New Volunteer Elizabeth

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog IMG_0021Elizabeth Boyne has joined us in the lab as our newest volunteer. We have no shortage of projects. She started with cleaning and flattening newspapers from the Czech Slovak Museum but will most likely clean a collection of busts from the African American Museum and assist with cleaning and flattening manuscript files. Elizabeth is a Graduate Student enrolled in the Joint SLIS and Center for the Book program. She will be working with us in addition to working in Book Repair with Susan Hansen. We’re always excited to gain an extra pair of hands!

Where We Are Now

Monday, November 16, 2009

On October 23 we sent another round of artifacts back to the African American Museum. We also sent back the first of the manuscript boxes to be cleaned.

We hope to be out of Oakdale Hall by the end of the year and it is heartening to see it empty out a little more each time we send things back. Almost all the metal objects have been finished and we are in the process of completing the wooden items from the African American Museum. We have only a few remaining objects from the Czech Slovak Museum that need to be cleaned.

The African American Museum Manuscript box project, which consists of 105 boxes of files that need to be cleaned, flattened, and rehoused, is well underway. Twenty three boxes have been returned and there are several more in various states of progress.

The LP and 45 Collections are virtually finished, we are still researching cleaning methods for the 78s. Once we have returned the LPs we will be able to move the remaining objects at Oakdale Hall to be stored at the Library.

The fact that we are getting to the point where we can consolidate items is a pretty big deal. When the flood recovery began we were bursting at the seams wondering where on earth we would find the room to store all of these things. Now that we have some breathing room it is easier to see the progress that we have been making.

Steve Stenstrom Workshop on Shellac Finishes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blog shellac 004Steve Stenstrom returned to the UI to teach us about Shellac. We learned about the properties of Shellac and the different ways to use it. Steve brought us pieces of wood to work with and we all got some experience “french polishing” which consists of a cotton pad soaked in Shellac wrapped in a piece of cotton (old tshirts work the best). Using the pads we learned the basic technique for finishing a piece of wood with shellac. This will mainly be applied to the trophies and plaques we have from the African American Museum.

Read “The Story of Shellac” and learn how insects make shellac.

Blog shellac 011 Blog shellac 016

inventory fun

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keeping order in the aftermath of a disaster is not easy to do. When the flood hit Cedar Rapids in 2008 there was very little time to get everything out of the museums and things that weren’t rescued until after they had sustained flood damage were at times so unrecognizable it was hard even to identify which museum they had come from! There was no time to take an inventory, label or organize anything.

When we got the books, maunscripts, and artifacts back to the University one of our first, and largest, tasks was to put things in some semblance of order. This was mainly done for museum artifacts as opposed to the books and manuscripts which tend to be a bit easier to identify. We had a rough idea of what we should have and the curators were extremely helpful but many items had tags obscured by mud or ink that had run.


We imposed our own organization system and began a database to keep track of which museum an item came from, the condition, proposed treatment, actual treatment, treatment time and date finished. In addition to this we photographed every thing before we started work on it. This organization system has made it much easier for us to locate items when we are in contact with the curators. It also allows us to record what we’ve done for future reference.

The African American Museum is using a program called Past Perfect which allows us to see images of items before the flood. This has been invaluable in cases where we don’t know exactly how much treatment an object needs. We don’t want to remove a finish because we think it is staining from the flood. We also do not want to “overclean” objects, taking away from their provenance.

Blue Boxes

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Volunteer measuring blue corrugated board to make a boxVolunteer with blue boxes completed and one in progress

One of our volunteers has taken on the project of building custom boxes for objects to be returned to the African American Museum in November. Beth has been teaching Kallie Holt how to make boxes from the sturdy blue corrugated board we use routinely in the conservation lab.  In addition to making them easily transportable the boxes will be good for long term storage for these artifacts.

One of the advantages of our close communication with the curators is the ability to have us prioritize items. Susan Kuecker of the African American Museum is opening an exhibit in November and sent us a list of objects she needed so we could re-arrange our workflow. These are the objects that Kallie is re-boxing.  We hope to have a majority of the items from the African American Museum treated, boxed, and ready to go by December.

Adherograph Reformatting Continues

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ongoing efforts to clean and flatten flood-affected archives manuscripts from the African American Museum of Iowa have turned up yet another form of adherograph deterioration. (See June 30, 2009 entry)

As seen in the example to the left, the powder medium that holds the adherograph text image has irreversibly adhered to the back of a preceding document page.  Unable to separate the two, I decided to scan both pieces of the damaged document and then attempt to reunite them in Photoshop.

