Student Placement at Edinburgh University

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at Edinburgh University in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.

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Curved photograph and mount

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Grid on back of mount

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the prints were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.

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Blotter sandwich

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Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

Meet the Committee – Ruth Honeybone

In this week’s blog post, we meet Ruth Honeybone, Vice Chair of the Icon Scotland Group…

What is your main area of Conservation?

I’m a paper conservator by trade, but I now manage a health archive. Because of the kind of material in the archive, and the fact that I’m based in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, conservation and preservation is still a big part of my role!

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I was, until fairly recently, the Treasurer (a position I had for about five years); I’m now Vice Chair.

How did you first become interested in Conservation?

In my art history undergrad degree I took a module on conservation theory and thought it offered just the right kind of practical vs. desk-based work, and then did some volunteer work in a studio to get a portfolio together. But when I was at school I did one of those tests that are meant to help you identify your perfect career – though, as teenager, I didn’t bother to read the results! When I came to them years later and saw what the test had picked out for me, conservator was second on the list – if only I’d paid more attention at the time I might have come to conservation earlier and through a different route…

Describe your typical day at work…

I don’t have a typical day really – every day is different, and that’s what I love about it! One thing is for sure though I don’t do much practical work anymore but I live vicariously through my conservation colleagues, and I make sure I keep up to date.

What has been your favourite conservation moment?

I like giving emerging conservation professionals jobs! I’m also very proud of a paid conservation internship programme that I helped set up that is still going strong, and hearing about what those interns have gone on to do afterwards.

Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about Conservation?

That it’s a highly specialist field but that conservators are an approachable bunch who are always willing to share information and work together to meet shared goals around collection items. And also that it’s nothing to do with recycling newspaper or saving badgers, both misconceptions that I’ve had to explain my way out of in the past!

Book conservation skills for paper conservators

Book conservation skills for paper conservators: a two day workshop

Date:              20th and 21st September 2016

Venue:           The National Library of Scotland,159 Causewayside, Edinburgh EH9 1PH

Two day theory and practical workshop, for 10 delegates, run by Icon accredited book conservator, Caroline Scharfenberg.

The boundary between book and paper conservation is fluid. Book conservators need to cover specialist paper conservation knowledge and paper conservators often need to address mixed collections, which also include bound material. This workshop addresses the need for paper conservators to have a basic knowledge about book structures and the typical damage found in book collections. These skills will enable paper conservators to stabilise book collections and to better assess damage and the required repair.  It will also allow paper conservators to better identify damaged bound material, which will have to be addressed by a professional accredited book conservator.

Cost:   £150.00 Icon Members, £175.00 Non-Icon members

Please bring with you:

A small tool kit containing a paste brush, brush for consolidant in solvent, bone folder, Teflon bone folder, scalpel and 10A blades, spatula, metal ruler, scissors and tweezers and A4 cutting mat.

For enquiries contact the event team at eventsisg@gmail.com

 Bookings and payments through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-conservation-skills-for-paper-conservators-a-two-day-workshop-tickets-26486073559

Meet the Committee – Isobel Griffin

In this month’s edition of ‘Meet the Committee’ we hear from Isobel Griffin, Collections Care Manager at the National Library of Scotland…

What is your main area of Conservation?
Preventive conservation, conservation science and management

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?
I am the Publications Officer. I provide encouragement and practical support to help conservators in Scotland write about and publicise their work. At the moment I’m busy planning the Icon Scotland session at the Icon 2016 conference.

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Paper Conservators: News and Ideas Exchange 2016

Due to the success of last year’s ‘News and Ideas‘ exchange, the event was repeated at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh again this year in May. During the session, 19 Conservators from all over Scotland gave 5-minute presentations on a wide range of topics such as treatments they had carried out, problems they had encountered and work flow processes. Conservation volunteers, Mathilde Renauld and Paula Burbicka, submitted a joint review of this event which gives readers an insight into the subjects covered, and the benefits of the gathering…

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Panel of paper conservators

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Meet the Committee – Nora Frankel

This week we are launching a new monthly feature on our blog entitled ‘Meet the Committee’.   First up is Nora Frankel, Textile Conservation Student from the University of Glasgow…

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Icon Scotland Group Student Representative, Nora Frankel

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Making the Invisible Visible – Repairs on Iron Gall Ink

This article reviews a recent training day organised by National Library Scotland on the repairs on iron gall ink. It was originally posted on ‘To Protect and (Con)serve’, the conservation blog for the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh. Check it out to find out more about the conservators, volunteers and interns at the CRC.

On Friday 4 March 2015, I attended a one-day training workshop on iron gall ink repairs. The session was organised by the Collections Care Team at the National Library of Scotland and hosted by Eliza Jacobi and Claire Phan Tan Luu (Freelance Conservators from the Netherlands and experts in this field. Please see www.practice-in-conservation.com for further information).

Iron gall ink was the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe from the 5th century to the 19th century, and was still used in the 20th century. However, iron gall ink is unstable and can corrode over time, resulting in a weakening of the paper sheet and the formation of cracks and holes. This leads to a loss of legibility, material and physical integrity.

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Document from the Laing collection, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, showing early stages of iron gall ink corrosion.

Unsafe handling can exacerbate this problem. Bending and flexing a paper with iron gall ink can cause mechanical stress and result in cracking of the ink and tearing of the sheet. If this has happened, the area needs to be stabilised with a repair to ensure that further tearing doesn’t occur and additional material isn’t lost.

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Books with corroded iron gall ink causing the paper sheet to break.

