesses that huddle close to the town square. His goal is to revitalize the regional economy by "combining creative and professional skills, connecting with local resources to build successful businesses involving art, design, hospitality, and recreation." These business all fall under the umbrella company Mighty Tieton, which includes Paper Hammer Studios.
Paper Hammer is where the 250 copies of the Collector's Edition of the Amon Carter's landmark publication on the watercolors of Charles M. Russell are getting their covers and slipcases.
A stack of handmade slipcases weighted down to dry in the book-arts studio; the weights are bricks thickly wrapped in heavy packing paper.
One of the first hand-assembled covers for the Collector's Edition is pressed under bricks while drying.
Two leather covers, out from under their bricks.
Book artist Melanie Brauner glues the first cover to a book block. The glue is polyvinyl adhesive, or PVA, an archival glue that is relatively new in the art of bookmaking. For centuries, bookmakers used glues made from animal hide and wheat paste, both of which have Achilles heels: Hide glue crystallizes as it ages, becoming increasingly stiff; it is acidic as well, so it eventually burns into a book's pages. Wheat paste remains flexible and is great with paper--but many a book held together with this adhesive has been destroyed by hungry bugs with a taste for paste.
A fresh union of book block and cover!
Brauner places the freshly glued book into a "standing press," where it will stay for six hours to dry. PVA dries quickly, but not so much between leather covers, which retain a significant amount of moisture. This copy is a prototype--before full-line assembly of the books begins, the leather covers will be transported to another location, where the title, authors' names, and museum logo will be stamped in gold foil on their spines.
Both editions of Charles M. Russell: Watercolors, 1887-1926 are going to be truly special. But this Collector's Edition is in a class of its own. The retail price is guaranteed through December 31, 2015, so the wise book lover will preorder a copy now! Come 2016, the book's price will be driven by market demand. If you have any questions, email email@example.com; to order either edition of the book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817.989.5007.
I arrived under steel-gray skies in Seattle this past Sunday afternoon and hustled from the airport straight to the Seattle Art Museum, which I'd never visited before and which would close a scant two hours after my arrival. It was that afternoon or nothing since I was scheduled to leave the next morning for Tieton, a small town on a small square on the other side of the very unsmall Cascades. SAM's Bierstadt is to die for. It was a brief but rewarding visit, and as the doors locked behind me and I stepped out to the corner of 5th and Union with my suitcase, the rain began to fall. It rains 158 days a year in the Emerald City. I knew this, and still I left my Gore-Tex at home.
Albert Bierstadt, Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Seattle Art Museum
My destination the next morning was the offices of Lucia/Marquand, the venerable book production company engaged with designing and managing production of the Amon Carter's landmark book on the watercolors of Charles M. Russell. It was great to put faces with the names and voices of the staff there I'd been working with for months on end. After lunch, Jeff Wincapaw (the books' designer), Melanie Brauner (a book artist), and I piled into Jeff's truck to traverse the Snoqualmie Pass east to Tieton--a trek that at the summit was a bit of a nail biter!
Interior of the Lucia/Marquand offices in Seattle
Snoqualmie Pass is the largest of the three east-west mountain routes across Washington State that are kept open year-round
The Russell book will be available in two editions: a Limited Edition (500 copies) and a Collector's Edition (250 copies). Both editions printed last month, and we received an advance copy of the Limited Edition in Seattle this week--fully bound and finished and gorgeous! (The full shipment will arrive in the Amon Carter's warehouse next month.) Advance copies of the Collector's Edition arrived, too--only they arrived unbound and unfinished, and they arrived in Tieton. All as planned.
An advanced copy of the Limited Edition with its designer, Jeff Wincapaw
Besides being located in the heart of Washington's apple country, Tieton (pop. 1,232) is home to the book-arts building, Paper Hammer Studios, established by Ed Marquand in 2007. This is where the Collector's Edition will come into its own gorgeously finished state. Over the course of the next three weeks, it's here that each of these 250 copies will be hand-bound in Zaragoza goat skin, blind-stamped with Russell's signature on the front, the title stamped in gold on the spine, and each copy fitted with a custom-made linen slipcase.
Paper Hammer Studios, Tieton, Washington
Along with these fully printed but coverless copies, known as book blocks, all the materials that will go into their finishing arrived in Tieton as well: the board stock for the hard back, the endsheets, the tanned leathers that will complete the two-toned cover, and the linen cloth for the slipcases--all in their raw uncut conditions.
The unbound book blocks arrived in Tieton late last week
Melanie Brauner, book artist, inspects the darker of the two leathers that will cover the Collector's Edition
These boards will be cut down to 12 x 12 inches, then wrapped in leather to form the hardcover books
A roll of linen cloth that will be tailored down to cover the custom slipcases
Maria Solorio and Melanie Brauner cut down the endsheets on a board sheer
Brauner prepares to cut out a piece of leather for a board
I'll be posting pics (with fewer words!) of the Collector's Edition as it comes together. And I'll likely post some extraneous things, too, because, well, I'm in a book-arts studio after all, and there's a lot of cool stuff around.
