Conservation Volunteering Programme at the National Library of Scotland

Conservators from the National Library of Scotland describe their successful volunteering programme in this week’s blog…

The Library’s Conservation Unit frequently receives requests for volunteer placements, and it can be difficult to accommodate these requests within our busy workshop. Following discussions amongst the conservators, we decided to create a summer volunteering programme which would allow us to take a batch of several volunteers, to work for a day a week on a number of appropriate projects. This would allow us to use volunteers in a more efficient and structured way, and to welcome a greater number of volunteers.

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Event: Towards a Collection of Artists’ Moving Image in Scotland

The National Galleries of Scotland are hosting this free event organised by LUX Scotland.  LUX Scotland is an agency with an international remit to support and promote artists working with moving image in Scotland.  The complexity of the preservation of digital technology will form part of the discussion, ‘How does the growing complexity of digital technology and its lack of materiality create risks for preservation?’ It should be fascinating evening. All welcome.

http://luxscotland.org.uk/collection/event-towards-a-collection-of-artists-moving-image-in-scotland-edinburgh/

 Tuesday 25 July, 6-9pm Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, National Galleries of Scotland, Weston Link, The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL (Please enter through the back door of the Royal Scottish Academy Building) Free, ticketed via Eventbrite

Following the launch of the LUX Scotland Collection project in Glasgow in January 2017, this event continues a series of public dialogues around the establishment of a new distribution collection of artists’ moving image based in Scotland.

The LUX Scotland Collection is intended as a public resource to map and consolidate a lineage of moving image culture in Scotland; to make this work publicly accessible through distribution; and to enhance the national and international profile of this work through exhibition, touring, research and publishing. LUX Scotland is developing the collection as an open research project, working in consultation with the arts community across Scotland on the question of what it means to build such a collection and what it might comprise.

This event will analyse how artists’ moving image has been collected in Scotland, excavating the reasons and motivations behind decisions made around the development of public collections. Through a series of presentations tracing the processes, aspirations and issues that institutions face as a moving image work passes through its doors and into its collection, the event will aim to address some of the following questions:

How does a collection come into being?

What does it mean to bring works together in a collection?

Why should artists’ moving image works be collected?

How are acquisitions and curatorial research financed and supported?

Who decides what to acquire and how are these parameters defined?

How does a moving image collection sit within the context of the broader museum collection?

What are the particular challenges faced in documenting, caring for and ensuring the longevity of artists’ moving image works?

How does the growing complexity of digital technology and its lack of fixed materiality create risks for preservation?

What considerations need to be taken into account in the lending and exhibition of artists’ moving image?

How can museums’ standard loan practices better accommodate the specific needs of moving image works?

Each presentation will provide an in-depth focus on one aspect of the collection process – from funding and strategy, to acquisition, preservation and exhibition – followed by a panel discussion. Speakers include Brian Castriota (time-based media conservator and doctoral candidate, University of Glasgow), Will Cooper (Curator of Contemporary Art, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow), Julie-Ann Delaney (Curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Robert Dingle (Contemporary Projects Manager, Art Fund), Rachel Maclean (Artist, Scotland + Venice 2017British Art Show 8), and Kirstie Skinner (Director, Outset Scotland and editor and lead researcher, Collecting Contemporary: Curating Art Collections in Scotland).

 

A Sticky Situation!

Conservators at the National Library of Scotland face a sticky situation in this week’s blog post. This article was originally published in the NLS blog

A conservator’s job often involves removing non archival tapes from objects which have been used as a repair; however the letter of C. F. Gordon Cumming to John Murray, dated 1885 which is part of the John Murray Archive, proved to be particularly challenging for the JMA conservator. Approximately 40% of the letters surface was covered in tape on both sides of the letter. The paper which the letter is written on is very brittle causing fragmentation to occur; subsequently the tape has been used as a repair. When pressure sensitive tape, like sellotape, degrades the adhesive migrates out of the tape and into the substrate causing significant discolouration and deterioration of the paper. Self-adhesive tapes can be particularly difficult to remove especially on a brittle paper.

An additional consideration for the conservator was the iron gall ink used by the author. Deterioration can occur if the ink is exposed to moisture which would cause blurring of the text. This had to be taken into consideration during the treatment.

Cumming’s letter with tape before treatment

Cumming’s letter with tape before treatment

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Putting Conservation on the Map

This week, Conservator Lynn Teggart from the National Library of Scotland describes conservation treatment of two large maps from the Bartholomew collection. This article was originally posted on the NLS blog.

 The Newbigging Farm map

The first map shows Newbigging Farm and dates from 1864. Examination of satellite maps suggests that the farm still exists, and is based south west of Edinburgh close to Penicuik. The map is printed in black ink on a heavy weight, woven paper, with colour added by hand using water colour paints, and a layer of varnish applied on top. The paper has been lined onto a linen support, and wooden rollers are nailed to the upper and lower edges of the map.

