No need for Magic: A simple trick for the display of a Batak manuscript

Amongst the treasures at the Chester Beatty is a small collection of 51 Batak manuscripts – 45 bark books, 4 inscribed bamboos, 1 bone amulet and one paper manuscript. Hailing from North Sumatra in Indonesia, the oldest of these manuscripts is dated to the 19th century. The Batak manuscript culture encompasses written texts on various organic materials including bamboo, bone and tree bark. The bark books, also known as pustaha are divination books, although other subjects such as medicine and magic are also common.

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Right: CBL Sum 1144, a small size bark concertina manuscript held closed with a band of plaited rattan; Left: CBL Sum 1147, an inscribed bamboo rod

In preparation for a rotation of the Batak display case in the Sacred Traditions gallery, I condition checked four bark manuscripts. They were all in good condition and required very little attention, with the exception of one object (CBL Sum 1102).

The bark concertina manuscripts vary in size from some which are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, to others which are around A4 in size. They are made of two wooden covers glued to a folded textblock made from the bark of the alim tree or agarwood. The stiff bark is prepared in rice water to allow it to soften and be folded into a concertina book.

In the typical East Asian fashion, lacquer was used to seal off the raw edges of the bark at head and tail of the concertina textblock. This provided extra strength to the most vulnerable part of the exposed textblock.

Inside the textblock, the text runs vertically in plain black ink, following the folds in the concertina. There are additions of elaborate illustrations and tables within the text, sometimes highlighted in red ink.

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CBL Sum 1129 open textblock

The wooden covers of the Batak manuscripts are sometimes decorated with hand-carving, and always carefully cut to the size of the manuscript or left slightly larger to provide a square which would protect the textblock. To hold the concertina books and their wooden covers together when closed, a band of plaited rattan or sometimes leather is used.

On many examples, handle straps are attached to the upper cover of the larger books. They are made of a dark coarse material, probably tree fibres of the sugar-palm, and roped together to create a handle. This enabled the owner of the manuscript to transport them from site to site and also to store the book on the wall, away from rodents and moisture.

On manuscript CBL Sum 1102, the sugar-palm fibre straps on the manuscript upper board were bent down and had lost their 3-dimensional aspect. As the curator wanted the object to be displayed closed, with the straps held up to give some context to the object and meaning to the straps, we needed to find a solution to support the misshapen straps, as invisibly as possible.

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CBL Sum 1102 with sugar-palm straps bent down

The use of a Perspex or brass rod support underneath the strap was considered and a few unsuccessful ideas were tried out such as Melinex supports, manipulation of the straps and humidification, I decided to go back to basics.

Using a simple thread which was attached to the strap on one side and to the display case fabric on the other, I hoped that the strap would stay in place. Luckily for us, the bend in the strap was facing away from the back of the case. This meant that with a very simple low-tech thread the same colour as the fabric lining the case, I could pull the strap in to place using enough tension to pull it up for the duration of the display. In a worst case scenario, the thread would give way well before any damage to the palm fibres occurred and would only lead to the handle coming back in to its bent position.

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Display of CBL Sum 1102 with straps help up using silk thread

I used an extremely fine 100% orange silk thread which I looped around the book cover handle and into the fabric at the very top of the case and knotting it to itself. The system is extremely discreet and after a few months of display, the thread has held and I am happy to say that the handle is still standing!

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CBL Sum 1102 on display with straps held upright

Working on the display of the Batak manuscripts was extremely rewarding. Problem solving is what conservators love best and I was happy to be able to use a simple, low-tech solution for the display of this manuscript. It is sometimes all you need.

If you want to learn more about Batak manuscripts, I recommend you read this great article by René Teygeler.

Julia Poirier – Book conservator

 

 

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Conserving the past, training for the future

Maintaining and preserving the Chester Beatty Collections and making them available for the use and enjoyment of the public is at the heart of our mission. As followers of this blog will know, the museum has a dedicated Department that specialises in book and paper conservation. In June we are hosting a number of special conservation events, the highlight of which is a one-day symposium Conserving the past, training for the future being held at the Chester Beatty on Friday 8 June.

Per 219 for the Muraqqa exhibition 2010

Former intern, Rachel Sawicki, conserving a Persian concertina album in 2010.

By repairing and stabilising the collections in our care, conservators ensure they can be researched, displayed and preserved for future generations. In 2005, an internship programme was established to train and mentor newly-graduated conservators, generously funded by the Chester Beatty Patrons and the Heritage Council. There is currently no formal conservation training available in Ireland, so the internships offer unique professional development opportunities for newly-qualified Irish and international conservators. The Heritage Council’s internship programme has evolved over the past 12 years, and is currently run in partnership with four other leading cultural institutions.

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Bevan O’Daly working at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio, U.K.

