ladybird-by-design

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the children’s publisher, Ladybird, a new book and accompanying exhibition has been produced and is currently on display at The House of Illustration. Both reveal how book design and illustration developed in mid-twentieth-century Britain as well as a changing approach to how children learned to read and write. The series began in 1914 when Wills & Hepworth published its first range of children’s books, which gave young readers the chance to explore a range of different subjects – from science and nature, history and fairy tales, to industrial design and employment. Now 100 years on the brand has earned a special place in British culture, seizing readers’ imaginations with its distinctive combination of design and informative text. Each bound book contains 56 pages, printed in full colour from a single sheet of 40×30 inch paper. The military’s love of paperwork, and with paper packaging replacing tin for many years during war time meant that the petite scale of these books was born out of necessity.

This nostalgic exhibition gives a good overview of the range of design and subject matter produced with a display of more than 120 original illustrations from the archives of the iconic literary brand. Three rooms are filled to the brim, and curated neatly and constructively by subject matter. From a conservation point of view, the gallery itself does well to protect these original and beloved objects-There aren’t any windows within the gallery space and so the possibility of light damage is practically impossible. The exhibition rooms seemed cool and were not overcrowded despite it being a Saturday afternoon, however I was unable to spot any sign of humidity/temperature monitoring in the space itself or in the vitrines, which was disappointing. For this exhibition I was not asked to remove my rucksack, however there weren’t any objects that I deemed at risk and so this was understandable. During my visit I did not witness anybody taking photographs despite the lack of signs prohibiting it-I did some detective work (I asked the invigilator…) and was told that it wasn’t allowed, however a quick search in Google images would suggest otherwise. On a positive note, the mounting and framing of this archival collection was impeccable, and despite not being able to know if conservation materials had been used when hinging/mounting, I was pleased to see that the illustrations were mounted without a window mount,  allowing the viewers the chance to see the edges of the designs, including notes and measurements squiggled in pencil by the artists, which is always nice to see. Additionally, original bindings were sandwiched between the wall and a piece of acrylic, with the book held in place by a piece of card wrapped around the back board-A very nice touch without causing any long lasting damage to the books themselves and allowing visitors the chance to compare original mounted designs with the book format.

IMG_3734                                  Photograph stolen from the internet.

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P1020131 copy A map from the WO95 series before conservation

In April 2015 I started a new job at The National Archives as a project conservator for the commercial delivery team. This position is quite different from any other conservation job I have had to date due to the fast paced nature of the projects I am involved with. My role is to conserve papered documents which need to be stabilised before undergoing digitalisation.  The conservation treatments do not need to be long lasting or particularly sympathetic but need to keep a document intact and flat for the cameras. Despite the fast paced nature of our work ethical guidelines and conservation standards are still strictly adhered to and the conservation treatments are undertaken with skill and precision at all times. One of the main treatments undertaken is the repair of large tears that have the potential to lengthen or cause detachments. For this a gelatine remoistenable tissue has been adopted from an article by Bas Van Velsen (Journal of Paper Conservation Vol.12). The tissue is made in large batches on to polyester film and activated using a damp blotter, which sits on a wet sponge. Using this method a conservator can repair documents extremely quickly as the remoistenable tissue takes seconds to dry after the initial application. My first project within the team has been a large series called WO95 (War Office). This series consists of war diaries for British and colonial units serving in theatres of operations between 1914 and 1922, including Russia, at home, and in the colonies, and British military missions, and Armies of Occupation between 1919 and 1922.  The diaries contain daily reports on operations, intelligence summaries, and other pertinent material.

P1020138      Activating the remoistenable tissue using damp blotters

P1020141Using a teflon bonefolder to set the repair tissue in place.

This series consists of maps, photographs, photostats, transparent papers/maps, pamphlets, and a variety of paper substrates, inks and stamps. All of the documents in this series should be legible for readers, and so documents should be flattened, repaired, and in some cases surface cleaned. Documents that are stuck together (usually in the top left corner) using adhesive, staples or thread should be separated where possible and placed in chronological order before being digitised.

P1020145               A map from the WO95 series after conservation

Recently I begun a 10 week bookbinding course at Morley College under the supervision of bookbinder, David Mills. I attend class weekly, and have been taught basic sewing techniques of pamphlet booklets, cased and library bindings, fine leather binding and slipcase / box making, as well as finishing techniques such as half and quarter coverings, attaching headbands, gold tooling / lettering and book repair.

