Category Archives: conservation issues

Exhibition Review: Armenia. Art, Objects, Body Parts, and Books

Armenia!“, now on view at the Met, is one of the largest Armenian art shows ever in North America, containing more than 140 works of art, objects, body parts (in reliquaries), and books. It is not only a great art exhibition, but a great show for bibliophiles: roughly half the items on view are books. The show spreads calmly over seven galleries, with no videos or recorded sounds playing, and ample space between the objects. Even though it was packed with viewers the Sunday afternoon I visited, there weren’t lines in front of any particular object. The minimal gallery introductions and short captions reinforced a direct engagement with the objects, rather than reading about them. Interspersing the books with other objects initiated a dialogue between them.

Gospel Book with Gilded-Silver Covers and Embroidered Pouch. J. P. Morgan MS M.621. I’ve never seen another binding that has just one spine strap, like this one. Did it serve as a means of attachment to something else?

The craft similarities between reliquaries and full-metal books were hard to miss. For example, the 17th century gilded silver covers on the Gospel Book above, and the Hand Reliquary of Saint Abulmuse (L.1988.63) have a very similar construction. The stunning covers of both signal their importance as objects of veneration, and at the same time hide their inner contents. The insides of these objects are deeply personal, and almost at odds with the elaborately decorated exterior.  The reliquary houses body parts of someone, the book houses the thoughts of someone. Is there an object that does both?

Expositionitis. n. [ek-spuh-zish-uhn-ahy-tis] : A horrible desease that temporarily blinds museum professionals to the actual objects in an exhibition. Instead, the afflicted spend all their time looking at a crooked frame, an over cut mat, how a particular object was repaired or strapped, prominent shadows, a dust bunny in the corner of a case, etc…  “I didn’t even notice the carved ivory elephant in the corner, my expositionitis was so bad!”

I must have had a mild attack, since I am still thinking about a number of books open to a full 180 degrees, which can cause stress to the binding. A more restricted opening is generally better, and it is still relatively easy to view a two page spread. It also sets a poor precedent for the display of books in such a pre-eminant institution.

Alexander Romance, Sulu Manastir, 1544. Copied and illuminated by Zak’ariay of Gnunik’; d. 1576. John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK. Kasemake cradle by Mark Furness.

Mark Furness, Senior Conservator at the University of Manchester, designed and made an interesting cradle. He and Elaine Sheldon have been working for a number of years on museum board cradles cut on a Kasemake boxmaking machine. I like the softness of museum board when making contact with leather. Some might find the aesthetics slightly distracting, though I’m sure this is something that is evolving. Mark also did a great job of strapping: note the zero textblock sag. An advantage is it ships completely flat for easy transport, and assembles without any adhesives. This version is quite strong and easily supports a heavy parchment textblook/ wooden board book easily. These cradles are inexpensive and easy to recycle.

I’m glad to see someone experimenting with something other than acrylic. Acrylic is so hard and flat, it rarely conforms closely with the undulations of hand made book boards and hand pared leather, let alone metal furniture. This can result in the weight of a book being concentrated in a few small areas.

Grakal, Liturgical Book Stand , 1272 with modern additions. History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan (171).

The most interesting cradle, technically a book stand, was this 13th century grakal, a liturgical book stand. Although it is similar to an Islamic rehal, there are important differences. A traditional rehal is cut from a single piece of wood. The grakel was made of two seporate pieces. How they hinge together is also quite different.

A modern rehal, which I purchased in Turkey, 2009. This is one plank that has been partially cut into two.

To make a rehal, holes are drilled, as you can see in the image below. Then a thin sawblade, like a coping or turning saw, is inserted and the joints cut, and the plank cut in two. The ways a book sits in a rehal or grakal are also quite different. A book in a rehal sits in this cut out hinge, which also flattens out, creating a space for the spine. A book in a grakal sits on top of the leather sling, and has a metal rod that the two sides hinge from. Both, however, are lightweight, collapsable, portable, and support a book in use.

Detail of the hinge of a modern rehal, which I purchased in Turkey, 2009. A small saw blade was inserted into the drilled holes to begin the cuts. Making a model of one of these is on my to do list.

Detail of hinge area of the Grakal. Note the seam from the two pieces of wood.

I’m almost certain the top and bottom parts of this grakal are made from separate pieces of wood and glued together. The book rests on a leather top piece which lessens the stress on the hinge. Given the fact it has held up for nine centuries, the construction is more than adequate!