Internships highlight the significance of collaboration, cross–generational skills-sharing and international networks, which are all hallmarks of the conservation profession today. The central theme for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 in Ireland is Make a Connection and the Chester Beatty has organised this one-day symposium as a direct response. This public event will highlight the positive influence the scheme has had on the conservation profession’s network in Ireland, across Europe and beyond.

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Fiona McLees conserving a mezzotint in 2012.

Over twenty interns and placement students specialising in book and paper conservation have been mentored by the staff at the Chester Beatty. Their developing careers have led them to work at leading institutions around the world including the National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, The Tate, V&A, Imperial War Museum, Royal Collection Trust, Bodleian Library, National Trust and the National Libraries of Ireland, Sweden and Australia to name but a few.

For this symposium we have invited five of our alumni to return and present insights into the impact the internship has had on their career and the new challenges they face caring for these extraordinary collections.

The symposium is free to attend, but limited places are available, so booking is essential. We hope to see you there!

Mirror of the World Part II – Conserving and rebinding an early printed copy of Katib Çelebi’s Cihan-numa

The conservation of the Cihan-numa (Mirror of the World) by Haci Halife formed the main project during my Heritage Council internship in Conservation. The project was generously supported by the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF), and has enabled the volume to be rebound in a sympathetic Islamic style binding that will allow the book to be safely handled and displayed.

Printed by Ibrahim Muteferrika in Constantinople in 1732, this book is one of the first books printed in Turkish in Turkey. The book first came into the lab in 2016 because an image of one of the maps was needed for inclusion in ‘The Director’s Choice’ publication. However as the book was housed in an unsympathetic rebinding, in-situ digitisation was not possible. The decision was made to separate the print from the textblock in order to facilitate digitisation. In case you missed the first part of my journey with this object please follow this link, if you’d like, before continuing reading below.

After fully disbinding the textblock, as described in my previous post on this object, the next step was to carry out paper repair of the folios. The repair necessary was quite substantial due to the sawn in recesses along the spine and unsuitable previous repairs. The paper repairs were done on a lightbox with Japanese paper and very dry wheat starch paste to prevent water staining; coloured areas and those with copper corrosion were repaired with remoistenable tissue.

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Tracing the shape of the repair onto the Japanese paper and placing the repair along the fold of the folio.

After finishing the paper repairs on the Cihan-numa, the few quires that were not single bifolios were tacketed with a sewing thread at head and tail to prevent the inner folios from slipping out of the quires.

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Tacketing the textblock (left), and the textblock with all tackets in place (right).

After tacketing, the spinefolds of the folios were pressed locally to reduce the swell added in this area by the paper repairs. Two narrow pieces of strong Tschudi Eterno board were cut and sanded to remove hard edges. The board strips were then attached to wooden boards, allowing pressure to be applied in this narrow area.

The localised pressing considerably reduced the swell caused by the paper repairs. However, when putting the quires back together to form a textblock, it became clear that the swell needed to be reduced even further. The quires needed time and localised weight in order to settle. After about a week of sitting under a board and being weighed-down along the back of the textblock, the quires had settled enough to start the process of sewing. The textblock was resewn with a link-stitch on four stations, located at points identified during the repair and documentation process.

To accommodate the bulk added to the back of the textblock through the paper repairs, the sewing was carried out ‘two-on.’ This means that the sewing thread does not pass through every quire evenly, but that the sewing passes between two quires as it moves from one end of the spine to the other. The first and last two quires are sewn throughout—or ‘all-along’—because although the two-on sewing reduces the amount of swell added by the thread, it is also not quite as strong as sewing all along. The addition of a spine lining and endbands further strengthens the two-on sewing structure.

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Sewing the textblock (left), and consolidating the sewn quires with a bone folder (right).

Due to the heavily rounded-and-backed previous binding style, the paper textblock had a strong physical memory of a substantially rounded spine profile. This is not a feature that is typical for an Islamic binding, which usually has either a flat or slightly rounded spine. Once the sewing was finished the tackets were removed. A light application of wheat starch paste was added to the spine to stabilise the textblock. The application of the wheat starch paste is the first step toward setting the profile of the spine in a more appropriate shape.

The rest of the binding was informed by my colleague, Kristine Rose-Beers’ research with Ana Beny on the historic Andalucían binding, as an inspiration for the conservation of historic Islamic material. This binding style is characterised by an underlying textile and paper spine lining, which forms the fundamental attachment between boards and the textblock. The spine lining used for the rebinding of the Cihan-numa is a modified version of the historic examples seen in Andalucían Islamic bindings. It was constructed in the following way:

First, a woven linen textile was lined with Japanese paper. It was cut to size extending in length about 2 cm above the head and tail of the textblock and in width 5 cm on either side of the spine. The textile and paper lining was then attached to the textblock by sewing it through the last quire, with the textile facing the spine.

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Attaching the card to the spine lining (left), and sewing the spine lining to the first quire (right).

