Nancy Kraft reflects on disaster response in new book chapter

Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty-Year Retrospective cover art
Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty-Year Retrospective

Congratulations to our very own “Queen of Disaster,” Nancy Kraft, on the recent publication of her new book chapter.

Nancy’s chapter, “Bridging the Rivers,” appears in Flood in Florence, 1966: a Fifty-Year Retrospective, out now from Michigan Publishing. Find out how Nancy developed her disaster response expertise as she recounts the numerous floods and other disasters she has tackled throughout her career, and reflects on the changes she has seen over time.

Flood in Florence, 1966: a Fifty-Year Retrospective features the proceedings of a 2016 symposium which marked the fiftieth anniversary of a catastrophic flood in Florence, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of books, manuscripts, and other cultural heritage artifacts were buried in muck, and the subsequent recovery efforts made a lasting impact on the conservation and preservation fields. The symposium proceedings share insights about disaster preparedness and response, conservation, and the past and future of the preservation profession.

Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, ed. Paul Conway and Martha O’Hara Conway. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2018. DOI:

Fixing a detached cover

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library recently acquired this sweet chunky 19th century religious text and brought it into the lab.  The binding had broken away from the text block after the first signature because it was so large. The cover was consolidated and the hinges were repaired with colored Japanese paper.

The book had broken away from the cover.
The book had broken away from the cover.
The hinges were fixed with colored Japanese paper
The hinges were fixed with colored Japanese paper


Hidden behind the binding and now revealed because of the failure was a nice piece of cotton cloth used as a spine liner. The spine was relined with gelatin sized Japanese paper for strength and the book was reassembled.  Once assembled the paper hinges were tinted with paint to match the original leather.  A four flap enclosure was made and the book was off to the NCSML to become part of their growing collection.

A scrap of cotton was used as a spine lining
A scrap of cotton was used as a spine lining
Tinted hinges to match the original leather
Tinted hinges to match the original leather

An Artist’s Quandary

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CraigPaintingWhat does an artist do when his/her artwork is damaged? Throw it away because it has been changed and is no longer the same piece? Re-work it and make it a “new” painting? Repair the damage and try to keep the essence of the original? Or leave it as damaged and let it tell the story of the original and the disasterous event? Artists in New York are having this discussion. Everyone is coming up with a different answer and sometimes the same artist has different answers depending on the piece.

Craig Fisher, NYC artist, made the decision to keep this oil on canvas, 1988-89, as is, showing the damage of Hurricane Sandy. He’s decided to let the yellow show through the green.

Assisting Artists After Hurricane Sandy

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kraft and artist examine a painting When we inspect an artist’s work, we also ask for the story of the piece to learn more about its history and composition. The pieces that this artist brought in were her final project before graduation where she used as pure a blue, red, and yellow that she could get. She had her art studio in the basement and did not have time to get these pieces out before Hurricane Sandy. (Other higher priority items were taken out.) Each piece was in a plastic bag so there was some protection. Since the basement was flooded, she took everything outside to start drying things out. However while she had everything outside drying, it rained and then the temperature dropped. By the time the entire “hurricane event” was over, her sewer backed up twice. Staying on top of things was difficult.

Although theses pieces show a lot of damage, they are important to her. She plans salvaging them the best she can. A volunteer conservator will clean the pieces for her and then she will work on them as she has time, using advice provided by a conservator.

Salvaging Artists’ Works After Hurricane Sandy

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rack of artwork with plastic protective coverA couple years ago, I received training so I could become part of a national cultural disaster response team called AIC-CERT (American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team). After Hurricane Sandy, AIC (American Institute for Conservation) and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation established a Cultural Recovery Center (CRC) in Brooklyn to reach out to artists and owners affected by Hurricane Sandy. Each week one AIC-CERT member acts as the team leader assisting where needed. At the end of the week, the baton is passed on to another AIC-CERT member. I’m acting as the AIC-CERT team leader for the rest of this week and then all of next week.

Today I worked with a paintings conservator and an artist to review his paintings that had been stablized and lightly cleaned in the CRC studio by volunteer conservators during the past few days. I photo documented each painting, taking a picture of the assigned number to the painting, a front image, and any problem areas. The conservator discussed the damage and possible solutions for each painting with the artist. She will add her observations and recommendations to a treatment sheet that is kept for each painting.

We then set each painting into a wooden rack that a volunteer had constructed for safe keeping until the artist can pick up the paintings.

Piecing together a flood damaged map

Friday, October 19, 2012

We are nearing the end of the flood damaged flatwork for the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library.  One of the final pieces was a map that had previously been broken into 32 pieces and lined on a linen cloth.

Czech map  before
Czech map before

We carefully removed each piece of the map from the linen backing.  We then washed each piece to remove any mud and debris from the flood and to make sure all residual adhesive was gone.

Mending Gang
Mending Gang

Since the map was in so many pieces we needed to work quickly to puzzle it back together.  Bill Voss and Giselle Simon rounded out what has to be the fastest puzzle team this side of the Iowa River.

Czech map mending
Czech map mending

Bill and I made some paste and pasted our backing sheet of handmade Japanese paper to the counter top.  We then moistened each piece of the map and carefully placed it upon the paper.  We worked quickly to add all the tiny pieces of the map and then placed blotters on it to help it dry.

Once the map was completely dry it was removed from the counter and encapsulated.  Only a few more pieces of flatwork to go and the NCSML will have all their pieces back!

It’s a small world

Friday, May 18, 2012

AAMI Bible with Kolarik Bindery Check
AAMI Bible with Kolarik Bindery Check
I always love when things come together to remind us how small the world really is.  I have been working on a Bible from the African American Museum of Iowa that was damaged in the flood. The Bible was in pretty bad shape.  The binding had totally failed and it was basically just a stack of sheets.  I cleaned every page and then consulted Gary for next step.  He suggested jogging each page together and gluing using the double fan method so that the Bible could be bound once again.

As I was cleaning the sheets a cancelled check to the Kolarik Bindery fell out of the pages.  It was a check to have the Bible rebound in 1973.  This was significant to me as most of the Kolarik bindery equipment was donated to the UI Center for the Book to help establish a central location for students to study bookbinding.

While thinking about how great it was to have a book bound at the Kolarik Bindery as I was working on a book for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, I looked down at the treatment sheet and was amazed to see that the author’s last name was Kolarik.  Suddenly it all came together – Kolarik is a Czech name.

So while working on a book for the African American Museum of Iowa, I was connected to the Kolarik Bindery and the UI Center for the Book as well as to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library!