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Posts Tagged ‘northeast document conservation center’

  1. Swell Things No. 26

    August 31, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    1. Recently installed at the Shatin Park in Hong Kong is Kaleidome, a structure for children to play on. But the real beauty lies in its design. The brightly colored, stainless-steel dome is angled in a way that alters your perception of the surrounding city; just like viewing the world through a kaleidoscope.
    2. Chris Wood labels himself as a ‘glass and light artist’. Using dichroic glass (two color optical coating that selectively reflects certain wavelengths of light) Chris creates these glowing wall pieces that reflect light in the most intriguing way.
    3. The candy colored palette of Barbara Dziadosz‘s illustrations are deliciously eye catching. Barbara is a Polish freelance artist specializing in character design through illustration and printmaking.
    4. Enjoy these dreamy paintings from artist Jenny Prinn.
    5. The scope of Henry Darger’s work is wildly impressive and incredibly strange. A new exhibition of his work is on view at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. You can read more about Darger here or treat yourself to the documentary In the Realms of the Unreal.


    6. The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) recently completed a repair job on an original binding of William Morris’ The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer published in 1896. You can read about their treatment here and why it was so important to preserve this historical binding.
    7. Tomás Saraceno has constructed a massive hot air balloon in response to our environmental impact. Tomás interprets the hot air balloon as a symbol of escapism from earthly troubles; Becoming Aerosolar is a body of work that speaks about the magnitude of human consumption and waste.
    8. Emergent Behavior is a whimsical photographic series from Thomas Jackson. Ordinary objects erupt in chaotic storms amongst beautiful landscapes. Thomas experiments with tutus, cups, streamers, marshmallows and more.
    9. I love the illustrations from artist Jen Collins, but her ceramic works just delight me. You can see all of her available pieces here at Bolden Ceramics.
    10. Check out this comprehensive article regarding the history of vellum and parchment, which highlights historical production and uses.

  2. Conservation Conversations // Book Conserva-Binder

    May 1, 2014 by Athena Moore

    I’ve been asked before whether I consider myself a book conservator or a bookbinder, or whether I consider myself to be one or the other first. While I don’t think you need to be both to be either, I find that for me the two are inextricably linked. 


    When I started at North Bennet Street School in 2008, I wanted nothing more than to learn everything I possibly could about making books. I was amazed and delighted by just how much we did at the bench during those two years and how far I’d come in my skills and knowledge in that time. I was also sort of overwhelmed by just how much I had felt I had left to learn upon graduation. Every facet of book history we discussed or structure we tackled gave me a view into what a complex world books inhabit.


    The desire to better grasp the intent and progression of bindings over time is what steered me towards conservation. During my first internship at Haverford College’s Magill Library, I started to understand how much this field can make one feel like a detective. The hand skills I had been learning at NBSS gave me the confidence to handle a range of objects – even those made with materials I might not have encountered yet. Learning to bind books from the very beginning stages had really aided in my ability to assess how a binding was constructed and, to a greater extent, why it was constructed that way.



    Athena Moore - 2.jpg

    Upon my return to school for the second year, I used the hands-on collections knowledge I gained that summer to help direct myself. I was equally interested in learning fine and design binding (leather! gold! yes!) and conservation, so I did my best to focus on both. I took on opportunities to do small repair projects that came through the school and worked part time at the Hayden Library at MIT. I was filled to the gills with information, but felt more and more like the two paths of this craft I was learning truly informed one another.

    Copy of P1060647


    While the program at NBSS is not heavily conservation-based, the hand skills and binding history I was imbued with during my time there is invaluable to the work I do as a book conservator. After graduation, I interned at the Frances Loeb Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and was a fellow at the Boston Athenaeum. Through both of those experiences and in my current position at Northeast Document Conservation Center, I’ve contineed to be surprised by just how many structures I learned at NBSS that I’ve either treated or re-bound.


    More of the hand work that I do these days is conservation focused, but I still love bookbinding and take on custom work or projects of my own with a fair amount of regularity.



    I find that the way my brain operates when I approach conservation really helps me in approaching my own outside work. I encounter so many seemingly similar bindings that turn out not to be exactly what they appear that it gets easier and easier over time to approach the creative challenges of new structures.

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    The need to be efficient and deliberate in my day to day work really feeds into my ability to effectively plan my time and, in doing so, give fair and accurate estimates to friends and clients. Finding time to work outside of a full time job isn’t the easiest thing to do, but being steeped in a form of work that uses so many of the same skills makes it all the more possible. For every part of my book work, I know I need input from binders and conservators alike and luckily, I’m more or less surrounded by both.

  3. Conservation Conversations // Not Just What, But Why

    April 10, 2014 by Athena Moore


    In conservation, there are an endless number of questions to ask oneself on a daily basis. Is this binding contemporary with the text? Should I size this paper? How am I going to reback this mess? The reality is that in this field, it often has less to do with how you’re going to treat an object and more to do with why


    As a book conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, it’s difficult to predict what might come across my bench from week to week. NEDCC is not a collecting institution and as a result, the objects that come in and treatments we perform can vary pretty widely. Despite the fact that certain treatments might not come up with great frequency, it’s crucial for us to keep our broad skill set sharp. In addition to knowing how to execute these treatments, it’s of equal importance for us to know what the most appropriate approach is. 