After this, a thin piece of card was adhered inside the textile lining. The card was cut to the precise dimensions of the spine and attached to the textile side of the spine lining. It was rubbed down first by hand and then with a bone folder to ensure a good attachment to the textile, and to ensure the spine lining is formed precisely to the spine profile.  The lining was then completely attached to the textblock by sewing it in place through the first quire, and left to dry shaped around the spine.

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Cutting and folding the spine lining (left), and adding the leather core.

The spine lining, which extends over the head and tail of the textblock, was folded down to form a core for the endband. An additional traditional leather core was added to further stabilise this structure.

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Sewing the primary endband (left), and the finished primary endband (right).

The primary endbands were sewn through the spine lining, further securing the attachment to the textblock Due to the large number of quires in the Cihan-numa, the primary endband was only tied down at every fourth quire of the volume.

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Sewing the secondary endband (left), and the finished chevron-patterned secondary endband.

On top of the primary endband, a secondary endband with a chevron pattern was added. The secondary endband usually consists of two colours. I chose a light green as my leading colour, because I found a little thread remnant in a light green in one of the original endband holes. The second rose colour complemented the green nicely.

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Opening of the textblock without…                 …and with the endband!

Because endbands often look so pretty, it is sometimes forgotten that they have a very important structural role in the physics of a binding. They play an important part in supporting the sewing structure and change the opening characteristics of the textblock dramatically.

Once the endbands were sewn, the new Tschudi Eterno boards were attached to the textblock using the extended spine lining. Localised pressing of the boards in a standing press ensured that the attachment was secure.

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Positioning the spine lining inside the split boards and attaching the boards in the standing press.

At this stage, the book was ready for covering. I edge-pared a maroon coloured goatskin in preparation. The leather was humidified before any wheat starch paste was applied. This humidification increases the working time when covering, and makes the leather suppler while working it around the shape of the book.

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Covering the volume in maroon goatskin leather.

Although the previous binding of the Cihan-numa did not have an envelope flap, they are often a feature of 18th century Turkish Islamic bindings. For this reason, and in order to further protect the textblock and balance out its slight wedge-shape, the decision was made to add an envelope flap to its new binding.

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AA306 after conservation.

The conservation of this volume was very interesting to me, as it was my first encounter with Islamic material. The research was very exciting, albeit difficult due to the lack of information available on the subject of early Turkish printed books. Though not particularly challenging in itself, the sheer volume of the paper repairs was also quite daunting!

AA306_03_002_final (7)The most interesting bit of the conservation was definitely the sewing technique and the endbands, which are both so fundamentally important to the structure and the functionality of the book. It was beautiful to see the book come together again in the end, and to be able to see the difference my conservation treatment has made to the book’s opening characteristics.

Working on such a wonderful collection has many perks, and due to my work on this interesting object, I was invited by Pádraig Ó Macháin, Professor of modern Irish at University College Cork, to give a talk about my internship project as part of an afternoon seminar titled “Beyond the text: the functionality and materiality of the book”. The other speakers were John Gillis from Trinity College Dublin, Agata Dierick from the City Archive of Leuven and Daniela Iacopino and Pádraig Ó Macháin from UCC. It was a wonderful experience to be invited and to have the chance to discuss my research with a professional audience at UCC.

My internship at the Chester Beatty Library has been enriching, insightful and simply wonderful all around. I have learned so much through working together with incredibly kind and knowledgeable colleagues. A new area of objects, their preservation and conservation were opened to me and the opportunities the Library has given me throughout the year to continue my professional development have truly been exceptional.

Dorothea Müller, Former Heritage Council Intern in Conservation

Dorothea is now working at the Bibliotheca Augusta in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.

 

Conservation collective Copenhagen

The seventeenth seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts, was held at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark from 11th to 13th April 2018. This well-established seminar provides an international forum for discussion and exchange between conservators and specialists from related disciplines.

In November last year, both Julia Poirier and I were delighted to hear that our abstracts had been successful and that we had been invited to speak at this event.

My paper, ‘Exploring the materiality of the early Islamic book: preparing to conserve an early Qur’an manuscript in the collections of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty,’ presented the initial findings from my work to conserve CBL Is 1404. Comprised of 201 folios and measuring around 47 x 38 cm, current scholarship suggests that this large Qur’an manuscript is Umayyad—that is it was made before 750 AD under the courtly patronage of the Umayyad Dynasty. It was most likely written on the Arabian Peninsula, possibly in Sana’a, in Yemen.

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CBL Is 1404

The manuscript has suffered extensive water damage and subsequent corrosion of the iron containing ink it was written with. It has in turn been subject to numerous layers of previous repairs, many of which are now failing, ineffective, and incurring damage to the manuscript. The weight and extent of the repairs was severely restricting the movement of the parchment folios, causing them to buckle and distort unevenly. This in turn was further aggravating the embrittled and ink-damaged parchment, causing it to fragment when flexed. Although the scale of the task was rather daunting, it was clear that these old repairs would need to be released if the manuscript was to be stabilised sufficiently to allow scholarly access or perhaps even display.

