It’s Friday, it must be Winchester

This week I have been extremely fortunate to have some company on my travels and in my studio, with Surjit Singh joining me as part of his two month internship in the UK.

Surjit has just completed the first year of his Masters degree at the National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology in New Delhi, and is in the UK to develop his understanding and practice in library and archive conservation.

It was a bit of an immersion into the life of a conservator in private practice, with the days being spent both on the road and in the studio. Monday saw us visiting several clients in Oxford, and Surjit got straight into the swing of things by helping me take some cradle templates for a forthcoming exhibition at New College library.

Tuesday was a studio day, and together we worked on the cleaning and repair of the early C19th Petitions of Assistance collection of paper documents for the Salters’ Company archive. This NMCT funded project was a great way for Surjit to practice some key paper conservation techniques and get experience of handling and treating different types of paper which had a variety of damage types, including iron gall ink corrosion.

Wednesday saw us back on the road and heading west, this time to Winchester Cathedral, where I have been working on the Morley Library cleaning project for a number of weeks. We began by helping the volunteers set up the next phase of the cleaning of the collection, and then Surjit moved on to start the installation of the fishing line handling deterrent. In this system, originally developed for use in National Trust libraries, fine nylon fishing line, dark brown in colour, is laced between two conservation grade boards at either end of the shelves. This discourages and prevents casual browsing of the books, and acts as an aide memoir for visitors that touching is not allowed.

Thursday was a welcome studio day after all the activity of the week, and we looked at case binding repair and methods to conserve circulating library collections at Corpus Christi College library. This included scraping and poulticing old degraded spine linings and sewing on new textile linings for additional strength.




We were back on the road again early on Friday morning, bound for Winchester Cathedral to complete our part of the project as well as hand over the cleaning to the volunteers to continue to work their way around the 2000 books that make up the library. It’ll be great to see the progress they have made next time I visit.

Friday afternoon was all about iron gall ink, that key – and rather tricky – component of so much of our manuscript heritage. I showed Surjit how to make and use gelatine-coated remoistenable tissue, through which repairs may be made on iron gall ink media whilst controlling the level of humidity, the primary cause of iron gall ink corrosion.

The week with Surjit Singh went by all too fast. He put up with my hectic schedule, spirited driving style, the menagerie of wild animals that seem to be taking over my garden and my attempts to cook Indian classics for him admirably. More importantly, it was great to revisit some of the techniques and procedures that I do as a matter of course and see them from a fresh perspective. It was even better to see Surjit taking these techniques, thinking how they could be adapted and making them work for him: this is how we all develop as conservators.

Good luck to Surjit Singh, there’s a great future for him just around the next corner.

 

My thanks to all the clients and sites we visited during the week, and for allowing the reproduction of the images in this post. 

We could be (unsung) heroes, just for one day: update

Following on from my last post, the book cradles I made earlier in the month proved very effective in displaying a superb selection of 12 early printed books from the collections held in the library at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. With apologies for the reflections, the cradles did their job exactly as intended, as you can see from the images below: they fully supported the openings for display and prevented strain on the bindings and sewing structure, yet were invisible when viewed from above. The polypropylene strapping is also virtually undetectable, and keeping it away from text areas as far as possible means that it does not detract from the visual impact of these exceptionally fine objects.

A good cradle always plays a supporting role, and is never centre stage, but without them the stars of the show would not be able to shine quite so brightly.

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View of display from above

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Side view

My thanks to Corpus Christi College for their kind permission to take and use these images.

We could be (unsung) heroes, just for one day

One of the best aspects of my role as a freelance library and archive conservator is the huge variety of work, including some projects that don’t necessarily need me to perform practical treatments on heritage materials. August has seen some great examples of these type of projects, and I have been busy with tasks such as interpreting environmental data collected on behalf of a school archive,  condition checking for the National Trust, conducting a conservation and collection care survey on rare book material at an Oxford college and preparing a training session for an archivists’ group. Last week I was assisting in the digitisation of a manuscript at the Cambridge University Digital Content Unit. Due to the very unique and particular quire make up and condition of the manuscript, this was an intricate and tricky procedure, and my main role was to ensure the delicate binding and sewing structure were well supported on the specially designed digitisation cradle. A very interesting and painstaking task, and I really enjoyed working with a great team at the Unit. The walk to work wasn’t too bad either, see image below!

The end of the week saw me making cradles for use in a temporary, day-long exhibition for a conference that is part of the 500th anniversary celebrations at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  Cradles really are the unsung heroes of any exhibition: essential in  the vital supporting role they play in the staging of displays, and if done properly they rarely intrude on the aesthetic impact of the books themselves. They are custom-made using a unique template to fit the contours of the opening exactly and hold the textblock and boards at the correct angle to ensure that the binding and sewing structure isn’t damaged or placed under strain during exhibition, however short the length of time on display. Cradles come in many guises: they are usually made in box board for temporary exhibitions as in this case or, for longer and more permanent display, perspex can be used. Depending on the size, weight and condition of the book they can be flat or tilted. Once made, the opening is held down with clear polypropylene strapping, which is unobtrusive but strong.

Here are some of the completed cradles prior to installation, ready to  show off the exhibition items both safely and to their best advantage. I hope to be able to update this post after installation with an image of the cradles in place complete with the exhibition items.