Latest conserved book!

Last thursday, after spending the last few weeks organising the exhibition (still up untill the 19th of December!) I finally could go back to my bench and do some practical conservation work! I was pretty much ready to re-back a 1636 book, a full leather binding with broken joints.

Spine - Before treatment

The work I have carried out on that book mainly consisted of repairs to the sewing structure by excavating the old tanned supports (with scalpel blades, tweezers and magnifier) and inserting new seaming twines to pack the existing sewing and replace the old broken supports. Once that was done I had to consolidate the original sewing thread with gelatine adhesive. I pulled through the new supports underneath the original supports still laced into the boards so that the repair was not visible.

New supports not visible underneath original leather supports

The text-book spine was lined with japanese paper and the new leather spine was paired around the head, tail, along the edges and the joints (just a little not to weaken the new repair)! I wanted to try a new technique, something different to the re-backs I had done before using a band-nippers. I saw some of my colleagues in the studio using this old technique (Nicholas Pickwood introduced it to the Derry studio) which consists in placing the book spine up on a board and using a thin cord (seaming twine) tied around the bands to define them as the leather and the adhesive dries. 

First thing to do was to humidify the new leather before the adhesive could be pasted down, let it soak and then paste it again with Canadian wheat starch. My book was placed in a finishing press and my new leather placed on the spine. At this stage I needed to work the leather very well to make sure it would adhere all over the spine, avoiding any air bubbles, and giving good definition to the bands. Once that was done, the book could be removed to allow work on the caps and give it the shape I wanted, always using a teflon folder and teflon spatula to avoid marking the leather.

working the caps

Once the caps where to desired shape I had to wrap the textbook in bandage to keep it firmly closed. I then placed the book, spine up, with addition of a support for the foredge, on the specially designed board, ready for the final touches! The book was then tied up with twine going around the bands to create a recess and shape the leather. Always keep in mind that if the twine needs to be tightened, small pieces of boards can be twisted around to cords.

twine tie up around the book

The following day, the twine could be untwisted and the binding opened careful, with application of water on the joints to prevent any cracks in the leather.

The original leather was re-attached onto the book after the broken edges of the leather were paired down.

Spine - After treatment

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Special Collections in the Princeton University Library

I just came across this really nice website about bookbinding structures and styles from the Special Collections in the Princeton University Library:

I think it is remarkably well done, comprehensive and well documented. It was made after an exhibition was held from November 10, 2002 through April 20, 2003, entitled Hand Bookbindings: Plain and Simple to Grand and Glorious“. The photos are definitely a plus and it’s possible to magnify the pictures quite well. I particularly like the page about binding waste, as it relates so well to the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Collection with its many manuscript-wastes re-used in bindings.

Any book-lover would want to spend time on that website and I just wish I was in Princeton while this exhibition was held!

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Closing Exhibition 7th-19th of december 2011

An exhibition of some of the conserved rare and historic books from the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library will be held in the Chapter House Museum of St Columb’s Cathedral from December 7th to December 19th 2011.

This exhibition marks the culmination of a three-year Heritage Lottery Funded project, supported also by private donors, which aimed to help conserve the Church of Ireland’s Diocesan Library and make it more accessible to the community.

The Chapter House exhibition will highlight the different types of work undertaken by the Project team, both conservation and outreach, and some of the challenges involved in conserving such a historic collection.  

The Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library Exhibition takes place in the Chapter House Museum from Wednesday December 7 to Monday December 19 ( Opening Times :Monday –Saturday, 9 am until 5 pm.

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Turner Prize 2011@ Baltic

I was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the weekend and I happened to go to the Baltic in Gateshead where the 2011 Turner prize is being held. After 30 minutes queuing, I finally got in and was shown into 4 rooms, one dedicated to each of the shortlisted artists. As a conservator, I could not help but think about certain issues associated with the conservation of Contemporary Art.