Gospel Book, Monastery of Manuk Surb Nshan, K’ajberunik’, 1386. J. Paul Getty Museum (MS Ludwig II 6).

My favorite piece in the show is this page from a Gospel Book, 1386. On the top are two scribes, and under them are two students burnishing the paper in preparation for writing, with extremely tall burnishers. Stylistically, they look quite similar to smaller, one handed Western glass mullers. The scribe mentions, in the text, he wanted to thank the students  (“his angels”) for this generally thankless, but important task. Paper was burnished to make it smoother for painting and writing on, and more parchment-like in appearance.

The last gallery of the show included a number of highly skilled manuscripts made in the 17th century. It surprised me to see the skilled transmission of craft skills persisting so late into what we in the West consider print culture. One of the primary takeaways from the show was how Armenia does not fit neatly into the Eastern-Western culture divisions many of us still regularly invoke, as well as challenging our notion of when Medieval culture ended.

If you can’t make it to the show, which closes January 13, 2019, the catalog is very informative, with all 143 objects described in text and photographs, and several longer essays. NY TImes review of Armenia!

Upcoming Conference: Technical cultures of repair, from prehistory to the present day

Damn, this is a great looking conference in Paris next summer. The deadline is September 30 2018 for abstracts. It is always a bit of a long-shot for conservators to participate in “real” academic conferences, but this one is so relevant. I hope we are represented: after all, this is what we study, think about and do on a daily basis. There is a very useful Bibliographie indicative attached to this call (below), suggesting a strong anthropological basis. Note the Vance Packard book — is he relevant in academia now? — and the continuing importance of Appadurai’s “Social Life of Things”. A publication is planned after the conference.
Thank you Sarah Lowengard for bringing this to my attention.
…..
Technical cultures of repair, from prehistory to the present day

International meeting
Paris, June 17-18, 2019

Repairs are a special moment in the “biography of an object” (Appadurai, Kopytoff). Although it was taken off the market circuit when it was bought, the object returns to the field of exchanges after being repaired, following an accident, wear and tear, or due to shortages or political commitments to sustainable consumption. This circulation generates knowledge and know-how, it involves professions and sociability (often gendered), it enhances the organization of a production system, largely supported by subcontracting networks and decentralized workshops, including in the contemporary period. Even in electronic processes, supposedly preventing any appropriation, are nestled complex embodied know-how, cultural cements of established professional circles (Callén). Recent creations of repair sites for electronic equipment attest the strength of this model but also the emergence of a new consumerist logic. Renewed studies since a generation on the restoration of technical objects in museums converge with these subjects dealing with “the life of the objects” (Bonnot) by asking the question of the limit between the necessity to repair and the preservation of traces of use, this limit materializing the distinction between a functional object (being repaired) and piece of art (being restored).

Research in archeology is full of examples of repairs at all times. Since the Paleolithic, societies have repaired flint, either to sharpen sharp tools or to produce other tools. It is then necessary to distinguish what is of the order of repair to retain the desired use of the object, and what is associated with true recycling using a partially formatted raw material. The analysis of repaired objects allows us to understand the reasons for the repairs and to approach the values ​​assigned by each community to the objects in question. In some cases, this may involve repairs to an object that has caused a considerable workload; in others, the symbolic value of these objects has created a need to preserve them, as it is illustrated by the case of ceramic material.

The gap is to be emphasized with the historical works. While the history of consumerism, which has been booming for a generation, has been heavily influenced by second-hand sales, the prolongation of life of objects in scarcity societies and recycling circuits, the history of repairs was not often addressed.  Similarly, the interest in re-employment in approaches crossing anthropology, ethnology, sociology, archeology and the history of technology has quite neglected the study of gestures, places, knowledge and repair circuits. Business archives suggest, however, over the long term, the extent of repairs in craft and manufacturing enterprises, sometimes along intercontinental circuits. Recent approaches show the importance of these everyday and repetitive techniques in the reconfiguration of trade identities around operative skills and in the emergence of transverse production sectors, for example for the supply of spare parts and fasteners. It belongs to the history of the rationalization of work, as already shown by the studies on artillery (Alder) or on shipbuilding (“From repairs came industry,” said Hélène Vérin). Thus, repair techniques are part of the concept of “technology’s middle ground” by which Kevin Borg defines “an ambiguous space between production and consumption”.