Here are some photographs of the results so far:

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DSC_0181This week, we say farewell to our conservation intern, Samantha. To mark the end of her 10-week internship working on the Thomson-Walker collection, we asked her some questions to find out more about her time working at the CRC and the project:

1. Why did you decide to apply for the internship at the CRC?

When I graduated last June I decided to make a career plan. This included at least one year of work experience, which would allow me to put my education into practice, strengthen my skills set, and improve areas of weakness. This need to develop had been my main ambition when applying for opportunities. However this particular internship intrigued me for a couple of other reasons. I was interested in the idea of working for a University conservation studio and how this might compare with working for a museum for instance. Inviting also was the prospect of leading a big project during the first phase of conservation; when you train as a conservator it is unusual to work on a large collection independently and so this was an excellent opportunity to do so.

2.What did you expect from the internship? Has anything surprised you?

I thought I would be working solely on the Thomson-Walker collection, but I very quickly recognised that this was not the case. I would indeed be occupied with the Thomson-Walker collection on a daily basis, however I would also be giving tours, supervising volunteers, teaching taster days, writing blog posts and assisting with an exhibition, which was a pleasant surprise.

3. Tell us about what you’ve learnt over the past 10 weeks.

I now know how to survey a collection and create a project proposal. Creating a programme of conservation and preservation that doesn’t just benefit one print but over 2000 felt very daunting 10 weeks ago. But by taking small steps, and keeping in mind that my approach would have to be interpreted by interns after me I have been able to get through it by staying methodical, and making vigorous notes and to do lists!

4. Can you describe for our blog readers a typical day within the CRC conservation studio?

The conservation treatment of the Thomson-Walker collection included removing old backing boards and using a carboxymethyl cellulose poultice to remove tape and adhesive. As this poultice is essential to the treatment I would prepare the CMC the previous evening and construct the poultices as soon as I arrived at the studio the following morning. Once these were ready I began the treatment. Because of the demanding nature of the project, I worked on a number of prints simultaneously, aiming to conserve and rehouse around 10-15 per day. Whilst this is going on I might assist with a tour of the conservation studio, discussing the project with visitors and giving demonstrations. And then during the second half of the day a volunteer would help me to create archival folders to rehouse prints that I’d previously conserved. The CRC has a number of dedicated volunteers, usually students with an interest in conservation wishing to gain experience before embarking upon a relevant degree. This partnership has been very successful for the Thomson-Walker collection, as it has allowed me to conserve more prints, whilst a volunteer has gained new skills and experience.

5. What have you enjoyed most about your time with us?

Working within a University. I was unsure how this would compare with my previous experience of working within a museum or archive setting, but the difference has been huge. One of the main objectives of the CRC conservation studio is to make their collection more accessible and fun. I have really embraced this ideology during my time here, and hope to be an advocate of such aims during my future career. Working in such an open and exciting atmosphere has also done wonders for my confidence.

6. What have you found most challenging?

Creating a rehousing programme for the Thomson-Walker collection. This wasn’t just difficult because of the sheer number of prints but because they are all completely different sizes! I started out by wrestling with measurements, conservation catalogues, budgets, time restrictions, calculations, and ordering forms. Once this was all worked out I could relax a little. That was until my order arrived…then I had to make sure that all those calculations had been correct and actually get the project underway.

7. What shall you miss about the internship?

As an intern, it is not always possible to be self-directed, and projects aimed for interns are typically already set up and ready to go. For this reason I shall miss the independence I have experienced whilst working on the Thomson-Walker collection. I have enjoyed creating and following my own rules.

8. Do you have a favourite print?

Yes! I recently discovered a print of Dr Albert Isaiah Coffin (1790–1866). Whilst the print itself isn’t spectacular I found the name rather amusing and decided to do some research on the American herbalist. It turns out that Dr Coffin was a man ahead of his time and has even been called a revolutionary. Instead of paying extortionate fees for a conventional doctor, Dr Coffin advocated that one should learn the secrets of medical botany and be their own doctor. In the north of England, Coffin delivered lectures to working people and set up botany societies where people could meet to learn and discuss medicine, as well as sharing problems and tips. This idea was nicknamed, “coffinism.” In a way I feel that Coffin’s aims are echoed within the CRC conservation studio…well not quite, but we do offer conservation taster days!

9. What advise would you give to the next intern working on the Thomson-Walker collection?

The conservation studio is currently a very exciting place to be working for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Take advantage of all the extra activities on offer. Work hard but play harder!

