Beauty of the East – Making an Indo-Persian binding

Once you have been to Montefiascone, an Italian town in the province of Viterbo north of Rome, it is hard not to wish to go back again. Overlooking Lake Bolsena and perfectly located in Lazio, close to Tuscany and Umbria, Montefiascone is home to the Montefiascone Conservation Project. Set in the Seminario Barbarigo, the project was founded over 25 years ago by Cheryl Porter, who is now director of the Project. each year conservators, curators, art historians, bookbinders and enthusiasts from all over the world gather to take part in four courses related to the history of the book.

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View from the Seminary in Montefiascone.

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a five-day course about Indo-Persian bindings, taught by Kristine Rose-Beers, with the assistance of Julia Poirier. Pursuing my wish to develop my career and gain more knowledge about non-Western bindings, the class was based on a  model of Chester Beatty manuscript Is 1550, a 17th century Indian Qur’an.

CBL Is 1550

Chester Beatty Is 1550

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a five-day course about Indo-Persian bindings, taught by Kristine Rose-Beers, with the assistance of Julia Poirier. Pursuing my wish to develop my career and gain more knowledge about non-Western bindings, the class was based on a  model of Chester Beatty manuscript Is 1550, a 17th century Indian Qur’an.

The course was introduced by a lecture given by Dr Alison Ohta, Director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Alison guided us through a journey in bookbinding history, starting from Persia and moving to India, placing our manuscript in its historical context. Afterwards, Kristine took the lead and presented CBL Is 1550, to outline the specific characteristics of books bound on the Indian Subcontinent between 1500-1700. The study of these bindings is still in its initial stages, but Kristine shared her on-going research with us.

The practical part of the course focused on making a reconstruction of a traditional Indo-Persian binding structure, based on CBL Is 1550. Starting with a prepared textblock of 20 quires, the book was first sewn using silk coloured thread, following an all-along sewing pattern over leather thongs.

The spine was then reinforced with a textile lining, covering the full length of the spine.  Islamic-style endbands were sewn over thin leather cores, using metallic threads for the decorative secondary endband alongside silk coloured thread. 

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The prepared boards, flap and foredge pieces were then cut to size, perfectly matching the textblock. Traditionally, pasteboards were often made from reused manuscript materials, layered until reaching the desired thickness. Leather for the cover was then prepared. We covered our boards in two pieces: one for the upper board, and a second for the lower board, the foredge piece and the envelope flap.

Indo-Persian binding-09-laminated boards in pressHowever, before attaching the boards to the textblock, the leather needed to be tooled.  The tools used for this model are an exact replica of the tooling used on CBL Is 1550, and were beautifully crafted by Kevin Noakes. Taking advantage of the moisture in the leather immediately after covering, one square tool is repeatedly pressed in to the leather covers and envelope flap, creating delicate arabesques and almond shaped medallions. The foredge piece was decorated using a separate rectangular tool with a flower pattern.

Once tooled, our leather could then be pared, turned-in, and the covers attached to the textblock. When the boards are attached to the book an overlap is created on the spine where the two layers of leather are adhered, one on top of the other.

Precision is key to achieving a perfect and functional binding. Traditionally, the leather used for these books was worked until it was paper-thin; turn-ins and overlaps were made invisible thanks to the bookbinder’s craftsmanship.

Indo-Persian binding-34-final decoration-KRBThe board attachment was completed by adhering the spine lining and sewing supports to the inner part of the boards. After preparing and adhering colourful doublures, the last and perhaps best part of the binding could be carried out: covering our books with gold! Unfortunately, we had to resign ourselves to using fake gold, for ease and financial reasons. Nevertheless, combining painting and stippling techniques, the precious “metal” was not spared on our bindings. “Make it shine” seemed to be the only rule!

Montefiascone has again reached its goal: I learnt a lot about Indo-Persian bindings; I met professionals from abroad and caught up with old friends; all whilst enjoying wonderful discussions about bookbinding and practicing my skills. What else is left to say? Only see you again soon I hope, Montefiascone!

I wish to thank Cheryl Porter, Kristine Rose-Beers, Julia Poirier and Dr Alison Ohta for making this course come to life. I am grateful to the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland ICRI for their contribution to the funding of this course, which made my attendance possible.

Indo-Persian binding-35-completed binding-KRBCécilia Mathieu, former Heritage Council Intern in Conservation (2016-17)


 

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Conserving the Past, Training for the Future: a one day symposium at the Chester Beatty

2018 commemorates the 50th anniversary of Chester Beatty’s death and to mark the occasion a programme of events are being held across the year, including a day-long conservation symposium,  celebrating the conservation internships at the Chester Beatty.

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Conserving the Past, Training for the Future, Symposium at the Chester Beatty Library, June 2018.

Having been an intern at the Chester Beatty from 2014-2015, I know how valuable the internship programme can be for emerging conservators. I was delighted that I was able to attend the symposium, which included a tour of the studio. Here we had the chance to meet all of the past interns that were able to attend, the current intern Alice Derham, as well as Kristine Rose-Beers and Julia Poirier to see the projects they have been working on.

The symposium began with a warm welcome from Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation. Jessica opened the Conservation Department at the Chester Beatty in 2003, and hosted the first conservation internship in 2005. By 2006, the programme was co-funded by the Heritage Council. This short blog will run through the talks presented during the symposium on Friday 8th June 2018.