While the transformation of production methods in the 19th century through the interchangeability of parts led to a “discipline” of repair, in the 20th century the planned obsolescence introduced a new relationship to the object that excluded any possibility of repair – hence transforming the goals assigned to engineers. This disappearance of the repair prompted the reactions of sociologists in the 1960s (Packard) and more recently, of consumer groups (and their lawyers, like against Apple in 2003), of journalists (Slade), and even industrialists concerned with sustainable economy (Warner et alii). In the 20th century, whereas the era of mass consumption diffused the culture of the ready to use and throw away in the West, the communist ideology on the contrary emphasized the technical cultures centered on the extended uses of the objects in the name of the inventiveness, the rationalization and the value of human work. In the communist countries, secondary schools trained girls to make clothes and repair clothes and boys to make objects with wood and other materials (Golubev, Smolyak). Magazines and clubs promoted repairing know-how among amateurs, while repair centers were created and included specialized workshops in household technologies, clothing, shoes, etc. Planned industry malfunctions, with stock outs and systematic rejects, were then compensated by amateur and professional repair circuits and by the traffic of spare parts and pieces (Siegelbaum).

The subject opens on the place of technical action to restore and sustain the functionality of the objects – that is, the human part of technology. Western industrialization itself has fostered critical reflections on the urge to progress and the dehumanization that went hand in hand with it. In the 19th century, while mechanization and the race for power and speed led to the sanctification of technology and to the marginalization of the human factor, the place of repair was indicative of the willingness to enhance the appropriation of the machine by man (Jarrige, Barron). The milieu that was concerned with the quality of the objects, their reliability, their safety (like in the Conservatoire des arts et métiers) and hence, with repairs and maintenance, reintroduced descriptions and analysis of the human action in technical publications, and collected all sorts of techniques – everyday life techniques and micro-inventions-, in connection with the rising profession of mechanic (Dufaux).

This technical culture of repair, which has matched the intensification of production (artisanal and industrial) and which has received its theorization (Simondon) raises the question of the temporalities. Are mending techniques to be assigned to a traditional material culture or do they participate in new know-how? Ordinary repairs in the countries of the South and in Asia are emblematic of a plurality of temporalities. The work on repairs in Africa shows the way here (Speranza). Scrubbing, sanding, varnishing are all acts that anticipate degradation and are part of a maintenance economy, suggesting the need to study the temporality – and  the words (Roulon-Doko) – of this complex activity, occasional and / or regular, combining the short-term and the long-term life of objects (Dupré). These daily and ordinary repair cultures are widely found in developing countries and continue today. But the current situation of countries such as Ghana which is subject to the dumping of electronic products from developed countries, repaired for resale or recuperated (waste fields), raises the question of the articulation of these new intensive practices – an expression of obvious economic domination – with traditional ones inscribed in very different logics. Moreover, whereas it is quite usual to consider repairs as part of the so-called informal economy (Cheneau-Loquay), the last decades have been blurring the border between the circuits of objects in rich and poor countries because of the emergence of the culture of reparation as an ecological approach and as a citizen commitment to slow consumption. The economy of recycling and re-use reflects an institutionalized concern for the environment – that is questioned (Monsaingeon) – in addition to individual repair practices (Anstett, Ortar).

Finally, repair is a reflexive operation, which purpose is not only the restoration of a disturbed function or a damaged envelope, but also the investigation of the causes of dysfunctions, which is part of the improvement and the perfecting of devices, and belongs to the innovative practices (Jackson). Beyond this, repair is resurfacing today in an unexpected way, as a claim of technical intelligibility that undermines the topos of the gap between manual and intellectual activities: this reconfiguration could invite us to rethink our conditions of access to reflexivity as being originally and always already technological (Crawford).

This symposium proposes to examine the evolution of repair practices and cultures in the long term, in a global and comparative perspective. It intends to examine the sites of repair (factories, docks, workshops, clubs, garages, home, etc.), the figures of the repairer (the amateur and the professional) and the ways in which the functionality of objects is envisaged during repairs (repair as restoration or repair as transformation). An approach based on geographical areas should allow the identification of circulations of models and repair techniques from one region to another, and understand how such circulations impact the economy and techniques around the world. The object is at the core of our approach – its materiality, its circulations, its biography allowing to grasp the cultural contexts in which to consider repairs.

Abstracts (max. 1000 characters) along with a CV should be sent to liliane.perez@wanadoo.fr and to larisazakharova@gmail.com by September 30st, 2018 at the latest. Presentations and discussion will be conducted in French or English. The symposium will lead to a publication.