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CBL Is 1404 f.13 before, during, and after conservation.

My presentation included details of my treatment methodologies as well as the first results of EQuIP (Early Qur’an Illumination on Parchment) material analysis undertaken in collaboration with the EU-funded MOLAB, and the Books and Beasts BioArCh project at the University of York.

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Presenting my paper. Thank you Sam Foley for capturing the moment!

As well as presenting my own work and receiving feedback from fellow conservators, attending this well-respected conference in Copenhagen gave me the chance to develop relationships with colleagues internationally,  allowing me to expand my research on the materiality of early Qur’anic manuscripts. The chance to hear presentations from conservators working with diverse manuscript collections around the world was invaluable to my understanding of the latest developments in the conservation profession.

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Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper on Sikh codices.

I was particularly interested to hear Jasdip Singh Dhillon’s paper, ‘Sikh codices with Islamicate bindings: The development of a conservation approach.’ Jasdip works at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and Pothi Seva, and presented his ground-breaking research on the multiple influences on the Sikh binding structure.

Another fascinating paper was presented by Andrew Honey from the Bodleian Library’s conservation team. Andrew’s reflections on working alongside the late Christopher Clarkson to conserve the Winchester Bible, and subsequently continuing with this treatment after Chris’ death, provided a nuanced and personal account of both the great man, and a great manuscript.

JjoZxv9M_400x400‘The biology of the book: Future prospects for biology as a handmaiden to conservation,’ introduced the Beasts to Craft Advanced ERC project team, and announced their recent award of €2.5 million from the European Research Council. The team members include Matthew Collins, Jiři Vnouček, Élodie Lévêque and Sarah Fiddyment, all of whom are working on the latest developments in parchment production, manuscript materiality and conservation. Their ERC funding ensures that this fascinating project can explore new areas of research relating to animal husbandry, parchment manufacture, and the microbiome of individual skins. The opportunity to discuss my own work on CBL Is 1404 with them was invaluable.

Julia’s paper on the history of Samaritan manuscript production was utterly fascinating, and there were audible gasps from the audience in the lecture theatre as she explained and illustrated the unique wooden spine stiffener binding type she has observed. Other excellent papers were given by Georgios Boudalis, Nikki Tomkins, and Nil Baydar amongst others. The standard of presentations was exceedingly high, and all of the speakers provided fascinating insights into their work.

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Julia Poirier presenting her research on Samaritan bindings.

As a practicing conservator, continuing professional development is an essential part of my duty to maintain professional standards at work. As such, I remain exceedingly grateful for the support of the Chester Beatty, ICRI  and the Heritage Council of Ireland , who facilitated my attendance at this event.

Care and Conservation 17 was directly relevant to my work on the conservation of illuminated manuscripts at the Chester Beatty. It was also particularly valuable to have the opportunity to renew relationships with colleagues working across Europe and the USA, and to share our enthusiasm about continuing projects.

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

After the conference, I took the opportunity to explore Copenhagen and visit the David Collection. This beautiful collection of Islamic art, contemporary Danish paintings, and decorative objects is often compared with the Chester Beatty, and provided a very pleasant venue for a morning of exploration. Their current exhibition offered an incredibly informative insight to an often misunderstood subject, The Human Figure in Islamic Art – Holy Men, Princes, and Commoners (November 24th 2017 to May 13th 2018).

 

Kristine Rose-Beers ACR, Senior Conservator

Miniature Masterpiece: Repair Work Revealed

Earlier this year 144 fifteenth-century medieval miniatures from one of the Chester Beatty’s most treasured works, The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082), were re-mounted by the conservation team in preparation for the temporary exhibition, Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours (9th March – 2nd September 2018).

In general, the miniatures were in good condition and did not require any treatment prior to re-mounting, but one particular miniature, CBL W 082 f.295, required rather more care and attention.

An unsympathetic historic repair along the spine edge of the folio had caused the parchment to deteriorate and it was decided that conservation treatment would be beneficial, in order to improve the physical and chemical stability of the folio before it was mounted. For more information on the mounting process do take a look at our previous blog post here.

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CBL W 082 f.295 before conservation.

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CBL W 082 f.295 in transmitted light.

Four distinct areas of damage were visible along the spine edge of folio 295. It is likely that the losses may have occurred when the folio was removed from its binding, and could possibly correspond with the sewing stations of this previous structure.  Unfortunately, when the damaged areas were repaired, the infill paper that was used was thicker, more yellow and several shades lighter than the original parchment, immediately detracting from the delicate illumination. When viewing the folio in transmitted light, it could be seen that the repair paper overlapped the parchment on both the recto and verso by 1-5mm. This overlap was not only visually displeasing, but also increased the risk of tensions occurring if the folio were to expand and contract in response to changes in relative humidity. In addition, the parchment along the repair edge had darkened and become embrittled, possibly due to aging of the adhesive with which the repair was applied.