The work of Karla Black, a Scottish born and one of the shortlisted artist, was particularly interesting to me in relation to the approach a conservator should have regarding her work. Her pieces on cellophane (you can see at the back of the picture below) I found particularly challenging as the paint she has applied on is obviously peeling off and flaking away.

Karla Black's installation @ Baltic for the 2011 Turner Prize

 I would imaging she is aware of the fact and desires this reaction to happen as part of her creating process. But how is this affecting and influencing her artistic ideas? Is she aware of the extent of the degradation of the material she is using? Is it disrupting the visual intentions? Does she intent people to walk on the coloured chalk scattered around her paper sculptures? And what would she want a conservator to do about it?

Cellophane piece on exhibition in 2009

 In their book “The Challenge of Installation Art” Glenn Wharton and Harvey Molotch say that when working on Contemporary Art a conservator should be aware of the context of the installation, the varying and changing values of the piece and its physical transformations. But all this can evolve quickly and the question is to know which angle is most appropriate for each artwork at a given time. When an Artist is still alive, the question can be put directly to him/her. We must not forget that artists may have answered the question in previous  interview or gave precise guidelines. However, is this always the best way to go about it? Artists, collectors can change their minds, conservation attitude is constantly evolving. Our code of ethic states that if there is a conflict, the conservator should always resolve it in a way that is consistent with his/her respect to the object.

In conclusion, we should always put the art work above, respect the artist’s intents and yet carry out conservation work that is “ethical” to us.

 The turner prize winner will be announced on the 5th of December 2011. Best of luck to all 4 shortlisted artists. And I would like to remind you that Derry might be hosting the 2013 Turner Prize as part of 2013-UK City of Culture. This would be an amazing opportunity to develop the contemporary Art Scene in the region.

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Signed on the cover!

Going through the shelf in the Rare Books Room this morning, I came across this lovely limp vellum binding, a 1573 Italian-Latin dictionary printed in Bologna. Jenny, Joe and I were quite surprise to find that Ezekiel Hopkins had signed the book directly on its parchment cover as he usually signed his books on the title page or first endleaf.

G I a 19 front cover

 He probably came into possession of this book in October 1663 when he was  assistant curate to Dr. Spurstow, at Hackney, and later brought it with him to Raphoe when he was nominated Bishop in 1670. This book is just a lovely piece of Bishop Hopkins personal history which also gives us a better understanding of  the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library.

Signed endleaf
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Christopher Clarkson’s gelatine adhesive

Today I have had to prepare gelatine adhesive to work on one of the book I am doing conservation work on. I had been talking to my colleagues Tony and Jenny,  and looking through their notes, they managed to give me Christopher Clarkson’s recommended method of making gelatine adhesive. He ran a course here in the studio in November 2010 about limp vellum bindings. 

His suggested method was to use leaf gelatine which you can cut to different sizes and use different dosages of water to obtain the desired strength.

Gelatine leaf

 For a medium strength:

1/8 – 7 ml
1/4 -15 ml
For stronger strength:
1/8 – 5 ml
1/16 – 4 ml
Pre-heat the water in a round bottom flask on a baby bottle warmer but do not boil. The gelatine leaf can be cut into small squares and added to the flask. Christopher Clarkson has recommended that the neck of the flask was covered by cling film to prevent air flow, he also recommended using a Hog bristle brush.
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Tooling and manuscript as endpapers

One of the last find in the Derry and Raphoe collection was this beautiful book with lovely tooling of recorded roll (late 16th-17th Century) quite unusual for such a small size book (16cm in height).

Tooling of front board of C I. k 19

Another feature of this collection I really enjoy and appreciate is the use of waste manuscript as endpapers. In this book, a lovely illuminated manuscript on parchment has been folded and sewn front and back of the book. Discolouration of the parchment is visible where it was in contact with the covering material, but what I found really fascinating is the offsetting of the letter P, painted red and blue from the endpaper onto the leather.

Manuscript waste as endpaper on C I. k 19

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