 

Organisation

Gianenrico Bernasconi (Musée international d’horlogerie/université de Neuchâtel), Guillaume Carnino (UTC/COSTECH), Liliane Hilaire-Pérez (université Paris 7-EHESS/ICT-CAK), Olivier Raveux (CNRS/TELEMME), Larissa Zakharova (EHESS/CERCEC/CNRS/CEFR de Moscou).

Scientific Committee

Alexandre Bertaud (univ. Bordeaux Montaigne/Ausonius), Régis Bertholon (Haute école-ARC, Neuchâtel), Thierry Bonnot (CNRS/IRIS), Marie-Sophie Corcy (Musée des arts et métiers), Cecilia D’Ercole (EHESS/ANHIMA), Lionel Dufaux (Musée des arts et métiers), Anne Gerritsen (Univ. of Warwick/Global History and Culture Centre), Anne-Catherine Hauglustaine (Musée de l’air et de l’espace du Bourget), François Jarrige (Univ. de Bourgogne/Centre Chevrier), Régis Huguenin-Dumittan (Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds), Pierre Lamard (UTBM/RECITS), Thomas Le Roux (CNRS/CRH), Sylviane Llinares (Univ. Bretagne occidentale/GIS Histoire et sciences de la mer), Sigrid Mirabaud (Institut national du patrimoine/Laboratoire de recherche), Nathalie Ortar (Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable et de l’Energie/LAET-ENTPE), Yann Philippe Tastevin (CNRS/LISST Toulouse), Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS/Centre Koyré), Hélène Vérin (CNRS/Centre Koyré), Koen Vermeir (CNRS/SPHERE), Catherine Verna (Univ. Paris 8, CRH), Heike Weber  (Univ. of Karlsruhe), Bing Zhao (CNRS/CRCAO).

 

Bibliographie indicative

Ken Alder, Engineering the Revolution. Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997

Janet Ambers, Holding it all together: ancient and modern approaches to joining, repair and consolidation, Londres, Archetype Publications, 2009

Elisabeth Anstett & Nathalie Ortar (dir.) La deuxième vie des objets. Recyclage et récupération dans les sociétés contemporaines. Paris, Pétra, 2015.

Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Andrea Baier, Tom Hansing, Christa Müller, Karin Werner (éd.), Die Welt reparieren. Open Source als postkapitalistische Praxis, Bielefeld, transcript, 2016.

Géraldine Barron, Edmond Pâris et l’art naval. Des pirogues aux cuirassés, à paraître

Philippe Bihouix, L’âge des low-tech : vers une civilisation techniquement soutenable, Paris, Seuil, 2014

Thierry Bonnot, La vie des objets. D’ustensiles banals à objets de collection, Paris, MSH, 2002.

Kevin Borg, Auto Mechanics: Technology and Expertise in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007

Bianca Callén, « Donner une seconde vie aux déchets électroniques. Économies informelles et innovation socio­technique des marches », Techniques & Culture n° 65-66 « Réparer le monde. Excès, reste et innovation », 2016, p. 206-219.

Annie Cheneau-Loquay, « Rôle joué par l’économie informelle dans l’appropriation des TIC en milieu urbain en Afrique de l’Ouest », Netcom, 22-1/2, 2008, p. 109-126.

Matthew B. Crawford, Éloge du carburateur. Essai sur le sens et la valeur du travail, Paris, La Découverte, 2009.

Marie-Claude Dupré, « La réparation en Afrique : un moment de la vie des objets », in Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007, p. 29-37.

Lionel Dufaux, L’Amphithéâtre, la galerie et le rail. Le Conservatoire des arts et métiers, ses collections et le chemin de fer au xixesiècle, Rennes, PUR, 2017

Alexey Golubev, Olga Smolyak, « Making selves through making things. Soviet do‑it‑yourself culture and practices of late Soviet subjectivation”, Cahiers du monde russe, n°54/3-4, 2013, p. 517-541.

Marie Goyon “L’obsolescence déprogrammée : prendre le parti des choses pour prendre le parti des hommes. Fablabs, makers et repair cafés”, Techniques & Culture n° 65-66 « Réparer le monde. Excès, reste et innovation », 2016, p. 235-239.

