Douglas MacLennan: 2010 Summer Conservation Internship Report

March 14th, 2011 § 0 comments

Beginning mid June, 2010 I began a summer-long internship working with collections conservator Kristen St. John at the UCLA Library Conservation Center (LCC).  As a pre-program student nearing readiness for entrance into a formal graduate program in conservation, my experience at the LCC has been both educational and extremely rewarding.

The goals of my summer internship were threefold; first, to provide first-hand experience working with book and paper conservators in two book and paper conservation labs here in Los Angeles.   Secondly, to afford me an opportunity to observe a variety of treatments amongst a wide range of books and works on paper, thereby helping me better grasp both the day to day work within an institutional setting as well as facilitating a clearer understanding of my own academic and professional goals.  Lastly, Kristen felt (and I agree wholeheartedly!) that I lacked a necessary foundation of the wide range of object-sympathetic enclosures and boxes for museum objects.  Thus began my internship at the LCC.

On my first day in the lab Kristen and I spoke at some length regarding the objects that I would be working with throughout the duration of my internship.  One of the first projects  would be a Mylar enclosure for 47 medieval manuscript leaves and fragments from the Rouse collection.  Kristen explained that a number of manuscript leaves and fragments that had hitherto been stored in paper sleeves were being re-housed in custom-welded Mylar sleeves and bound and that I would be continuing this ongoing project.

Oriana Calman, a previous intern working in the summer of 2009, began the Rouse rehousing project with another set of manuscript fragments.  Kristen and Oriana had devised a standard ‘template’ that I would be adapting to my own set of objects.  After meeting with Octavio Olvera at the YRL Special Collections and having measured and photographed the collection myself, I gained a clearer understanding of the requirements for the project. Namely, to create a safe housing for manuscript fragments of various size, shape and thickness that could be easily viewed and even removed from their sleeves for study in a classroom environment. Additionally, Octavio mentioned certain particulars of the previous volumes that he felt still needed to be addressed and in the end Kristen, Octavio and I agreed upon a modified version of the previous template.

Unlike the leaves that had been rehoused in 2009, these 47 fragments were not already stored in Mylar sleeves that could be adjusted for the new post binding.  Therefore, it was necessary to construct the Mylar envelopes from scratch.  Kristen introduced me to a fancy piece of equipment called an ultrasonic (US) welder.

After testing different Mylar thicknesses with the variety of power, speed and distance settings available on the US welder, I felt confident to begin the construction of the sleeves themselves.  This project provided me with a valuable lesson in repetitive precision measuring and cutting with a blade: my first attempts at building perfectly square sleeves with even and consistent welds were unsuccessful but after spending time with the equipment and materials I soon became much more proficient and my measurements much more precise.   I determined the size of the sheets by taking the greatest measurements from the 47 objects and assigning the greatest height and width to establish the overall dimensions of the volume.  The pockets would be centered on the second sheet of Mylar, and there would be a minimum of 3 cm of space from the edge of the fragment to any edge of the Mylar.  Thusly, I determined the necessary size of the volume.  In addition, the top Mylar sheet would be 5 cm narrower at the left vertical edge to allow for both easy opening of the top sleeve and for easier access the object itself.

The top and bottom Mylar sheets were welded together along the right edge.  I then welded a custom size pocket to the center of the bottom sheet to house the object.  Some sheets contained two fragments.  Lastly, a standard size pocket was welded onto the top sheet that would house descriptive labels for each object.  After the welding was completed, crème colored paper was cut to size and used as interleaving between the Mylar envelopes and holes were drilled into the margin with a paper drill to prepare for the post binding. The Mylar rehousing project lasted the duration of my summer internship at the LCC.

I also, however, enjoyed working on a variety of other projects and had the special opportunity to spend a week at the book and paper conservation lab at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

I began my week at the Huntington with rehousings.  The library had a collection of architectural drawings and blueprints of the Huntington Estate that were previously encapsulated in polymer sleeves that were sealed with double stick tape at the edges.  Over time, the adhesive migrated out of the tape carrier and many of the blueprints were now stuck to the edges of the sleeves originally designed to protect them!  I constructed new sleeves and welded them along two of the edges created an ‘L’ sleeve for the objects.

Later that week, I had the chance to help paper conservator Erin K Jue with a lining that she was executing on a 19th century George Catlin drawing on paper.  We lined the Catlin drawing on an amazing portable light table and dried the object under felt mats.  After drying, Erin showed me how to cut mat board to create a mount.  The drawing was affixed to the mount with T-hinges along the top and a protective flap was added to the mount to create a suitable environment for long-term storage.

My time at the Huntington was both exciting and educational.  In addition to working with on a variety of different projects throughout the week I also had the chance to meet with the conservation staff; to ask them questions and to see what they work on themselves.  They made my time at the Huntington so very rewarding and memorable.

In addition to visiting the labs at the Huntington, I also constructed a wide range of enclosures for both circulating and special collections books during my internship at the UCLA LCC.  Kristen started me off with the simplest enclosures but my projects became more and more elaborate throughout the duration of the internship.  What were especially valuable were her explanations of the background of each enclosure; where she had learned its construction and some of the pros and cons of each enclosure type.

To begin, I learned how to construct phase and corrugated cardboard boxes.  These enclosures are standard in the library world and my many repetitions building them will surely come in handy!  Many of the phase boxes and corrugated clamshells that I constructed were for circulating collections and I reported them completed to Wil Lin, who heads the circulating collections conservation work at the LCC.

Kristen then introduced me to the cloth covered clamshell or drop-spine box.  This was, by far, the most challenging of the enclosures that I learned during my internship. Constructed from binder’s board and covered with bookcloth, I learned how to construct the classic drop-spine box and the drop-spine box with a cloth-covered portfolio as well as some variations thereon, including the addition of a flap for vellum manuscripts prone to expansion and double wall constructions for extra large volumes.

Learning how to construct these enclosures has been as rewarding as it has been challenging.  On my first day in the lab, Kristen explained the importance of learning how to properly house a variety of objects for their safe long-term storage.  Throughout these weeks I have been ever honing my skills creating better and better enclosures that are safe for the object, easy for the user to open and close and beautiful to behold.  All in all, my internship at the LCC has been an invaluable experience and one that has definitively helped shape my future academic goals in conservation.

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