Thinking inside the box

Today I got to be creative and craft a special housing for two items that are housed together because of their provenance.  One item is a flat rectangle of cardstock with a piece of fabric attached to it, and the other is a small commemorative button pin.  The exterior box was purchased from an archival supply house, but I built up the inside with Volara foam, 10pt board and Hollytex.  I carved a little niche in a piece of foam for the button to sit in, and then filled the remaining space in the bottom of the box with a layer of Volara.  Next, I made a little tray for the fabric scrap out of 10pt board and Hollytex.  It only has three sides so that you can just slide it out of the tray easily, with thumb tabs on either side to help lift it out of the main box.  I used Hollytex and some Velcro to make a strap to go over the button to keep it in place in case the box is ever dropped or jostled too hard.  To keep the fabric scrap in place, I made a flap of 10pt board to go over the entire inside of the box that’s adhered permanently to one side with double-sided tape; on the other side is a Velcro “velocoin”.

To access the contents, you just remove the box lid, then lift up the 10pt board flap, and from there you can pick up the tray by its thumb tabs or undo the Velcro strap over the button and remove it easily from its foam niche.




The first part of opening the box:


Spiderweb interleaving

German spiderweb interleaving

I have seen quite a number of photograph albums with this particular kind of spider-web patterned interleaving.  They’re all German and from the first half of the 20th century.  I’m curious as to why this kind of interleaving was so popular, since it seems kind of macabre!  Maybe it’s a reference to the story of Ariadne or other folktales in which the spider is featured as a storyteller.  Or maybe it’s some comment on how the album will “capture” the memories of the owner/creator.  Hmmm.

From a conservation standpoint, I’m slightly concerned about it leaving an imprint on the photographs in the album, but I’ve not seen any actual evidence of this happening.  Also, the spider-web interleaving seems to be of a higher quality than some of the other interleaving I’ve seen in other albums; it’s thicker and hasn’t yellowed at all.

The horrors of photo albums, the joy of wiener dog pictures.

So I’ve moved onto “part 2” of my current job as a contract conservator/archivist/librarian/etc. “Part 1” involved processing boxes upon boxes of a WWI/WWII collector’s archive. It had everything from war medals to books, as well as thousands of photographs and deteriorating cellulose acetate negatives.

“Part 2” will involve the cataloging, rehousing and treatment of several boxes of photograph albums and scrapbooks. And let me tell you, a lot of these albums are not the type that you have the whole family gather around on the couch. Quite a few of them were assembled by soldiers, fighter pilots and other people who saw the horrors of war. The odd thing, though, is that you’ll get several pages of smiling family portraits, the family dog…and then a picture of a dead horse. Or a really, really dead baby by a riverbank. Or a close-up of a bullet hole in a guy’s arm.

But then, thankfully, I’ll get the equivalent of a “unicorn chaser” in the form of a photo of a dachshund, an ostrich or a Victorian-era British guy in drag with a unicycle.

State of the Suzy Address (or how I spent my summer vacation and autumn unemployment)

Hello dear reader(s)!

Yes, the rumors of my demise were but mere fabrications. Long story short, I’m still living in Chicago – my wonderful internship at the Northwestern University Library ended back in August, I promptly went on a week-long California vacation, and then I moved to a new apartment the day after I returned from vacation. Note to self: Don’t move the day after you get back from vacation, is bad.

I spent the last month and a half unpacking boxes, whipping the apartment decor into shape, building up my little workshop/studio, reading “Y the Last Man”, catching up on 30 Rock and Mad Men, terrorizing the squirrels that keep trying to dig up our balcony garden, and generally being one of the millions of unemployed. I am aware that I have proverbially shot myself in the foot for wanting to stay in Chicago (instead of moving to “wherever the job is”, as they say) but even in a city as big and culturally-instituted as Chicago, the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, I’ve managed to pick up some work here and there – such as working on someone’s private archival collection and teaching a virtual class on online portfolios for a group of undergrad conservation students at Winterthur.

I have come to realize, though, that there is a need for some kind of business training in any kind of fine-arts (i.e. conservation) education. I know there’s the CIPP group of AIC, but in school we were discouraged from going into private practice at the start of our careers. While I still think it’s not the greatest move to go into private practice as your first job (post-internship), but in this economic climate I feel that it’s prudent for me to branch out and look for what freelance work I can get. Certainly, I know my limits, both in terms of skills and what materials and equipment I have access to: I have no washing sink, no board shear, no bookpress, no fume hood – so I’m not about to start taking on projects that are more than I can handle. But I have other skills that I can market – my ability to design and edit webpages with HTML and CSS, my Photoshop skills, the fact that I went to Library School and have an MSIS degree. Still, we weren’t offered any classes in small-business skills, such as the basics of how to write up a legally-sound contract, how to choose your rate, how to estimate how long a project will take, how to protect yourself from liability and how to file your taxes as a freelancer.