Jamie Furniss, Frédéric Joulian, Yann Philippe Tastevin dir., dossier « Réparer le monde : Excès, reste et innovation », Techniques & Culture, n°65, 2016

Liliane Hilaire-Pérez, La pièce et le geste. Artisans, marchands et savoirs techniques à Londres au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, collection « L’Évolution de l’Humanité », 2013

Steven J. Jackson, « Rethinking Repair », in Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, Kirsten Foot (ed.), Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 2014, p. 221-239

François Jarrige (dir.), Dompter Prométhée. Technologies et socialismes à l’âge romantique (1820-1870), Besançon, Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2016

Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process”, in Arjun Appadurai (ed.), op. cit., p. 64-91.

Stefan Krebs, Gabriele Schabacher, Heike Weber (éd.), Kulturen des Reparierens. Dinge-Wissen-Praktiken, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2018.

Baptiste Monsaingeon, Homo détritus, Paris, Seuil, 2017.

Vance Packard, The Waste Makers, D. McKay Co., 1960.

Paulette Roulon-Doko, « Les mots de la réparation » in Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007, p. 19-23.

Yvan Schulz, « Réassemblages marginaux au cœur de la « Mecque du hardware » », Techniques & Culture, 67, 2017, p. 84-99

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades. The life of the Soviet Automobile, Ithaca, Londres, Cornell University Press, 2008

Giles Slade, Made to Break. Technology and Obsolescence in America, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 2007

Gaetano Speranza éd., Objets blessés. La réparation en Afrique, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, 2007

Yann Philippe Tastevin, Autorickshaw : émergence et recomposition d’une filière entre l’Inde, l’Égypte et le Congo,  Paris, éditions Karthala, collection « Terre et gens d’Islam », sous presse

Yann Philippe Tastevin, « Des chars à bœufs aux plateformes mobiles de forage », Techniques & Culture, 67 | 2017, 196-211

Hélène Vérin, La gloire des ingénieurs. L’intelligence technique du XVI e au XVIII e siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 1993.

Charles Warner, Paul Phillips, André Santos, Bianca Pimenta, « Evaluation of zero waste places projects 2009–2010 in England », Proceedings of the Institution of Civil EngineersWaste and Resource Management, vol. 168, 2015, p. 14-25.

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What is a Conservation Binding?

The term “conservation binding” gets thrown around a lot. It certainly sounds different than just rebinding a book. But what does it really mean?

It is unknown who coined the term, and a google ngram search shows its use beginning in the 1960s, and peaking in the 1980s. It wouldn’t surprise me if it actually started in the 1950s in England. The 1980s were the peak of rebinding in book conservation, which resulted in many treatments that we would now consider too invasive. But the ethos then was to treat a book so that it would last 500 years. Of course, the correlation between the use of the term and making a conservation binding is not known.

Source: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=conservation+binding&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1900&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cconservation%20binding%3B%2Cc0

The trouble is, it doesn’t have any agreed upon meaning, similar to the even more ubiquitous term “archival”. All the usual suspects for bookbinding terminology — Language of Bindings, Carter, Etherington, The Multilingual Bookbinding and Conservation Dictionary — don’t have an entry for conservation binding. In practice, it can simply mean a binding done by a conservator. And anyone can call themselves a conservator. Or it can often mean a reversible layer of paste and Japanese tissue on the spine of a fine binding. Or it can imply the use of durable and modern conversationally accepted materials (i.e. linen, handmade paper, tawed skin) incorporated into a binding, with minimal attention paid to decoration and finishing.

So here is my first stab at a definition:

A conservation binding is a rebinding that is structurally similar and aesthetically sympathetic to the time the text was printed. It is durable, easily reversible, non-damaging and alters the original binding materials as little as possible. It does not fool someone into thinking it is an original binding, though it is harmonious with actual historic bindings.

Jonathan Ashley-Smith on Hand Skill Pedagogy

The most recent Journal of the Institute of Conservation (Vol. 41, No. 1, 2018) is a Festschrift for Dr. Jonathan Ashley-Smith. Ralph Steadman drew the cover, especially for this issue. Ashley-Smith is officially a conservation rock star!

The coolest conservation journal cover EVER. Journal of the Institute of Conservation (Vol. 41, No. 1, 2018)

You need to be a member of ICON to read the whole journal on-line. So join.

Selected articles from other issues are open access, including Ashley-Smith’s important 2016 article,  “Losing the Edge: The Risk of a Decline in Practical Conservation Skills.”  Although the title implies a depressing state of affairs (losing, declining) it is actually filled with empowering techniques to reverse some of the trends he anecdotally observes. There is much worth reading and discussing in this article: he considers a broad swath of issues surrounding conservation, handwork, craft, how we learn hand skills, and even how we loose them. Some of my own thoughts about losing hand skills are here.

