Blogs

Agricultural Riches in the Research Library

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It might surprise some of our readers to learn that the research library has a large collection of yearbooks from the United States Department of Agriculture. We were recently taking a closer look at this set to determine how it compared to other library holdings in the area. While we discovered that the the Cowgirl Museum and TCU have good coverage of this title, we are the only collection that offers the earliest report of the newly-christened department covering the year 1862. In this report Congress lays out its charge:

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby established at the seat of government of the United States a Department of Agriculture, the general designs and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of that word, and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.

The department's first commissioner, Isaac Newton, waxes about agriculture's importance to the moral fiber of the nation and its countrymen, invoking some of the tenets of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideal:

I hardly deem it necessary to attempt to convince our intelligent countryman of the vast importance of such a department, inasmuch as whatever improves the condition and the character of the farmer feeds the life-springs of national character, wealth, and power ... Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquilize the false ambition of nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of comparatively slow, but sure, wealth, drawn from and reinvested in the soil, develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life, and love of country; while the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It attracts men to cities and tempts to wild investments. It too often unsettles moral principles, and substitutes selfishness for patriotism.

Newton further quotes a supporter of the Homestead Act of 1862 regarding the necessity of attracting immigrants to till the soil, filling the void of so many Americans lost in the ongoing Civil War:

Every acre of our fertile soil is a mine which only waits the contact of labor to yield its treasures, and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the homestead act. When the opportunity ... shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes in order to avail themselves of the great advantages ... Every working man who comes betters the condition of the country as well as his own.

The 1862 yearbook also features a preamble of plates highlighting the agricultural riches of the nation:

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In fact our copy of the report for 1864 features its own real plant life: we discovered five specimens sandwiched within its pages. Working with the Amanda Neill, Director of the Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we learned that all five specimens are examples of nasturtium. Since we do not know when or where the specimens were gathered, they have very little scientific value.

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Library Items Relate to "We the People: Picturing American Identity"

We cannot always squeeze everything we want into the galleries, and some objects are not easily displayed on the walls. The research library is exhibiting several items that could not be fit into the We the People: Picturing American Identity exhibition, yet enhance the show in interesting ways.

One exhibition looks at the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as depicted in mass media print sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Another showcases the work of contemporary photographer Doug Rickard, who takes photographs of images of depressed parts of the nation from Google Street View as they appear on his computer monitor. A New American Picture comments on race and class, privacy and surveillance, and the tradition of street photography while asking the larger question of how this kind of digital image making relates to American identity.

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The Emancipation of the Negroes, January 1863, the Past and the Future
Wood engraving
In: Harper's Weekly (Jan. 24, 1863)

Barcoding!

The research library, with the help of volunteer assistance, recently finished barcoding all the books in the main part of the stacks. Close to 50,000 items had to be examined, and items without a barcode got one attached. This process not only facilitates electronic checkout to staff, but it also helped us inventory the collection. Kudos to Mary Jane Harbison, Library Technical Services Coordinator, for shepherding this monumental project.

The photo below of volunteer Phyllis Evans, chief barcoder, shows relief or perhaps shock that she has crossed the finish line!

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Behind the Scenes: Installing Hidden in Plain Site

Currently on view in the museum atrium is Hidden in Plain Site, a monumental art work that includes four canvases. Artist Sedrick Huckaby wanted to celebrate the artistic merit of his grandmother’s quilts and explore the idea of quilts containing hidden messages. The process used by the artist to create this and other works was directly inspired by the collages of Romare Bearden, some of which are featured in the special exhibition Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey now on view through August 11, 2013.

Installing "Hidden in Plain Site" by Sedrick HuckabyInstalling "Hidden in Plain Site" by Sedrick HuckabyArtist Sedrick Huckaby

Hanging a large-scale piece takes many hours of planning and collaboration. The project began four months before the works even came into the museum. Jim Belknap, Installation Manager, visited Huckaby’s studio to look at the paintings and get an idea of what it would take to hang 300 pounds of wood, canvas, and paint on the walls of the museum. Not only was the safety of the art at stake, but the integrity of the delicate shell stone walls in the museums’ atrium were an important issue during the installation.

A framework system was constructed on which the paintings were hung. (The design and build process took two months.) Framework and paintings would then hang on a pulley-and-cable system that was attached to a bronze channel already installed in the wall. The original channel proved to be too deep and new metal channel inserts had to be created to hold the bolts for the pulley/cable system.

Installation started on a Monday at 8 a.m. and was completed by 6 p.m. The work had to be completed before the museum reopened on Tuesday morning. This project required four professional art handlers, two registrars, two contractors, three lifts, and a step ladder from the Teaching Resource Center. The artist was on hand during the last hours of the installation and he didn’t seem at all worried about his creation. The result is a wonderful marriage of art, careful planning, and precision engineering.

Hidden in Plain Site will be on view until October 31, 2013. Don’t miss it!

Director's Vlog

Andrew Walker discusses the acquisition of the Amon Carter's first painting by 19th-century artist Robert Seldon Duncanson.

Library Preservation Assessment

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I have had the great pleasure of spending the past two days at the library doing a preservation assessment of the print collections. A preservation assessment is a tool for the library to use to determine what they're doing well to preserve their collections, and plan for improvements in the future. This assessment was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

There are a few reasons that having a preservation assessment is important for libraries and archives. The first is that it serves as an internal tool for the library to determine and prioritize the next steps in their preservation program. The second, and possibly more important, is that the assessment report will make the case for the importance of preservation to stakeholders outside the library. This can be anyone from the museum's administration to users who advocate for the library, to potential funders for some of the projects I'll recommend.