    When a client approaches us about a volume or collection of volumes, one of the first things we work to establish are the goals of that client and/or their institution. This helps to inform our recommendations and gives both us and the client a sense of what is possible. 


    If the intent is to put a volume on exhibit, it may be decided that we should improve its appearance by surface cleaning and stabilizing the binding to make it safe for display. If the volume will be used for teaching, we have to be more thoughtful about its ability to function – this might mean reattaching loose material, reinforcing or replacing sewing, or rebacking. If the volume is considered important because of its content but the binding isn’t necessarily special to the client, we may change the binding altogether or decide just to digitize it. Particularly fragile items that will be used for research or otherwise handled will often be digitized and returned with handling instructions or if they’re in particular bad condition, may be encapsulated and post bound. Objects that are considered artifacts are generally approached in the most conservative manner and may only be boxed. We often remove damaging materials, but not always – if it is considered part of the history of the object, it might be necessary for us to leave them.


    As a general rule, our intent is never to treat an object in a manner that is unnecessary. We aim only to perform treatments that are responsible and, to the extent possible, reversible. A large part of our job is to educate clients and help them to make the best decisions for their collections. We often aid in prioritizing – if an institution only has a certain budget for the year but aims to treat a set part of their collection, we’re able to guide them in those decisions.


    At any given point, it’s not unusual for us to have two very similar volumes that receive very different treatments. This depends largely on the object’s intended use and the goals of the institution, but may also have to do with timeline and budget constraints. As challenging as it may be, it’s extremely important for us to balance working efficiently with treating each volume on its own and being thoughtful about what we hope to see as an end result. 

  4. Conservation Conversations // Leafcasting

    March 20, 2014 by Athena Moore


    Leafcasting is magic. Well, it at least LOOKS like magic. A not-oft-used conservation method, leafcasting helps to strengthen paper by filling areas of loss with pulp. Experimentation with this treatment began by hand in the 1950s, but was made considerably easier and more efficient with the advent of the leafcasting machine in the following decade.

    There are only a small number of institutions that have leafcasting machines and an even smaller number that use them. At the Northeast Document Conservation Center, where I work as an assistant book conservator, we’re lucky enough to have one (on semi-permanent loan from the North Bennet Street School – thanks, Jeff!). Before coming to NEDCC, I had no idea what this machine was or what it did. Kiyoshi Imai, who has been with NEDCC’s book laboratory for over 20 years, is something of an expert on this treatment. He was kind enough to teach me the process (and re-train my brain on the intricacies of arithmetic) and I’ve been somewhat obsessed ever since.

    The leafcaster is essentially a paper-making machine. A document or folio (or multiple folios, as is sometimes the case) with losses is measured to determine the weight and full size dimensions. The areas with losses are measured and subtracted from that. There are a few more math steps in there, but essentially what you come up with is one number – this is the amount of pulp needed to fill the losses in grams. Leafcasting pulp can be made out of cotton and/or hemp fiber pulp or handmade paper. It is often necessary to use a combination of both, as one of the issues a conservator is attempting to address in the process is finding a good color match for the object.


    The material that is chosen is blended with water to form a slurry. The object is placed on a sheet of spun polyester (which makes for easier handling and allows water to pass through) in the “casting area” of the machine and is held down by a screen while water is poured in. The pulp slurry is added to this water, distributed evenly and finally removed from the casting area by a pump located below. The pulp is pulled to the areas in the object with losses. If the conservator has done their job well, the new material will appear even and well matched in thickness and color.


    The cast object is removed from the leafcaster with a second sheet of spun polyester and can be sized on a suction table, which helps to improve the strength of the original object and the adherence of the new cast material to the original material. The object can be dried either in a press or under blankets, depending on the intended result – drying it in a press can often augment the size, so in the case of casting just a folio or two from a bound volume, it may be best to allow for a slower, more gentle form of drying. If the object is a one-off, it can be slightly faster to dry it in the press.


    While it isn’t the appropriate treatment for all items, leafcasting can be a great option for some. Volumes that have large amounts of insect damage, for instance, often require a huge amount of mending time. Attempting to hand fill losses at that scale is daunting. Because the damage is usually fairly consistent, it is relatively easy to use the same math on large sets of folios. It’s also very likely that the same pulp would be used, so the biggest time commitment is just the initial set up. When an object is well cast, the strength and stability of it is greatly increased. Objects that have been cast are protected against further damage in weak areas and can be handled much more safely. Because it is essentially just handmade paper pasted to the object, it is also reversible.

    It’s easy enough to create your own losses in sample materials, so if you’ve got access to a leafcaster, try it out!

    leafcasting illustration

    I am currently working with Helen Bailey, Library Fellow for Digital Curation and Preservation at MIT, to develop software that can use digital images of objects with losses to determine the amount of pulp needed and will be leading a leafcasting demonstration and lecture for SUNY Buffalo’s art conservation graduate students this spring. I have also created a user’s manual for the Model 0901 Leafcaster, so if you have any related questions, please feel free to send them my way! 

  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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