At the risk of overusing the comparison between conservators and surgeons, I’ll offer an example of my own then one from Ashley-Smith. When teaching a sharpening workshop, we look at the first two plates from Joseph Pancoast’s Operative Surgery. They are great reminder for the students that hand skills need to be learned, and for me to make the subtleties explicit. Many students pick up a tool, turn it over a few times in their hand, hesitantly try it out, find it doesn’t seem to work, and set it down, convinced that they don’t have good hand skills. But hand skills need to be learned, and there are easier and more difficult ways of manipulating tools.

Learning traditional techniques of tools use are often easier than trying to figure it out on your own, which is why they became traditional in the first place. Just consider the variety of hand positions Pancoast instructs the surgeon to learn in order to control the bistoury, pictured below. There is a following plate of even more advanced moves. I doubt many of us could come up with these on our own. Even though I have not used a bistoury, the hand positions make sense for the tasks I can figure out, like depth control (Fig. 2) and extra power to make an incision (Fig. 3). Perhaps it is better not to interpret all of them.

Pancoast, A Treatise on Operative Surgery, 1844. archive.org/stream/66850890R.nlm.nih.gov/66850890R#page/n21/mode/2up

In “Losing the Edge”, Ashley-Smith describes an even more relevant surgical analogy to conservation, found in  J.W. Peyton’s 1998 “Teaching and Learning in Medical Practice”. Peyton offers a pedagogical model for learning hand skills. I will try it out on the graduate students enrolled in the Historical Book Structures Practicum this summer. Traditionally, hand skills are taught by the monkey see, monkey do  approach: the instructor demonstrates (sometimes with verbal descriptions of what their hands are doing), then the students copy what was done, often with little understanding why.

Ashley-Smith observed that surgeons are not ashamed to use the word “craft” in the context of their work, instead they are proud of it. Peyton presents a refined method of teaching craft skills: not only does the instructor demonstrate three times, but before the students perform the action, they are required to describe each step in advance. Another advantage of this method is that the student is exposed to seeing the action performed at real speed. Old timer conservators sometimes complain about how slowly younger conservators work: could part of it be they were never exposed to work done at real speed, only the slower, linguistic heavy, demonstration speed?

These are Peyton’s four steps:

1. Demonstration of the skill at full speed with little or no explanation.
2.  Repetition of that skill with full explanation, encouraging the learner to ask questions.
3.  The demonstrator performs the skill for a third time, with the learner providing the explanation at each step and being questioned on key issues … the demonstrator provides necessary corrections. This step may need to be repeated several times until the demonstrator is satisfied that the learner fully understands the skill.
4.  The learner carries out the skill under close supervision describing each step before it is taken.

— J. W. Rodney Peyton, Teaching and Learning in Medical Practice (Rickmans- Worth: Manticore Europe, 1998), 174–7.

Excessive? Maybe for most bookbinding operations, but certainly not for medical operations. His model really forces the student to observe what they are doing and why they are doing it, and to think ahead to the next step. Ironically, it is all to easy for students to gloss over important aspects of hand movements during a demonstration. This is understandable, since most of the motions are not all that interesting, or even important. Invariably, they miss the most important part.

Sometimes in step 3, it is more relevant for the student to draw or diagram the process, if it is cumbersome to verbally describe. I doubt Peyton’s pedagogy can be adapted for every stage in bookbinding, but some steps — like sewing, forming headcaps, cutting corners — lend themselves easily to his procedure. Since many specific operations in bookbinding are similar, this method could be spread across a longer format workshop.

Sobering Statistics Concerning Book Conservation

There are some sobering statistics in The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report, by Annie Peterson, Holly Robertson, and Nick Szydlowski.  Eighty-seven cultural institutions responded; primarily academic libraries. Although the authors caution about extrapolating the data since the respondents were self-selecting, I find it difficult not to view the results as roughly indicative of general trends in libraries. The most striking finding is the steady decline in the money spent for bound volumes.

The treatments reported tend to be quite utilitarian, more aimed at circulating rather than special collections. For example, a Level 1 treatment takes less than 15 minutes, a Level 2 between 15 and 120 minutes, a level 3 more than 120 minutes. Most conservation treatments for special collections materials take much longer than 120 minutes.