For these reasons, it was decided that the historic repair and any residual adhesive should be removed, in order to prevent any further deterioration of the parchment support. Since parchment is very sensitive to moisture, mechanical removal of the repair was attempted in the first instance, but this was not successful. Instead, a small damp brush was used to introduce just enough moisture to swell the adhesive so that the repairs and adhesive could be carefully removed with a small dental tool.

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Removing the historic repairs from CBL W 082 f.295.

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CBL W 082 f.259 after the historic repairs had been removed.

As often occurs during conservation treatments, there was a stage where the object looked a lot worse than before the treatment began! As well as revealing the true extent of loss to the spine edge, removing the old repair revealed two small tears in the parchment. These were repaired on the verso of the folio using RK2 remoistenable tissue, prepared using isinglass (a proteinaceous adhesive derived from the swim bladder of sturgeon fish). Isinglass was chosen for its excellent ageing properties as well as its strong adhesion at low concentrations. It is also a collagen-based material, just like parchment. The prepared remoistenable tissue was cut to the desired shape and peeled off its Melinex backing. Then the repair paper was carefully positioned over the tear, activated with a damp brush and left to dry under a small weight. When dry, the two tear repairs were trimmed down and the folio was ready to be infilled.

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Details showing the torn areas on CBL W 082 f.295 before (left) and after (right) repairing with remoistenable tissue.

The paper chosen for the infills was a Japanese sekishu paper (20 gsm), dyed with yasha (click here for more information on how this was prepared). The paper was thinner and lighter than the parchment, to ensure that it would work in harmony with the folio and avoid incurring any tensions between the two materials.

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Tools used for infilling.

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Infilling losses using sekishu paper.

The folio was placed over a light box and a layer of Melinex was used as a barrier between the folio and the repair paper above. This allowed the shape of the first damaged area to be traced onto the repair paper with a water pen. A bamboo spatula was used to score along the same line and to tease away the remaining paper, revealing a feathered edge. Next, the edge of each infill was trimmed down with scissors and pasted with wheat starch paste. Over the light box, each infill was carefully positioned (with a 1mm overlap between the repair and the folio) and left to dry under light pressure. After treatment, the folio was mounted in the same way as the other miniatures and is currently on display in the Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition.

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CBL W 082 f.295 after treatment.

As an intern, this small project was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about parchment conservation. Discussing treatment options with the conservation team here at the Chester Beatty Library was an invaluable experience and I look forward to applying what I have learnt to new parchment projects in the future.

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose-Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.

 

 

Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours

The conservation team have been busy preparing 144 exquisite illuminated miniatures from a manuscript dating to c. 1443, for our next temporary exhibition ‘Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours’.

The Coëtivy Hours (CBL W 082) was made for the renowned book collector, Prigent de Coëtivy (1400-1450), who was Admiral of France at the time. The book was specifically commissioned to commemorate his marriage to Marie de Rais in Paris in 1444. Nearly 500 years later, the book was given to Chester Beatty by his wife, Edith, on the occasion of their wedding anniversary in 1919.

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Fig. 1. The Coëtivy Book of Hours (left) and miniatures housed between glass (right), before conservation.

The tiny manuscript (14.2 x 11.3 x 4.2 cm) is bound in an intricately tooled early nineteenth-century binding. The 364 folios are skilfully painted, with highly decorative borders throughout the manuscript.  However, 144 of the 148 three-quarter page miniatures were removed from the book by Beatty soon after it came into his collection, as he wanted people to be able to ‘look at them as closely as they want and study them properly’. They were therefore stored between glass to aid their preservation and display.

Although the book itself did not require conservation treatment, it was decided that the miniatures should be removed from the glass in order to facilitate their digitisation and enable safe handling by researchers in the future. When the glass sandwiches were opened, it became clear that each folio had been attached to the glass at the top and bottom of the spine edge with pressure-sensitive tape. Thankfully, the carrier of the tape was easily removed with a metal spatula. The rubber-based adhesive left dark residual staining, but it was decided that this would not be removed as in some cases the staining was in contact with the original media and solvent treatment would be too risky.

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Fig. 2. Removing folio 291 from glass.

The parchment folios of the manuscript are very thin and have very few visible flaws, indicating that they were made from carefully selected and evenly prepared skins. Scientific analysis by the BioArCh team at the University of York revealed that both calf and goatskin were used in the Coëtivy Hours. Overall, the media was in excellent condition, and did not require consolidation. In some areas there were losses to the blue pigment and gold leaf, but the areas around these losses appeared to be stable and, when examined closely, there was no active flaking of the media.

