La Dolce Vita

Continued professional development (CPD) is very important when you are working as a book conservator, because there is always something to learn! Whether it’s a type of binding, a technique that you haven’t come across at an earlier date, or the chance to meet fellow conservators. If you are an accredited conservator working in Ireland, CPD is a significant activity used to maintain your accredited status. This summer both Julia Poirier and Dorothea Müller had the opportunity to undertake training at the Montefiascone Conservation Project in Italy, as part of their CPD. The Project was originally conceived in order to raise money to save the virtually derelict late medieval library of Cardinal Barbarigo and, thanks to the tireless work of Project Director Cheryl Porter, it has now been running for over 25 years.

31st July- 4th August, Dorothea’s experience:

In the first week of August I attended the course titled An Italian fifteenth century binding. The course tutors were Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson from the Conservation and Collection Care Department at Cambridge University Library and Dr. Alison Ohta, director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.

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The upper board (left), and lower board (right) of the finished model.

During the course we recreated the binding of Manuscript CUL Add. 8445, a copy of Cicero’s Topica (circa 1480) from the collection of Cambridge University Library. It has a contemporary binding with interesting structural features, including a covering of leather over beech boards. The binding has the addition of intricate blind and gold tooling, showing the influence of Near and Middle Eastern bindings.

Working in the beautiful Montefiascone Seminary we sewed our textblock on split alum-tawed calfskin supports with a packed straight sewing. Next we created our endbands with a core also made of tawed calfskin. The wooden boards were shaped into a cushion form and recesses were made for the sewing supports and the strap attachment. We attached the boards by gluing the sewing and endband supports down and fastening them with brass nails.

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Sewing of the textblock on a travel sewing frame made with two clamps and a metal rod; and the sewn textblock with attached beech boards.

The book was fully covered in leather goatskin, with a strap made out of the same leather but with a parchment centre. The leather above the headband was tucked in to form an endcap and the spine was left hollow.

To save time on this busy course, the tooling for the central decoration was done with a single brass plate rather than individual tools so that we could instead concentrate on painting it with lapis lazuli and shell gold diluted in gum Arabic and water in equal parts. We then added the border, which was cold tooled using two hand tools, a bar and an arc. The border was framed with double lines made using a small bone folder. For the spine we used a fillet with double lines in a geometric pattern. The foredge clasp was made of brass and was trimmed to shape and rolled by hand before finally being fitted to the book once the tooling was complete.

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Polishing the brass clasp; and tooling the leather using a template and two hand tools- one arc, and one bar.

The workshop further developed my skills in bookbinding, as the complex binding combined so many different techniques, including wood and metal work, hot and cold tooling, and painting on leather.  Apart from the practical work, the presentations given during the theoretical part of the course also provided participants with a lot of background information about this particular kind of binding which will certainly be of use as I return to the studio.

2017 Montefiascone Week II Italian 15th-c. Binding Ohta Bloxam Thompson class photo copy 2

Participants and teachers at the end of a successful week.

The Montefiascone Conservation Project provides an excellent place to learn more about historic bindings, while also helping to preserve a local book collection. I am grateful to ICRI for the funding which made my attendance possible. It was a brilliant experience and I would love to come back to the Summer School in the following years!

14th– 18th August, Julia’s experience:

I was extremely lucky to attend the final week of the 2017 Montefiascone Conservation Project, and took part in the workshop taught by Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris, on the Ethiopic binding structure and a conservation variation, which they devised.

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The finished Ethiopian conservation structure, and parchment satchel.

While working in Ethiopia on the Ethio-SPaRe project with Hamburg University, Marco and Nikolas have observed and recorded many characteristics of the Ethiopian binding structure, some of which they adapted and re-used for the conservation of a large Ethiopian manuscript from the church of ʿrom Qirqos (UM-018). They have found these adaptations to be historically accurate and yet structurally suitable for the conservation of this material.

During the week-long workshop we made two book models. One was a historical model, using known and characteristic features of Ethiopian bindings and the second one was an adapted conservation structure. We also got to make a traditional parchment satchel for one of the models.

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Covering a model of a traditional Ethiopian binding; and the class at work in the Seminary.

Needless to say, we were kept busy and many an afternoon was spent in the lovely, high ceiling room at the Seminary, overlooking the Italian hills on one side and the old crumbling village on the other. Both the teachers were very knowledgeable and keen to share and demonstrate each step of the process; the overall atmosphere in the classroom was serene and this made for a very pleasant experience.

I particularly loved preparing the leather endbands and sewing them onto the textblock. The blind tooling we added was done using real Ethiopian tools. The tutors bought them in a market in Ethiopia dedicated to all things book related. What a wonderful sight it must have been!

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Attaching endbands; and tooling the model using real Ethiopian hand tools.

Although a lovely and fun experience, this workshop was a prime example of how re-creating and understanding the functionality of a traditional book structure has a direct link to contemporary conservation practices which informs our work on historical bindings.

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Sewing the conservation structure with four needles!

I learned a great deal in those five days and could not recommend attending the Montefiascone summer school enough. The Chester Beatty Library is the custodian of a large number of Ethiopian manuscripts and, whilst the large majority of them are in stable condition, being more familiar with their structure will help us to assess their preservation needs more sensitively in the future.