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June Baker Trust

The deadline for applications to the June Baker Grants for conservators in Scotland is next Wednesday. To find out more about this amazing resource, we asked Helen and Eric Robinson, two members of the June Baker Trust, to tell us more about the person in whose name the fund was set up…

It is now almost 30 years since the June Baker Trust was established to offer support to conservators and crafts people in Scotland. It was set up with the generous support of her son and a wide range of friends wanting to commemorate her life. Today it is overseen by nine Trustees who meet twice a year – some conservators, some not, and some who knew June.

During those years, the Trust has given grants totalling over £30,000 to 115 individuals of all ages and many nationalities, living, studying, working in Scotland. The grants range from £50-300 and have been used for a range of purposes, such as to purchase of equipment, books or tools attend conferences and courses, and travel to visit conservators or crafts people in the UK and abroad.

Michelle Hunter presenting a paper at the Icon Conference 2016: Turn and Face the Change: Conservation in the 21st Century.

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University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, Open Day

In this week’s blog, Hazel Neill recalls her visit to the University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, Open Day

On Friday 17th March, the University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History welcomed visitors to an open day. Over the course of the afternoon, the staff and students were on hand to discuss their fascinating projects and research with an unrelentingly busy throng of people.

The enormous complexity of the field of textile conservation was evident in the work of the MPhil Textile Conservation students. The projects, of both the first and second year students, encompass many forms of textile in two and three dimensions with all manner of additional, problematical elements, including gold leaf, dyes, inks and paper.

First year projects- embroidered samplers

In discussing their work, the students stressed the importance of respecting the cultural significance of the artifacts and explained the many forms of investigation [including scientific analysis] utilised to discover the nature of the materials and techniques employed in their construction before any conservation work can begin. Three second year projects, using objects from Glasgow Museums, are briefly mentioned below.

A 19th Century straw bonnet with multifarious fabric decoration illustrated the difficulties inherent in conserving complicated artifacts and revealed that de-construction can be a crucial part of treatment. Bevan O’Daly described her work in researching the safest way to consolidate a maker’s gold leaf stamp on the indescribably fragile, heat and solvent sensitive silk lining of the bonnet.

Silk bonnet lining with gold stamp

Lorna Rowley demonstrated in her observation and study of a Japanese silk, figured cloth that physical evidence of ageing and degradation can suggest the purpose of a fragment of textile. Light fading of half of the textile [separated by a partially split fold line] has, combined with in-depth historical research, led her to the supposition that the cloth may be the binding edge of a floor mat from the residence of an individual of high-status.

Japanese silk figured cloth

It was informative to discover that not all textiles are woven; the waterproof parka made of seal gut sewn together with threads made of tendon was a notable example on display. In its present rigid, brittle, folded state with numerous splits adhered with a degraded pressure sensitive tape, Aisling Macken has formed a treatment proposal to reverse the historic treatment and conserve and re-house the object.

Seal-gut parka

The University’s Hunterian Museum and Glasgow Museums’ collections are just two of the institutions in Scotland that provide the Centre with a rich seam of artifacts from all over the world. It is therefore possible for the students on the MLitt Technical Art History: Making and Meaning course to collaborate with curators in the analysis and research of the materials and techniques used by a variety of artists from the Renaissance onwards.

The knowledge that comes from reading historical treatises is intensified and enriched for the students by their practical production of materials using recipes from these texts as well as their scientific analysis of paint, fibre and pigment samples. The technical skill and depth of empirical knowledge was evident in the students’ mock-ups, including a beautiful gilded panel with punched decoration and test squares of differing grounds, paint media and pigments, on stretched canvas and primed board.

Mock up gilded and painted panel with punched decoration

Lake pigments created by the MLitt Technical Art History students

Intern, Riley Cruttenden discussed how he and his fellow students, created two forms of lake pigment from Mexican cochineal beetles; the resultant differing hues determined by the nature of the substrate.

Dr Anita Quye, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Science, detailed the connections the CTCTAH has with other departments within the University, including engineering, chemistry and archaeology. This cross-departmental collaboration creates the perfect environment for in-depth and specific study of textiles and related materials. The Dye-versity project, on the variability of the first commercially available coal-tar ‘aniline’ dyes being a case in point.

Collaboration on a global level is fundamental to the three-year Pacific Barkcloth project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. In this project, led by Professor Frances Lennard, CTCTAH will collaborate with barkcloth specialists and botanists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in order to investigate this poorly understood, ancient, sacred and extremely complex Pacific art form.