After the folios were condition checked, the new Digital Department at the Chester Beatty Library took high quality images of every folio using a Phase One XF camera with an IQ380 attachment, capable of producing images with a resolution of 80 megapixels (look out for the new digitisation blog that is coming soon!). The opening of the nineteenth-century binding was somewhat restricted, allowing it to open to little more than 90 degrees, so the conservation team provided advice on handling and helped to ensure the manuscript was supported on a cradle throughout digitisation, whilst the pages were held in place with polyethylene straps from Benchmark.

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Fig. 3. Digitisation of the Coëtivy Book of Hours.

When devising a mounting system for the individual parchment folios, it was important to choose a system that would be strong enough to hold the folios safely in place during display and handling, but allow the parchment to move with natural fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. The mounting system also needed to take into account the unique contours of each folio. For this reason, a bespoke system of Japanese paper tabs was used to mount the folios within window mounts.

The majority of the folios were mounted in pairs, in a standard size mount made from acid-free, buffered Conservation Board (1650 micron), with a standardised aperture. Each folio was over mounted on the spine edge only, with the other three edges floated just a couple of millimetres inside the aperture. This partial float mounting system ensured that each folio was held in place securely, but also offered room for the parchment to expand and contract. Aesthetically, the mounting also reflects the character of the object and reminds the viewer that the miniatures are not only artworks in their own right, but are folios from a bound manuscript volume.

Two sizes of tabs were used on each folio – two 25mm tabs of Japanese sekishu paper were adhered to the spine edge and 3-5 smaller 15mm tabs of a lighter weight Japanese usumino paper were attached along the other three edges. For each tab, the edge in contact with the object was water-cut and then trimmed down with scissors.

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Fig. 4. Tabs of Japanese paper, with trimmed water-cut edges, for hinging the folios to the mounts.

The tabs were attached to the folios, with an overlap of less than 2mm, using wheat starch paste and left to dry underneath Bondina, blotting paper and small bag weights.

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Fig. 5. Attaching the Japanese paper tabs to the verso of each folio using wheat starch paste.

In terms of positioning, the two spine tabs were placed about 7mm from the bottom and top edges, to reduce the risk of the corners catching when the verso of each folio is viewed. In some cases, the position of these tabs needed to be shifted in order to avoid the red ruling lines.

The level of planar distortion varied from folio to folio, as the parchment not only had a memory of being in a bound volume but also the memory of being part of an animal skin! To account for this variation, the smaller tabs were positioned on a case-by-case basis, allowing each folio to lie as flat as possible whilst also allowing some movement. No more than 5 staggered paper tabs per folio were added, to reduce the risk of tensions arising and cockling.

2018_Composite_ImagesFig. 6. Folios 241 and 270 during treatment, showing the positions of the Japanese paper tabs.

Next, each pair of folios was positioned in their mount and the tabs on the spine edge were pasted to the back board of the mount. A Teflon folder was used to ensure a strong attachment.

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Fig. 7. Attaching the tabbed folios to the mounts using wheat starch paste.

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Fig. 8. Folios 294 and 295 after mounting.

The final stage in preparing these folios for exhibition involved framing the mounted miniatures in bespoke gold frames and then hanging them in the midnight blue temporary gallery, so the beautiful illuminations sparkled.

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Fig. 9. Framing the folios in the lab (left) and installing the exhibition (right).

Alice Derham, Conservation Intern

The Miniature Masterpiece: The Coëtivy Hours exhibition is on display from 9 March until 2 September 2018. We do hope you’ll come along to see it!

A lavishly illustrated catalogue by exhibition curator Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of the Western Collection), with contributions from Dr Laura Cleaver (Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art at Trinity College Dublin), and our own Kristine Rose Beers (Senior Book Conservator), is available from the Library’s gift shop for anyone who wants to have an even closer look at the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece.

Stamp of approval

When Sir Alfred Chester Beatty died on 19 January 1968 he bequeathed his world-famous collection of rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts to the Irish people.

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of his death and his extraordinary gift to the nation, a special twelve month programme of events was launched by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D. on 19 January 2018.

CBL Archive:

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. (c) The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

The Library also unveiled a series of four commemorative postage stamps from An Post featuring works from across the Collections. It was a real pleasure to be involved in the project, so I thought I’d write a short piece on how it came about and share some details on the artworks pictured.

The call for suggestions for 2018 commemorative stamps was issued by An Post at the beginning of 2016 and the Library submitted a proposal to the Philatelic Advisory Committee (PAC) that March. This independent committee assesses all proposals received for special and commemorative stamps and recommends the subjects for inclusion in each annual programme.