The authors report that “from 2000 to 2014, total conservation treatment of bound volumes declined faster than commercial binding; treatment declined by 77% in that period, while commercial binding declined by only 69%.”  This survey includes in-house and outsourced conservation activities: 92% of respondents had at least some type of in house conservation program, and 70% outsourced at least some treatments. In all, the survey encompasses the treatment of 1.6 million items.  The only growth area is a slight—though not dramatic— increase in spending for digitizing and in reformatting of audiovisual materials.

No, the sky is not falling, but as a book conservator, it is worrisome to see these trends. Frankly, I don’t see the situation changing significantly in the coming decades, until we reach the point where the book and the text have become totally individuated. Then, hopefully, the book will experience a reappraisal.

It is well worth reading the full report:  The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report.

A Book Conservator Goes to Hollywood: or, Pretending to be an Actor Playing a Bookbinder

It is pretty unusual—once in a lifetime?— for any craftsman to appear in a Hollywood commercial. I had my chance last week. In many ways it was almost the stereotypical experience: a phone call out of the blue, sending a production company a couple of images of me and my work, a bunch of phone meetings, sending more pictures, then all of the sudden a limo was picking me up at 5:00 am to fly to Los Angles.

The first day was spent meeting the director, producers and wardrobe fitting.  My “costume” was chosen, which was surprisingly similar to the kind of clothes I usually wear.  Loose linen shirt and blue pants, though they did make me wear a kind of silly looking heavy duty leather apron.  Wardrobe went to do a few alterations and I was driven to look at the set.

The set really looked like a bindery, even though much of it was from other trades.  All the small details were wrong, but the overall feel was right.  The director of photography was there with a top of the line DSLR, so I left thinking this was going to be a small, intimate shoot.

The next day my driver picked me up and the scene had changed dramatically. The crew parking lot was filled with over 70 cars.  The caterer had 4 tents set up.  All of these people would be filming me for the next couple days, and I’d never acted before.  I was playing with the big boys.

As my make-up was being applied and my hair cut, I kept thinking that my experience in teaching should help me out, since I’m used to having people watch me work.  Or maybe I should think of this as extreme method acting: I’d practiced bookbinding for 23 years, and now was my chance to perform in front of the camera?

I saw the real camera for the first time; one of those monsters used for film shoots that three people ride on. We shot the various stages of book binding at different times.  Often I had to repeat an action three times, for a wide, medium and tight shot. The raw footage I saw looked amazing; the most professional, seductive looking images of bookbinding I’ve ever seen.

Seductive images of craft are great PR.  I still remember how appealing Bernard Middleton’s hands were on the cover of The Restoration of Leather Bindings.  Quite likely it was a reason I got into bookbinding in the first place. Could the less scientific, and more romantic side of conservation be emphasized a bit more for public appeal and possibly funding? Or does it land us back in the murky world of craft and restoration which conservation strives to differentiate itself from?

Film shoots are pure chaos.  As one crew member recommended “embrace the chaos”.  But the crews were remarkable in the way they worked together, thought creatively and spontaneously, and in the end got the job done.  It was great to get a glimpse at this world.

If you happen to find yourself being filmed using a sewing frame, which is a de-rigor shot, use pre-pierced the inner folios but not the outer one.  This way you can feel the hole on the inside with the tip of the needle, and burst out through an unpierced outer folio with frightening precision, without having to look inside the book. Smooth.

The most difficult thing for me was doing a familiar action differently or at a different speed—either to show it better on camera or because the director wanted it. I spend most of my time thinking about pragmatic realities—reattaching a board to fit the textblock exactly, mending paper fibers to realign or grinding a knife to exactly 13 degrees— so it was a bit difficult for me to get my head around the “prop” mentality, and how much the camera would see, and concentrate on the action, not the object. It was hard work to repeat an action over, and over, and over. “Show the leather more love when you touch it!” In the end I was left with much more respect for “real” actors; it is hard, skilled work.

And how quickly I become accustomed to being treated like a star!  By the end of the second day, it seemed natural to have a driver, someone yelling “talent on the set” and “talent stepping down” when I moved on the set, a hairstylist preening me every 30 minutes of so, food and water brought constantly the minute I sat.

I signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) so can’t go into any details until December.  Once the commercial is live, I will post links to it on this blog.

Now, back to reality. Finish sewing an endband, then edge paring, spokeshaving, and covering an appealing well used edition of Luther’s Commentarie on the Epistle of Saint Paul, London, 1616. I keep telling myself I’m glad to be back in the real world. But….