Dr Jing Han was on hand to discuss her research into the historical and chemical composition of dyes used in Chinese costume and textiles from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Through study of original texts and treatises for her PhD, Jing has been able to clarify and enrich the current understanding of the production of these high status artifacts.

The open day was very stimulating and enlightening, thanks to the generosity of the staff and students in sharing insights into their fascinating work.

Mounted costume on display

For more information see link below:

http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/cca/research/arthistoryresearch/centrefortextileconservationandtechnicalarthistory/

γνῶθι σεαυτόν – Applying for Accreditation

This week’s blog comes from Simona Cenci, Conservator at the National Library of Scotland. Simona discusses her experience of applying for professional accreditation through Icon. Did you know that if you are a Conservator living and working in Scotland, you can apply for a grant of £350 towards the costs of the PACR process? Click here for more information and how to apply…

γνῶθι σεαυτόν (“know thyself”)

With this ancient religious maxim, carved on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the god exhorted human beings to get to know themselves and their limits.

When I was asked to write a short blog article about PACR, I initially thought of sharing my experience explaining the reasons why I decided to apply and what the process was like, but half way through I changed my mind. Technical aspects or motivation, in fact, are not what I remember when I look at the process retrospectively.

National Library of Scotland Conservation.

Simona Cenci in the National Library of Scotland conservation studio. Image courtesy of Maverick Photography

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Using scientific analysis to investigate the unusual discolouration of a David Livingstone letter

In this week’s blog, find out how conservators from the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland have been using scientific analysis to discover more about a letter by famous explorer David Livingstone…

The National Library of Scotland’s collections include a considerable number of letters by David Livingstone, most of which are written a on a white laid paper with an address embossed on the top right corner of the first folio.  One of these letters is strikingly different from the others in its appearance, and the reasons for this were recently investigated in a collaborative heritage science project between the Library and National Museums Scotland. The project team comprised Lore Troalen and Jim Tate from NMS and Isobel Griffin and Simona Cenci from the National Library of Scotland.

The letter in question (Acc.13333) (Fig.1), dated 16 April 1865, is written on a very brittle paper that shows a dark, uneven colour. Apart from the colour, this paper appears to be the same as the white paper used by Livingstone for the other letters he wrote around this time, with an embossed address in the same place. This suggests that the dark colour may be the result of chemical degradation, rather than the way the paper appeared originally. However, the discoloration is more severe than the yellowing which often occurs as paper ages, for example as a consequence of exposure to light.

Acc.13333 showing the brown colour of the paper

Acc.13333 showing the brown colour of the paper

Scientific analysis was proposed to investigate the nature of the degradation processes that lead to the brown discolouration, which would be of general interest and of practical use in determining whether or not to attempt to remove the discolouration. Additionally, it was hoped that some information about the various coloured inks in the letter might be obtained. The analysis was undertaken non-invasively using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and Scanning electron microscopy in Backscattered mode/energy dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (SEM-BSC/EDS), with the SEM in Envac mode.

Results

XRF results

The analysis of the ink with the XRF was problematic, because the beam size (about 2 mm x 1.5 mm) was larger than the ink marks, making it difficult to separate the ink from the paper surrounding it, not to mention the paper underneath the ink. However, the results suggested that all of the inks seemed to be iron based, with traces of copper and zinc, and possibly more zinc in the brown ink.

With regards to the paper itself, the XRF showed significant amounts of sulphur and iron, with the iron present in higher concentrations in the darker areas of the paper. This was interesting because in the previous analysis of various other papers of a similar age, NMS has not detected iron at comparable levels.

SEM/EDS results

The SEM-EDS analysis confirmed the presence of iron in the ink that was tested, as shown in the images below.

The area of ink which was analysed using SEM-EDS

The area of ink which was analysed using SEM-EDS

Image above: A detail of an area of writing; the green colouring shows the presence of iron, corresponding to the places where ink is present, and showing that the greatest concentration is where two strokes of the pen overlap

Sulphur was also present in the ink, as seen in the spectrum below. Other elements present in smaller amounts were calcium, sodium, magnesium, aluminium, silicon, phosphorous and potassium, also with zinc in some samples. All samples showed high levels of carbon and oxygen.

With regards to the paper, the elements detected were iron, sulphur, magnesium, aluminium, silicon and calcium, again with carbon and oxygen.

EDS spectra for an area of ink (red) and an area of paper (yellow). The elements zinc (Zn), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and iron (Fe) are notably higher in the ink.

EDS spectra for an area of ink (red) and an area of paper (yellow). The elements zinc (Zn), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and iron (Fe) are notably higher in the ink.

The SEM images of the surface of the paper at high magnification showed in fascinating detail how the ink cracks as it dries out, forming a surface layer which partially obscures the paper fibres.