The first step was to flip the fragment horizontally.  Though only the back of the reversed fragment text was visible through the adherograph medium, flipping it over digitally created a faint, though workable positive. 

Note the altered color of the reunited fragment.  Through a haphazard process of tweaking color levels and saturations I was able to pull the text out, making it as legible as possible.  After doing so, reducing the image from color to black and white serves to isolate the information from the discolored document carrier.

 This detail, captured after converting document to black and white, shows that while the texture of the adherograph medium remains cumbersome, the information is again legible. 

This second example details another completed document as well as its original post-flood condition.  While this process is probably too time consuming in many situations, experimenting with the procedure was a valuable experience.  Not only is there now a workflow for this in the future, but it also raises some interesting questions about disaster recovery, institutional resources, and policies pertaining to discarding and reformatting.

Return to Sender: Reattaching Stamps

Monday, July 13, 2009

Many of the files from the African American Museum contain various forms of correspondence. There are many postcards and letters with their original stamps. When these already fragile envelopes were faced with the flood, the stamps detached to end in a pile at the bottom of the file folder.

The second project I gave Kallie was to reunite the stamps with their respective letters and postcards. This was a fun project because it’s like putting together a puzzle and some of the stamps are pretty interesting. I had her reattach the stamps using wheat starch paste applied with a small brush. When the stamp was in position, a small square of blotter was placed over it and weighted to absorb any excess moisture and prevent warping.

Volunteer Kallie Making a Difference

Friday, July 10, 2009

We have a new  volunteer! Kallie Holt, a Junior at the University of Iowa has volunteered to work 8 hours a week here in the Conservation Lab.

The first project I gave her was the cleaning of a collection of small miscellaneous items from the African American Museum. These objects range from pacemakers to a wooden gavel and everything in between. Most of the collection belonged to a medical doctor, hence the medical paraphernalia and miniature lungs which you can see at the bottom of the photo on the right.  Creepy.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

While processing manuscript archive documents from the African American Museum of Iowa we fortuned upon an old, mysterious and extremely problematic form of document duplication.

What we believe we have, perhaps hundreds of, are adherography documents.  A definition, found in “Guide to the identification of prints and photographs : featuring a chronological history of reproduction technologies” – a supplement to the book “Encyclopedia of printing, photographic and photomechanical processes,” by Luis Nadeau, 2002 – is as follows:

ADHEROGRAPHY: A duplicating process developed by 3M. Images were formed by the adherence of powder to a tacky latent image created by the effect of infrared heat. This provided a master from which 200 to 250 copies could be made. The powder image of the resulting print was fused to the paper by heat. [A process used during the 1960’s.]

These adherographs, recognized as inherently volatile, did not respond well to the moisture, humidity, and high temperatures generated by last June’s floods.  The powder image described above, once fused to a slick-feeling, glossy-looking paper carrier, have lost their bind to their paper hosts.

Reformatting is simple where the powder images free themselves in large pieces.  Unfortunately, many of the documents have experienced a shattering of the powder image layer.  Attempts to stabilize these particular documents in sonically-welded Mylar encapsulations have both pros and cons.  On one hand, the Mylar, having a strong static charge, lock the powder image fragments into place… useful for reformatting.  On the other hand, this same static charge has the tendency to agitate the fragments into incomprehensible disorder.

With the jury still out on encapsulation, we simply reformat through the best possible means.  Where the documents are relatively stable, we quickly scan them face down on the Ricoh.  Where the documents are highly volatile, we image them under the Zeutschel top-down scanner.  No digital files are maintained.  Determining the best solution for the shattered documents requires further research.  Stay tuned.

Inventorying Flood-Affected Collections

Friday, June 26, 2009

As conservation work moves along for flood-affected artifacts from the African American Museum of Iowa, we momentarily shifted away from treatment of metals to pick up our inventory of small objects comprised of a variety of media. Two primary functions of the inventory are to verify the holdings under our care against the original AAMI data and also to provide our own identification number for the artifacts. Tagging the artifacts with both IDs and generating descriptive data for our flood recovery inventory helps us track and evaluate where we are in the treatment process, and, consequently, how much work we have left to do.