Paper conservators usually carry out tear repairs with water-based adhesives such as wheat starch paste and Japanese paper. However, this can be harmful for paper with iron gall ink inscriptions. Iron gall ink contains highly water-soluble iron (II) ions. These are invisible, but in contact with water they catalyse the chemical reactions that cause paper to decay. If these ions are not removed before treatment, any introduction of water can cause significant damage to the item. If a tear over an iron gall ink inscription is repaired using an aqueous adhesive, these invisible components will migrate out of the ink into the paper in the surrounding area, and speed up degradation in this location. Since this is not immediately visible, it can take approximately 25 years before the damage is noticeable.

Conservators have only recently become aware of this problem, and have had to develop a method of creating a very dry repair, and a way to test it before application. This is what we were shown during the workshop. First, we created remoistenable tissues for a repair paper using gelatine, rather than the traditional wheat starch paste. Gelatine is used because it has been found to have a positive effect on iron gall ink. It has been suggested that gelatine may inhibit iron gall ink corrosion, however, this has not been proved by empirical research.

To make the remoistenable tissue, we applied a 3% liquid gelatine solution to a sheet of polyester through a mesh. The mesh ensures that an even layer of gelatine is applied to the sheet. Japanese paper is then laid onto this sheet and left to dry. We created three sheets using different weights of Japanese paper, for use on different types of objects.

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Document in the Laing collection showing early stages of iron gall ink corrosion.

When this was dry we had to remoisten the tissue so that it could be used to fix tears over iron gall ink. We were given a personalised mock-up item to practise this on. To remoisten the tissue, we used a sponge covered with filter paper to ensure that only a minimal amount of water is absorbed. You need just enough to make the gelatine tacky, but not so much that the water will spread away from the repair. Two sheets of filter paper are placed over a thin sponge and just enough water is added to saturate it. A small piece of remoistenable tissue is cut from the pre-prepared sheet, and placed, adhesive side down, on to the paper for a few seconds. This is then lifted using a pair of tweezers and applied to a test piece of paper that has been impregnated with bathophenanthroline and stamped with iron gall ink.

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Workstation with four sheets of remoistenable tissue, sponge, filter paper and indicator paper.

Bathophenanthroline has no colour, but in the presence of iron (II) ions, it turns an intense magenta colour. As such, this sheet can be used as an indicator for the soluble iron (II) ions that can cause paper to degrade. If little or no magenta colour shows after application of the remoistenable tissue, this suggests that the repair paper has the correct moisture level and this method can be used on the real object. We used this indicator paper to try out a range of adhesives, to see what effect they had on the iron gall ink.

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Bathophenanthroline Indicator Paper.

As you can see from the above image, the gelatine remoistenable tissue resulted in limited movement of iron (II) ions, whereas the wheat starch paste (WSP), methylcellulose (MC) and water applied directly to the paper has caused further movement. I thought that this was an excellent method of testing the repair technique, as it rendered the invisible movement of iron (II) ions visible. This means that a Conservator can be sure that the tear repair isn’t causing additional damage to the document.

Overall, the workshop was very informative and useful. A large number of documents at the CRC contain iron gall ink, so I’m sure I will put this new learning into practice very soon!

Check out this website for more information on iron gall ink: http://irongallink.org/igi_index.html

Emily Hick

Special Collections Conservator

Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

Sound as a Snake: conservation techniques for unusual materials

This week’s blog post comes from Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, Conservator at the Musical Instrument Museum Edinburgh (MIMEd) at the University of Edinburgh. During the redevelopment of St Cecilia’s Hall, where the musical instrument collections will be displayed, Jonathan is assessing and conserving the entire collection. You can find out more about the redevelopment project by visiting their fantastic blog. In this post, Jonathan describes the conservation of one of their instruments, using a technique learnt from a book conservator….

One of the MIMEd instruments that went under conservation treatment recently is a Chinese sanxian (MIMEd 437)The instrument, played both as a solo or orchestral instrument in Chinese classical music, is a plucked instrument with three strings. This sanxian was made in the mid-nineteenth century and was collected by John Donaldson, the founder of the Music Classroom Museum of Edinburgh University, and has been part of the University’s collection since before 1872.

An interesting element of sanxian construction is that the front and back of the body are made of snake skin – often that of a python. Although visually stunning, this material is susceptible to damage. Unfortunately changes in relative humidity over the years has caused the skin of the back and front of our sanxian to stretch resulting in tears.

Before treatment

To treat this instrument I used a technique I recently learned from a workshop given by Caroline Scharfenberg, a rare book conservator, which took place at the conservation studio of the Main Library, University of Edinburgh. The technique is known as Japanese paper toning and it involves the use of Japanese paper to reinforce torn materials. The paper is then coloured using natural pigments to match the original material resulting in an inconspicuous repair. In the case of the sanxian I reinforced the tears in the snake skin, applying Japanese paper to the inside of the instrument.  I then toned and texturized the paper to match that of the snake skin.

During Treatment, Japanese paper repair (left), toned repair (right)

Although the tears are still visible, this treatment has made the damage less noticeable and more stable. Now the instrument is ready for display in the redeveloped St Cecilia’s Hall.

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Instrument ready for display

Emerging Professionals Trip to Edinburgh Castle

Icon Scotland (ISG) organized an event this March to bring together students and emerging professionals while learning about conservation at Edinburgh Castle.  The event, subsidised by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), allowed for students to explore Scotland’s heritage while gaining inside knowledge of how such properties are managed and cared for.  It was also an opportunity to bring together the upcoming cohort of conservators, who came from across Scotland and England to attend the event.

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Emerging professionals outside Edinburgh Castle

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