SEM-BSC micrograph of a rectangle of the paper measuring about 0.6mm across, showing  a line of ink running up the centre

SEM-BSC micrograph of a rectangle of the paper measuring about 0.6mm across, showing a line of ink running up the centre

The SEM images also show small and generally angular particles present amongst the paper fibres. The fact that these particles show up brightly tells us that they contain elements which are different from the paper fibres.

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Discussion and conclusions

Calcium, iron and sulphur are known to be commonly found in iron gall inks, with the concentrations of other elements varying depending on the provenance of the ink[1]. Given that calcium, iron and sulphur as well as zinc were all found in significant quantities in the inks tested, and that the inks are brown in colour, they seem very likely to be iron gall inks.

It is possible that some of the elements found in the paper may be from water soluble components within the inks, dispersed through the paper by wetting, although this seems unlikely to be causing such a general brown colour throughout the paper.

Various reasons for the dark brown colour of the paper were proposed by the project team:

  1. It could be due to darkening with smoke, which seems plausible because sulphur as well as carbon is present;
  2. Since iron is present, it could be due to particles of iron oxide, which were possibly introduced through storage of the letter in a damp and rusty container;
  3. It could be an organic coating such as oil or wax, which would be difficult to detect with XRF or SEM/EDS; such coatings were sometimes applied to make paper more translucent, although a translucent paper would generally have been used for a copy of a letter and this letter seems unlikely to be a copy because it has an embossed address.

If the small, angular particles seen in the SEM images are the substance causing the brown discolouration of the paper, their appearance makes them more likely to be a sooty material or iron oxide than an oil or wax. However, it is also possible that they are a calcium compound introduced during the manufacturing of the paper.

Hence the analysis raised as many questions as it answered, and there were many suggestions for further testing, which could include:

  • Further SEM-EDS analysis, to identify the elements present in the small, angular particles seen in the SEM images;
  • Preparation of replicas to introduce soot and iron oxide, followed by analysis of the replicas and comparison of these results to the results for the original letter;
  • SEM imaging of some of the other letters written by Livingstone at around the same time, followed by morphological analysis of the images to establish whether all of the letters were written on the same type of paper[2];
  • Analysis of the letter to look for organic oils and waxes, for example with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Although it seems unlikely that the paper was coated with oil or wax, it would be helpful to eliminate this as a possibility.

If resources permit, we will tackle some of this analysis in the future, and the mystery of the brown discolouration may be solved. Until then, the letter will remain untreated. And who knows – perhaps it will remain that way forever as a testimony to the letter’s unusual storage history, be that in a smoky room or a rusty old box!

For more interesting conservation conundrums and heritage science research, please follow the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland on Twitter (@NLSColl_Care; @ConserveNMS).

[1]                      García, J.A., Ruvalcaba Sil, J.L. and Meeren, M.V. (2014) ‘XRF Study of Mexican Iron Gall Inks: Historical and Geographical Overview of their Chemistry’, MRS Proceedings, 1618, pp. 31–41. doi: 10.1557/opl.2014.453.

[2]                      Kazuyuki, E., Masato, K., Masuchika, K., Barnard, M., Matsuoka, K. and Whitfield, S. (2007) ‘Analysis of morphology and elements on the paper specimens of the Stein collection of the British Library’, in Tradition and innovation: proceedings of the 6th IDP conservation conference, eds. L. Shitian and A. Morrison, National Library of China, Beijing, China, pp. 37-51.

Meet the Committee – Emily Hick

This week we bring you another edition of our ‘Meet the Committee’ series. Today we talk to Emily Hick, the Digital Content Officer….

eh-working-on-book

Emily working on a book at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

What is your main area of conservation?

Anything to do with paper! I trained in the conservation of fine art at Northumbria University, where I specialised in works of art on paper. I now work at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh mainly with rare books and archives.

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I am the Digital Content Officer. I organise contributions to the Icon Scotland Group blog, Facebook and Twitter page and the main Icon website. I am passionate about conservation, and welcome any opportunity to promote it! Scotland has a vibrant conservation community, so there is always lots to share and talk about. If you have an event, project or conservation opportunity in Scotland that you would like to me shout about – email me at hickemily@hotmail.com!

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ISG Committee Away Day

Hazel Neill, the newest member of the Icon Scotland Group Committee, describes the group’s recent away day to Kelvin Hall in this week’s blog post….

A Glasgow institution, Kelvin Hall has been the setting for every conceivable cultural and sporting event since it first opened in 1927. It is entirely fitting therefore [its former purpose having been usurped by new facilities across the city] that it should be re-developed as a repository for collections from the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow Museums and the National Library of Scotland, as well as retaining its services as a sporting centre.

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