I’m sure there’s a plethora of books about all these topics, but certainly none from a conservator’s or archivist’s perspective (if there is, please let me know and I’ll buy it in a heartbeat!) – but I’m starting to think that teaching new conservators about good business sense is a lot like teaching sex-education to teenagers (stay with me, now!). Showing someone how to protect themselves and practice safe sex does not mean you’re encouraging them to become sexually active before they’re ready, or even condoning sex at all – rather, they will be prepared and thus, safe, when that day inevitably comes. It’s a lot better to have the information before-hand than to try and learn it as you go, and make some possibly life/career-threatening mistakes. I’d love to know if there are any conservation programs that provide classes on the business skills necessary for going into private practice. Maybe my experience in the UT program was different because of the Library School aspect (there’s not a lot of freelance librarians, methinks).

ANYWAY, I will end this wordy post with a picture of me pretending to be a Chicago-style hotdog. If you go to the Chicago History Museum, you too can be a hot dog!

Hot dog!

Return of the Evanston map!

Northwestern has published a news story about the conservation treatment and digitization of the (big, stinky) Evanston map.

The oldest printed map of Evanston — discovered several years ago on the verge of disintegration — has been vibrantly restored and made freely available online by Northwestern University Library.

“This map is a very rare and important piece of Evanston’s history,” says University Archivist Kevin Leonard, “and the conservation staff here did an incredible job bringing it back from the grave.”

Published circa 1876 by local surveyor and mapmaker Theodore Reese, the map appears to be the earliest published plat of blocks, streets and alleys in all three of the separate villages — north, south and central — that eventually merged into the incorporated City of Evanston. “So it’s valuable as a relic of Evanston’s past,” Leonard says, “but it also continues to be of use to anyone researching the history of their own or other Evanston real estate, because these were some of the earliest legal property boundaries.”

Here is the video about the map’s treatment and digitization. My arm is featured prominently, but there’s also a shot of me (at 2:20 in) helping Susan place a piece of lining tissue on the back.

Library Restores and Digitizes Oldest Known Map of Evanston from Northwestern News on Vimeo.

Take action! Help save the Kilgarlin Center’s Conservation program!

This is a letter written by Kilgarlin alum Holly Robertson and sent to the PADG email list. As an alum myself, I’m reposting it here so that hopefully more people will see it and provide support for the Kilgarlin Center.

As many of you know, the Conservation Certificate of Advanced Study program of the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin is in jeopardy. Since 1992, the program has been successful in obtaining external funding to support a range of program activities, including key full-time and adjunct faculty positions, conservation lab supplies and equipment, student internships, doctoral fellowships, visiting lecturers, and conferences. Unfortunately, the program’s support from NEH, which has long funded the two conservation instructor positions (the backbone of the conservation program’s curriculum), will end August 31, 2010. Without these positions, the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record will not be able to offer the Conservation Certificate program.

No conservator students were accepted for this upcoming academic year so that an in-depth program review could take place. That review is in its final stages and has mapped a transformative future for the program. Grant, foundation, and private funding are beckoning but will require the University of Texas at Austin to demonstrate evidence of institutional support. The School of Information has constructed wonderful new conservation labs in its new facility (, but they won’t have a single conservator student to put in them if they don’t have funding in place by October 2009 for the coming years. Funding for the two instructor positions must be stabilized immediately.

Your assistance is requested in the form of letters to Vice President and Provost Stephen W. Leslie that request University support of these two conservation instruction positions and that document the program’s importance to the field. University funding for even one of these positions will enhance the Kilgarlin Center’s ability to attract external foundation or private funding for the other position. Many of you are alums, many others employ Kilgarlin Center grads, and nearly all of you are familiar with the Center’s singular role as a library and archives conservation education program. Thank you for your support.

Hard copy letters can be mailed to:

Steven W. Leslie
Executive Vice President and Provost
University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station, G1000
Austin, Texas 78712

Please email copies of these letters to Dean Dillon and Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa:

Andrew P., Dillon
Dean, School of Information

Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa
Director, Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record

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CAS, Conservation Studies – 2005