From all of us in the conservation studio, and the CRC as a whole, we would like to thank Samantha for all her fantastic work, and wish her the best of luck in her future career.

Click here to view my end of internship presentation.

ww2_children_play_gas_masksEver fancied curating your own exhibition? From planning through to an evening public opening – try your hand at organising, interpreting, and installing an exhibition in a single day! The exhibition will be inspired by the hidden treasures in the Moray House School of Education archive collection. Museum professionals from the University of Edinburgh will guide you through the day, sharing their own individual expertise and knowledge in this field….

“Before deciding upon a career in conservation I was working mainly as an artist and curator concerned with the interpretation and exploration of objects with a passion for community engagement. I was thrilled to be able to discover the Moray House School of Education archival collection and help others to appreciate and handle it correctly. The collection has some wonderfully insightful information regarding education in Edinburgh during the early 20th century with so many stories waiting to be discovered. My main role of the day was to assist CRC staff and those taking part, however I became just as absorbed with the collection as our innovative learners! Because we had to sift through such a large number of interesting documents it was very difficult to know what to include within the exhibition, and how to best tell the story of the nursery school. Nevertheless by the end of the day we had all became familiar with our chosen assortment of documents and objects giving us the confidence to forge ahead with how we wanted others to view them. It was great to see so many people engaging with the collection in this way and learning from it too!” Samantha Cawson, Centre for Research Collections Conservation Intern.

To learn more about the ‘Innovative Learning Week’ workshop run by Centre for Research Collections staff (and myself!) please look at The University of Edinburgh conservation blog.

Glassplates

As a trained paper conservator it came as rather a shock when I was presented with the idea of conserving glass. I was first faced with the prospect during a short course at West Dean College, where I was told to fix a broken glass plate negative using an epoxy resin. Since then I’ve worked with glass on a regular basis, whether that be during framing artworks, or dealing with glass deterioration, which in turn then affects the framed artwork. Most recently during an internship with photographs conservator, Clara Waldthausen, I was asked to clean a large collection of deteriorating glass plate negatives. Invented in 1847, glass plate negatives produced extremely sharp images in comparison to the previously used negatives produced on paper. The glass plate process wasn’t very sensitive and took up to 15 minutes to make an exposure on the glass; consequently, it was used to mainly photograph buildings and landscapes. After 1878, there was an decrease in exposure time due to the advances of using gelatin, and as a result “instant photography” was born. A gelatin silver glass plate negative is composed of a glass plate coated with a gelatin coating that contains silver particles. Sadly, gelatin plates are often found in poor condition. The most frequently observed issues are broken or cracked glass, delamination of the gelatin emulsion, surface dirt, and glass deterioration. The collection that I was working with during my internship displayed all of the above problems. Below are some photographs of my efforts to preserve the large glass plate collection using methods such as, surface cleaning, repair and rehousing within PAT (Photographic Activity Test) quality materials. For more information please visit the University of Edinburgh’s conservation blog where I give details of preserving broken glass plates.

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As a recent MA graduate of art on paper conservation from Camberwell College of Art I was looking for an internship that would give me the chance to gain project management experience as well as allowing me to become familiar with various printing techniques and how to treat them in innovative ways. This internship at The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections permits me to meet these aims as I am the first person to begin conservation work on this collection and shall be creating a treatment and rehousing program as well as undertaking research, experimentation and treatments to get the project underway.

The Thomson-Walker collection includes some 2,500 prints, which were bestowed to the University of Edinburgh in 1939 by Sir John William Thomson-Walker (1871-1937), a surgeon and committed print collector. The collected prints are mostly in good condition and convey portraits of influential medical men from the UK and Europe ranging from the 16th-20th centuries. The main conservation issue for this collection are the backing boards that the prints have been adhered to; the board is of low grade quality, which is not only destructive to the primary support but also prohibits the prints from being exhibited, digitised, or used as a resource for teaching. The unattractive and damaging boards and the tape used to adhere them to the primary support will have to be removed; I shall be experimenting with various treatment methods in the coming weeks in order to create a fast and effective programme of conservation which can be carried out by myself and the interns that follow after me. Additionally, the print collection varies tremendously in size and so I will also be investigating various storage solutions to rehouse this large group of artworks in a way that is not only cost effective but also accommodates how they shall be used now and in the future. For updates on the internship please visit the University of Edinburgh’s conservation blog.