Family Bibles

Mentioning Family Bibles to a group of bookbinders will provoke a variety of responses somewhat similar to the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the end, most of us accept the fact we will work on them—many, many, of them. Anecdotally, there seems to be less of a demand to work on these in New York City than some of my country based colleagues report; perhaps NYC is just not a Bible keeping/reading kind of town. Family Bibles (along with family cookbooks filled with recipes, notes, butter stains, etc..) are often the only books of valued enough by the general public to consider preserving, a trend that is likely continue and increase.  The large size and poor quality materials of these Bibles make them difficult to work on. Claire Manias is familiar with these challenges and wrote this brief essay about Family Bibles for an exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art.

Clare is the Conservator of Rare Books at the Museum of Biblical Art, and has twelve years of experience in conservation. She has worked in major institutions around New York City including the New York Academy of Medicine, The New York Botanical Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Union Theological Seminary, as well as in private practice.  She is a former co-chair of the NY Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, 2006-2010.

A Note on the Conservation of Family Bibles

Clare Manias

Family Bibles like the ones displayed in The Book of Life: The Family Bible in America were purchased to begin and maintain important record-keeping traditions for families. Major life events, emotional trials, and joyful expressions were recorded by family members and passed down through generations.

These Bibles were read, shared, displayed, stored, passed around, neglected, and found. All of this activity rendered itself not only on the pages of the book, but also on its binding. Hands left worn spots, paper was torn while reading, and the binding was strained by articles pressed between the pages. These changes occurring over time are as important to the history of the book as is what is printed on the pages.

Fig 1. These Family Bibles were designed to appeal to the purchaser’s idea of what an important book looks like. Photograph by Gina Fuentes Walker for MOBIA.

The design of Family Bible bindings was meant to invoke a sense of tradition. The Bible with Apocrypha, printed in Syracuse, New York at the Bible Publishing House in 1882 (Figure 1) is an fanciful example of what a great book is supposed to look like. The binding’s style evokes medieval books which had thick wooden boards, large raised bands, metalwork, and elaborate tooling on the covers. Family Bible bindings also emulate the style of fine binding of the seventeenth century with tooled board edges, elaborately gilt spines, and shiny text paper edges.

New technologies like color lithographic printing, wood engraving, machine paper making, and industrial leather production helped make it possible to bring these luxurious books to their respective families quickly and less expensively. The advancements in paper making and leather tanning, however, would prove to be unfavorable for the preservation of these books. Rushed tanned sheepskin rapidly breaks down and is very acidic. Early machine-made paper had not yet had time to turn brown and brittle from age, so the effects of time on poorly refined wood pulp paper were yet to be discovered.

It is also possible that items placed in the Bible for safekeeping have distorted its binding or stained its pages. Thick cardboard items or locks of hair can strain the sewing and cause the spine to split. Newspaper clippings and pressed leaves release acids as they age that cause them to “print” their silhouette on the pages between which they are interspersed.

Fig. 2. The best way to preserve your family’s historical objects and documents is to store them in protective housing in a stable environment. Photograph by Gina Fuentes Walker for MOBIA.

Poor materials combined with heavy use make a conservator’s job much more challenging. Consider the Complete Domestic Bible, published in Syracuse, New York by Watson Gill in 1873 which has brittle paper that is almost impossible to repair and “red-rotted” sheepskin leather that is very difficult to retain (Figure 2). These fragile materials hold the marks of the Bible’s owners but require extensive conservation treatments to return them to readable condition. This is not feasible because so many of these Bibles were sold and so many copies survive, thus making the Bible relatively inexpensive even today. Though the book itself is not rare, the markings and changes brought upon it by the family that owned the book make it unique, and therefore a candidate for careful preservation. The binding should be preserved to retain the evidence of its history, even if that means stabilizing the Bible in a state of disrepair.

The best way to preserve unique family records is by careful storage. Libraries and museums maintain clean, temperature- and humidity-regulated storage environments as the most effective way to preserve their holdings. Keeping storage temperatures at 70 degrees and maintaining a humidity of 50% is the best way to keep brittle papers from yellowing further or already dry leather from breaking off and crumbling. Books and family records can also be kept in custom-made, archival storage boxes that support the book on the shelf and protect fragile paper from damage and soiling incurred from handling and long-term storage.

In preparation for The Book of Life, only minimal conservation treatment was implemented to ensure that the books shown are as close to their current state as possible, without trying to make them look brand new. This ensures they will retain the evidence of the family records they contain and invoke this historical period for viewers now and in the future.

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Reproduced with permission from the exhibition catalog, The Book of Life: Family Bibles in America, New York: Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), 2011.