If you have any questions about either Russell edition, feel free to email me at email@example.com. To order your copy of either edition, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817.989.5007.
The price for the Collector's Edition is guaranteed only through December 31, so order today!
Hello, my name is Stacey Kelly, and I’m the new Paper Conservation Fellow at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Today, I’m going to give you a little behind-the-scenes tour of the conservation lab at the Amon Carter.
The lab houses three of us: Paper Conservator Jodie Utter, Photographs Conservator Fernanda Valverde, and me. We try to get as much natural light as we can in the lab because it is essential for examination and treatment. The windows all face north, which provides the most consistent light throughout the day, great for looking at color in an artwork. We are immensely pleased to have such splendid windows in our workspace, and our colleagues have of course expressed their jealousy and intent to move their desks into our lab.
A view of the lab showing the worktables, the sink, and the windows!
The main bulk of the lab consists of large worktables for documentation, examination, and treatment. We have a fume hood for treatment involving solvents, a large sink for wet treatment, drawers for the temporary storage of artworks and photographic prints, a paper cutter for cutting board, and different types of materials for packing and storage.
Temporary storage for works of art in the lab, and our little library for conservation-related information
We also have a wide range of scientific equipment that we use for the examination and documentation of artworks; this is usually done when we are working on a technical study for research, or if we need to look at a particular artwork in greater detail for exhibition or treatment. These tools include UV light to help identify materials, a spectrophotometer that measures material (or image) density (usually employed to examine the levels of fading that have occurred in colored prints and photographs), a stereo microscope to examine and treat artworks under magnification, a handheld X-ray fluorescent analyzer to assist in the identification of inorganic materials, and a polarizing light microscope for pigment and fiber analysis.
Our handheld X-ray fluorescent analyzer that we use to identify nineteenth-century watercolor pigment samples, as well as other inorganic materials
Paper Conservator Jodie Utter working under the stereo microscope to consolidate flaking paint on Romare Bearden’s Poseidon, the Sea God–Enemy of Odysseus, 1977
We are actively collecting and building a historical artist pigment reference library as a resource for pigment analysis and identification. Here you can see the wonderful (and steadily growing) assembly of nineteenth-century artist materials we have here in the lab. All these pigments will be sampled, analyzed, and added to our pigment reference library to aid in the current and future research of artworks in our collection.
Images of collected artist materials for analysis and inclusion to the reference library set
So this ends the really quick tour of the lab! Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com.
Because of the sheer size of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s collection and the nature of objects that can deteriorate with exposure to light, such as artworks on paper, only a small portion of the entire collection can be seen at any given time. In addition to artworks, the museum collections include photographic negatives, historical ephemera, library books, and archive materials—hundreds of thousands of individual items, all of which are cataloged and stored for long-term preservation.
As the senior photographer for the museum, I get to see many items that rarely see the light of day. To bring these “dark collections” to light, I’ve been charged with selecting such artworks from our vaults and presenting them on the museum’s Tumblr page—making them available for all to enjoy. Be sure to tune in to our Tumblr page, where there will be a new work presented each week. Here’s a bit of a primer—a couple of items from deep in the vaults that have a connection to each other.
Ralph R. Doubleday (1881-1958), Yakami [sic] Canutt Bulldogger Deluxe, early twentieth century, photographic postcard
The photographic postcard above by rodeo photographer Ralph R. Doubleday shows Yakima Canutt (1895–1986) posing in the rodeo ring. Canutt was known for bulldogging and bronc riding and won the saddle-bronc competition at the Fort Worth rodeo three years in a row from 1921 to 1923, probably around the time this undated photo was taken. He went on to a career as an actor, stuntman, and action film director.
Canutt was hired to ride and act in Hollywood westerns in 1923 and appeared in several silent films. But when the movies transitioned to sound around 1928, Canutt chose to specialize in action and stunt work. He met actor John Wayne while performing as his stunt double in 1932. The two became friends and worked on techniques for stunts and on-screen fighting. Canutt was the inspiration for Wayne's trademark mannerisms, his drawling enunciation, and hip-rolling walk. John Wayne said, "I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand."
Both men worked on John Ford's 1939 film Stagecoach, which features Canutt's daring stunt work running across the horses' rigging to jump astride the lead horse and take control of the runaway team.
Screen shot of Yakima doubling John Wayne doing wagon team stunt from John Ford's Stagecoach, 1939
The museum collection includes this screen-printed poster for Stagecoach.
Unknown, Stagecoach, after 1939, screen print
Although Wayne had been acting in Hollywood for ten years, his performance in Stagecoach proved to be his breakthrough role, leading to a legendary career. Stagecoach is considered one of the most influential films ever made. Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of film-making and claimed to have watched it more than forty times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane. . . . See you next week on Tumblr!