I like to think that almost every facet of the library's operations has preservation implications, so this project has me looking at everything from the building's environment to the condition of the materials to disaster planning and security. Over the course of my visit, I have talked with lots of staff members about the collections and the building, and spent hours in the stacks looking at all of the library's wonderful materials. (And oh boy, do they have some wonderful materials!) Now, I'll take my research home with me and produce a written report for the library detailing all of my findings and recommendations.

I'll close by saying that the library and its staff are doing a terrific job of caring for a beautiful collection. It's a real treat for me to visit a library that obviously understands what they need to do to preserve their collections, and I'm delighted that Sam, Jon and Mary Jane have invited me here to be a part of that process.

Rebecca Elder
Adjunct Preservation Field Services Officer
Amigos Library Services

Preserving Our Treasures

The Museum’s conservators have rehoused its two prized daguerreotypes by Southworth & Hawes. [Two women posed with a chair], going on view this June, and [Child, asleep, with one arm raised] (both ca. 1850) were acquired in 1999. They came to the museum each in a modern displayable package that consisted of glass glazing, a mat board spacer, the daguerreotype, and mat board backing; a package in which they were housed until recently.

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Rehousing the daguerreotypes gave Sylvie Pénichon (Photograph Conservator) and Tatiana Cole (Fellow in Photographs Conservation) the opportunity to fully examine and document the condition of the bare daguerreotype plates under different types of illumination and under magnification. Some of which are described below.

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Coaxial illumination (above left) allows for imaging of surface characteristics of a daguerreotype (above right) without distracting reflections from its mirror-like surface. Illumination with ultraviolet light can sometimes reveal residual chemistry, for example from initial processing of the image or previous treatment, and it can also show the presence of degradation products. However, examination under ultraviolet light revealed none of the above on the Museum’s two daguerreotypes.

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Photomicrographs, i.e. images taken under magnification (as shown above), allow conservators to closely monitor any possible changes experienced by the delicate image material of the daguerreotype, which is composed of microscopic silver and mercury amalgam particles often coated with gold. One common type of degradation is characterized by a nucleus surrounded by a white haze (below left). Fingerprints perhaps belonging to the photographer himself may also be found (below right).

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Photomicrographs also help to record hallmarks, which are blind stamps that identify the plate manufacturer or photographic supply house, and hold extremely useful information for researchers. A number, such as the “40” shown below, refers to the amount of silver to copper present in the daguerreotype plate. The particular hallmark shown below (from [Child, asleep, with one arm raised]) also identifies the plate as one of the most widely used French plates available between ca. 1850-1858.

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After detailed documentation and imaging, the daguerreotypes were safely rehoused between two plates of highly stable and optically clear borosilicate glass, with a polyester tray that borders the daguerreotype plate (below left). The tray acts as a spacer that prevents direct contact between the delicate image surface and the glass. The glass on both sides gives researchers visual access to both the front and back of the daguerreotype plate. It also minimizes the amount of hygroscopic (moisture loving) materials, such as mat board, present within the package. Lastly, special tape is used to bind the new package components together. A schematic diagram shows a cross-section of the new housing (below right).

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With new sealed packages, proper exhibition and storage conditions, and close monitoring by conservators, Southworth & Hawes’ exquisite images will be preserved for generations to come. Be sure to come see [Two women posed with a chair] on view this coming June.

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Director's Vlog: Texas Regionalism

Joined by curator Shirley Reece-Hughes, Walker discusses the museum’s Texas Regionalism exhibition.

Rare Illustrated Book From Raymond Lufkin Discovered in Museum Library

Library staff recently unearthed what turns out to be an extremely rare example of an illustrated booklet from Raymond Lufkin (1899–1978). Lufkin published Drawings for Books, Magazines, and Advertisements around 1940 to promote his illustration services while living in New York's Lower East Side. Divided into two parts, "Drawings for Publishers" and "Drawings for Advertisers," the booklet showcases the range of his talent. What strikes me is how deftly he juxtaposes images, often with poetic effect. Below I show my favorite pairing: one page shows a swan gliding on a tranquil blue background, while the opposite page features an engraving showing a small boat in a turbulent storm. Not only do the images ironically relate in terms of subject, but also in terms of color: calming blue and aggressive black and white. Only two libraries, the research library at the Amon Carter, and the American Antiquarian Society, report having the title. Lufkin was an illustrator of prolific achievement active in the United States from the early to mid twentieth century, illustrating over fifty books and hundreds of advertisements. Lufkins' accomplishments also include several mural commissions for businesses in New York and work as as a camouflage artist during World War I.

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Laura McPhee's Guardians of Solitude

The museum's research library is exhibiting a copy of Laura McPhee's large photobook Guardians of Solitude, offering a chance for visitors to compare the book with a companion photograph now on display in the exhibition Big Pictures. The limited edition book marks the inaugural publication of Iris Editions in London and translates McPhee’s engagement with large-scale photographs into a book format. The images in this work document the regeneration of the landscape following a devastating fire in 2005 that ravaged an area of over 40,000 acres in the White Cloud Mountains Region in central Idaho. The sequence of photographs collectively demonstrates the interplay of destruction and creation following the fire. The special exhibition Big Pictures features McPhee’s photograph, Understory Flareups, Fourth of July Creek, Valley Road Wild Fire, Custer County, Idaho, 2005, depicting the fire as it was happening.

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