We were delighted to hear that our request had been initially recommended by the Committee and that Zinc Design had been appointed to work with us on developing four €1 stamps. The challenge then began: with over 27,000 objects to choose from, trying to select just four images that best represented the Collection and that might suit the diminutive format of a stamp seemed an impossible task. However after a series of meetings with the Curators and Director we shortlisted twelve images that we felt best represented the life of Chester Beatty and our three main collections – East Asian, Islamic and Western.

In December 2016, the Director and I met with the designer and An Post’s Philatelic Manager to review possible designs. After much discussion we all agreed on a final winning selection.

The next step was to take high resolution photographs of the collection items, and the final stamp proofs were then sent to the Board of An Post for ratification. The Library was under strict instructions not to share the exciting news of the stamps until they were finally approved by Government at the end of 2017 and the anticipation within the museum was keen.

Chester Beatty was an avid stamp collector from an early age and this is often cited as the start of his great passion for collecting. It was therefore a most appropriate tribute to be able to launch the stamps on the 50th anniversary of his death on the 19 January 2018.

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Left to right: Jessica Baldwin, Minister Madigan T.D., David McRedmond, Dr Catherine Day (Chair of the Board of Trustees), Fionnuala Croke (Director)

The four new €1 stamps feature a portrait photograph of Alfred Chester Beatty (c.1911) and detail images from the collections: Birth of the Virgin (Simon Bening c.1530, Belgium); Shah Jahan (Bichitr c.1630, India) and Allusions to the Seven Lucky Gods: Daikoku (Yashima Gakutei c.1825, Japan). Despite only measuring 52 x 30mm, this cohesive set of stamps beautifully illustrates the collections.

Speaking at the launch, David McRedmond, Group CEO of An Post said: “We think of stamps as ambassadors for Ireland as they travel across the globe, telling the story of Irish life, heritage and culture. With these stamps, Ireland celebrates the vision and generosity of Chester Beatty and the ongoing success and vibrancy of this wonderful museum as it continues to delight and inform Irish and international visitors.” I couldn’t say it better myself, it seems the perfect way to thank Chester for his incredible gift, considered the greatest ever given to the nation.

The four stamps, along with a specially designed First Day Cover envelope, are available to purchase in the Chester Beatty Shop as well as main post offices, Dublin’s GPO or online.

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The four new €1 stamps feature a portrait photograph of Alfred Chester Beatty (c.1911) and images from the collections: Birth of the Virgin (detail) (Simon Bening c.1530, Belgium); Shah Jahan (detail) (Bichitr c.1630, India) and Allusions to the Seven Lucky Gods: Daikoku (detail) (Yashima Gakutei c.1825, Japan). The first day cover shows an oriental figural snuff-bottle from the collections (c.1790-1830, Jingdezhen, China).

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections

Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art– Materials and Techniques of Surimono Prints  

Surimono prints were the focus of the exhibition “The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints” on display at the Chester Beatty Library in the spring-summer 2017. This exhibition of 95 single prints and poetry books from the collection gave us a chance to study in detail the making, techniques and materials of Japanese woodblock prints, especially focusing on the more elaborate Surimono.

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“The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints,” an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library.

The most lavish of Japanese prints, the quality and refinement of Surimono appealed greatly to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. He acquired the greater part of his Surimono collection- a collection that is considered one of finest in the world- between 1954 and 1963, having already moved his Library to Dublin.

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CBL J 2078, Writing Table, by Gakutei.

The word Surimono means simply ‘printed thing’. Prepared as gifts for exchange among friends and acquaintances at New Year and on other special occasions, these privately-published prints were products of the flourishing literary culture of Edo Japan. The Surimono commissioned by poetry circles in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combine short verses composed at poetry gatherings with designs prepared by leading artists. Taking their subjects from the scholar’s desk and the literary canons of Japan and China, Surimono embody the eloquence and amity of these cultivated salons and offer a glittering glimpse into a world rich in playful allusion.

Because of its small audience and private funding, Surimono artists and printers could produce exquisitely refined prints with delicacy and great care. They were usually limited to between 50 and 150 copies.

The basic printing technique used to create Surimono prints was similar to the commercial Ukiyo-e prints although the Surimono prints appear to be much more intricate in design. They exhibit finer and much more elaborate details, more colours, more patterns, more blocks and therefore no expense was spared.

Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art

Details of Surimono prints showing the intricacy of the design.

Japanese woodblock printing is a technique which involves the use of many different blocks of wood to produce one multi-colour print. The wood commonly used for the block is a hard cherry wood which was prepared and planed to achieve a smooth surface. The age of the block and the preparation had a direct impact on the finish achieved in the prints.

The design is first drawn on paper and then pasted face down with a starch paste onto a wooden block so that the design is reversed, ready to be carved and printed the right way up.  The block carver then cuts the design into the block by preserving the raised motif which will be printed.

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The initial drawing is adhered to the wood block (left); the wood carver cutting into the wood to created the raised motif (right).