Dorothea Müller & Julia Poirier

 

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Summer at the Chester Beatty

Over the summer, the Conservation team were delighted to offer a student placement (18th July- 11th August 2017) to Jana Müller. Jana is currently a student in the Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany. We’re happy to share this post from her.

On the first morning as I walked through the busy streets of Dublin on my way to the Chester Beatty Library, I arrived to find the conservation laboratory as an oasis of calm and concentration, only occasionally interrupted by screaming seagulls. Throughout this placement the seagulls have reminded me that I am right beside the sea.

My first project was the remounting of Surimono prints. The Chester Beatty Library has around 400 of these special Japanese woodblock prints and I had the opportunity to work on 31 of these lovely artworks. For various reasons discussed in a previous blog post here, the whole collection of Surimono prints is currently being remounted. The first step in this process is to lift the tabs from the old board with a little moisture and a spatula so that they can be reused later. Secondly, each object gets two more tabs attached at the bottom edge using wheat starch paste in order to keep it in place in the float mount later. Each unique Surimono is measured for a window mount and, once it is cut, the object is positioned and the tabs at the top of the print are attached to the new mount.

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Two moveable window mounts simplify the measurement of the new mount (left); The 2mm overlap of the tabs attached at the bottom edge of each Surimono allows for quick removal if necessary (centre); Once the tabs are attached to the new mount, they are allowed to dry under weight (right).

The remounting worked really well and it is interesting to see how the impression of an artwork can be changed with a new mounting system. I also got to have a close look at the fine printed lines and I gained a better understanding of how these prints are produced. There is so much work in every single print, which further increased my admiration for the beautiful Surimono.

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Jana, working carefully on a fully illuminated page of an Italian manuscript (CBL W  113).

Another project was the in-situ conservation of an Italian parchment manuscript from 1472 (CBL W 113). Due to a very tight library binding some quires of the textblock were loose and had stepped forward. The threads at the centrefolds of these quires had ruptured. Three strong creases parallel to the spine edge had caused further damage. Usually one would humidify the parchment to bring it back to its original shape but in this case the different colourful inks in black, blue, red, green, yellow and purple seemed to be highly sensitive to moisture. To avoid the risk of bleeding, the creases were flattened under dry conditions using only weight and time.

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The tail edge of the manuscript textblock showing the heavily ingrained creases before treatment.

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W 113 before (left) and after treatment (right), showing the successful reduction of an ingrained crease.

The creases could be reduced within a couple of days so that the text is readable again without restriction. I had never tried this method before and I was surprised by how well the treatment worked. Another necessary treatment was the local consolidation of flaking pigment layers on two of the fully illuminated folios. With a very fine brush I applied a special natural adhesive made from sturgeon swim bladder—isinglass—beside the flaky pigment, and capillary action drew the adhesive between the pigment layer and the parchment securing it to the folio again.

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Detail of flaking in the green parakeet in W 113.

The next project I worked on was an Ethiopian manuscript (CBL W 913). The codex is written in Ge’ez, the Ethiopian language, and is dated to the late 17th or early 18th century. The illustrated parchment folios show scenes from the life of Christ and are in an excellent condition. However, the damage to the codex affects the connection between the heavy wooden front board and the textblock. The board attachment was completely broken at the two inner sewing stations and severely damaged at the outer ones. For this reason, there was a high risk that the front board would detach from the textblock, particularly as it needs to be handled for digitisation. To prevent further damage, the two inner sewing stations were supported gently by introducing new threads, led through the original channels in the wooden board and attached to the original thread at the board edge. The two outer sewing stations were supported with twisted Japanese tissue, also led through the board, and then fanned out and pasted to the spine edge of the first quire to distribute the stress away from the delicate original thread.

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Clockwise from top left: Ethiopian manuscript CBL W 913, detail of the broken threads between the wooden boards and textblock; using a curved needle to lead the twisted Japanese paper through the board; after treatment, the new threads stabilise the connection between the board and textblock.

The result is a very honest conservation treatment: the new material is clearly visible because of the brighter colour but it is unobtrusive at the same time. I am a little bit proud of my suggestion to use twisted Japanese tissue because it is very tear-resistant, flexible and versatile. I will definitely keep that technique in mind when working on projects in the future.

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Jana installing a printed book during a rotation in the Arts of the Book gallery.

Beside my conservation treatments I had the opportunity to help with a number of rotations in the permanent exhibition galleries, which needed to be done quickly before visitors walk in at 10 am! Overall, I had the opportunity to see many beautiful objects from the diverse Chester Beatty collections. You can gain an idea of these stunning and detailed objects here.

For conservators, it is very important to work as much as possible on objects to improve and practice the various treatments we learn, and to make sure every method is well-known and reflected upon. At university, it is difficult to spend enough time on objects between classes and exams, that’s why internships are so important. I had a great time at the Chester Beatty Library. My lovely colleagues made me feel very welcome and I was able to improve my skills while learning new things on objects from different times and countries. I gained more self-confidence as a conservator and I am now looking forward to starting my master thesis next year.

13Jana Müller (B.A.), Student at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany

Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, Archives and Library Materials

http://www.abk-stuttgart.de/

http://www.papierrestaurierung.abk-stuttgart.de/