The key block (Omohan) was produced first. It was printed in black and at this point annotated by the artist to describe which colours should be used where. With this decided, the other blocks for the different colours were carved.

Kento is the registration system traditionally used by Japanese printmakers.  It includes two parts, the hikitsuke kento (line stop) and kagi kento (key). Multi-colour woodblock prints require a separate block for each colour, and the kento marks insure the blocks are aligned with precision to print the colours on the paper.

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The Kento Registration System.

To prepare for printing, the pigments were mixed with water and sometimes animal glue (nikawa) in ceramic bowls. The block was moistened first and the pigment was applied with a brush onto the surface of the woodblock. There are different type of brushes available depending on the size of the area to be coloured and the desired effects. For example, tonal gradation could be achieved at this stage by using dampened cloth or water brushes to apply the pigment to the block.

The printing paper was dampened before being positioned onto the block using the kento marks. Next the back of the sheet was rubbed over the coloured block using the baren, a circular printing pad. The process of applying the colourants onto the block and rubbing them into the paper with the baren was repeated until the desired colour saturation was obtained.

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The printer applying pigment to the block (left); and then applying pressure to paper with the baren to print the design (right).

The paper used for Surimono prints is a kozo paper with strong fibres that tends to be heavier and more absorbent than the paper used for commercial prints. It is believed to be unsized, although a small amount of sizing might have been used to avoid smudging of the colourants in the areas that are printed.

The full sheet of o-bosho paper or “presentation paper” is 39 x 53.5 cm but was not commonly used as a whole. Rather the sheet would have been cut into different sized pieces, following established patterns to obtain different formats. The most common format is Shikishi-ban, an almost square sheet about 21 x 19 cm, which became the standard for Surimono printing and was rarely used for Ukiyo-e prints.

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CBL J 2107 Shikishi-ban format.

There are two important differences to note between commercial Ukiyo-e and Surimono which are central to understanding Surimono. The first one is to emphasize Surimono prints as luxury objects with extensive use of precious materials. These include the heavy, unsized paper and the use of mica powder and metal pigments. The prints were also more labour intensive to produce, using more elaborate techniques. Surimono printers used the highest quality and the finest materials available as well as showing off their finest printing skills.

The second major difference is that the poem which accompanied each image was carved into a separate block than the key block, by a wood carver specialising in cutting script. This block would usually display the finest lines and imitate calligraphy perfectly.

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Detail of CBL J 2107 showing a variety of effects used to reproduce different fabrics.

The use of metal pigment is common on Surimono prints. However, real gold and silver are rarely found. Instead brass, copper and tin are quite frequently used, sometimes as a background, but quite often to highlight small areas of the design. The metal powder was mixed with large amounts of animal glue (nikawa) and printed on the paper last to avoid transfers of the large metal particles onto the paper during the printing process.

 

 

 

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CBL J 2078, Fluidity of the line of text.

Mica (kira) is composed of phyllosilicate minerals. The white luminescent appearance was used to highlight prints. A mixture of glue, usually a gum, and the mica powder was applied to the block and then printed gently with the baren. It was sometimes applied above a coloured ground or mixed with the pigment before printing. Another method is to cut a stencil, place it over the print, and brush the glue directly onto the paper and lightly apply the mica powder onto it and brush any excess off once dry.

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CBL J 2313, Use of mica powder to highlight the body of the watch.

Maybe the most striking difference between ukiyo-e prints and Surimono is the extensive use of embossing-a technique which is not commonly used in ukiyo-e. There are a number of ways in which this was achieved.

Blind printing (Karazuri) is a form of printing without the use of any pigment. The technique involves carving a pattern into a woodblock and then printing it in the usual way, but without any pigment. The pressure of the baren on the back of the paper causes part of the paper to be squeezed between the wood and the baren, and flattened. This type of embossing is the most common and the one often used for highlights.

In areas of Surimono where the embossing appears to be coloured, it means that the pigment has been applied before the embossing, multiplying the amount of work necessary.

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CBL J 2284, Blind embossing and coloured embossing.

Convex embossing (Kimedashi) was produced by removing a concave area in the block and pressing the piece of paper over it. The paper is pushed down into the carved spaces of the block and moulded into a new shape. This type of embossing was often used for larger areas where the mark of the embossing is visible at the verso and the paper does not remain flat.

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CBL J 2102, Convex embossing on the wine flask (left and centre), is especially visible with raking light on the verso of the print (right).

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CBL J 2179, Mount Fuji, by Hokusai

The exhibition and the catalogue were a real dive into a marvelous world of beauty and luxury. Because privately commissioned, cost was no object and this shows in the wealth of techniques and materials that the artist, wood carvers and printers used to produce the Surimono prints. Leading artists such as Hokusai and other prestigious Ukiyo-e artists dedicated large portions of their work producing these refined Surimono prints.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator

 

 

 

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

 

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/