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Louise O’Connor, now  Conservator at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) became the first intern at the Chester Beatty in 2005. Her talk ‘Conservation internships: Nurturing an acorn’ guided us through the importance of having internships available to train students and recent graduates to ensure not only their development, but to make certain that the skills needed for the preservation of our collections, continues to be developed. Louise took us back through her career, and it is clear that she has taken from her past experiences to ensure that she is able to provide emerging professionals with a varied and valuable experience. Louise is now one of the hosts for the Heritage Council internship held at the NLI.

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Interns past and present had a chance to catch up after the symposium on our wonderful roof garden.

The global-scale of conservation and the many different experiences one can undertake was wonderfully described by Elisabeth Randell, who is currently a conservator at the British Library. Her talk ‘Conservation in motion’ explained how gaining experience in several different heritage institutions in Canada, Ireland and the UK, helped her to discover the pathway she wanted to take, which was ultimately in paper conservation. Being exposed to different collections and methodologies in different countries has given Elisabeth a varied experienced.

After lunch in the sunshine, Kristine introduced the afternoon session. The first speaker was Rachael Smith, Drawings Conservator at Royal Collection Trust, Windsor Castle. She discussed a recent intensive project where she conserved a large collection of Indian paintings and manuscripts on paper. Having worked with similar collections at the Chester Beatty, Rachael detailed the conservation treatments and mounting systems used for this project. It was interesting for Rachael to share her experience during her time at the Chester Beatty, which clearly helped to develop her understanding of Indian collections. Her work at Royal Collection Trust can be seen in the Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London. The project has also expanded to gallery talks, a news feature on BBC London and a short film about the work undertaken, which can be seen here.

In November 2014, Bevan O’Daly undertook a placement at the Chester Beatty to carry out condition assessments and assist with gallery rotations of textile collections with Karen Horton (Textile Conservator). Bevan’s motivation, hard work and enthusiasm for the textile conservation field has led her to her current post as Textile Conservator at the National Trust, after completing a Master’s in Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow in 2017. Her talk ‘How long is a piece of string’ was given by the only non-paper conservator of the day where she discussed the many non-textile materials she has encountered during her time in the field alongside the variety of objects she has treated in the past year.

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Fiona McLees presenting the final paper at the Conservation Symposium.

The last talk of the day was given by Fiona McLees, Paper Conservator at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, who was an intern at the Chester Beatty from 2011-2012. Fiona’s talk ‘Beyond paper: Mummy bandages & sticks of rock’ highlighted the range of work and the variety of objects that can be included in a paper conservator’s remit. From acting as a courier to international institutions to install works of art for display to running a workshop for children about conservation, details the range of responsibilities for the professional.

The day of lectures was incredibly insightful; having worked with Bevan during my time at the Chester Beatty, and Rachael in my current post at Royal Collection Trust, it was pleasing to see the accomplishments of my former and current colleagues. I was delighted to meet the previous interns I had not yet met and to discover more about their experiences and achievements. Similarly, it was a pleasure to catch up with my former colleagues and friends from both the Chester Beatty and other institutions in Dublin.

JessicaI would like to say a special thanks to Jessica for the enormous effort she has put into establishing this internship program. Jessica’s own experiences have enabled her to ensure that interns working at the Chester Beatty have a good team of mentors around them and a healthy and happy life living in Dublin.

I would also like to extend my thanks to Kristine, Julia, Alice and all of the other CB staff who helped to organise such a fantastic day.

Puneeta Sharma, Assistant Drawings Conservator (Prints and Drawings), Royal Collection Trust

Current Chester Beatty intern in Conservation, Alice Derham, will be giving a lunchtime lecture as part of Heritage Week on Wednesday 22nd August at 1:00pm, Intricate Indian Miniatures through the Eyes of a Conservator. Please join us if you can!

Review of the Fourth Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation Meeting (21–22 June 2018)

Ranging in date from 1800 BC to AD 800, the Chester Beatty’s collection of papyrus includes rolls, codices and individual documents from Ancient, Roman, and Coptic Egypt. It includes many works of outstanding importance, with unique documents and, in some cases, the earliest known copies of particular texts. Thanks to an ICRI bursary, I was delighted to be able to attend the Fourth Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation meeting which was held at the British Library Conservation Centre (21–22 June 2018). It provides a unique forum for conservators, curators and researchers to meet and discuss the challenges they face around access and preservation of their papyrus collections. I won’t go into detail about each lecture, but will highlight what I found most relevant to my work at Chester Beatty.

BL_SignThe conference was opened with a series of lectures from British Library staff about cataloguing, digitising and research into their papyrus and ostraca collections. The Library is launching a new online ‘universal viewer’ and has digitised over 3,000 previously published papyrus plates – starting with the largest that are so difficult to handle and deliver to the Reading Rooms. The project required excellent team work and time management to get the plates moved, cleaned and photographed. Conservator Vania Assis then presented fascinating case studies on the conservation of burnt papyrus from the Petrie Museum that had been adhered to goldbeaters’ skin and cartonnage that had been previously dissolved to gain access to the papyrus using a toxic mix of acid and enzymes; thankfully challenges I haven’t had to face. The focus of the next session was online resources and the integration of papyrological databases, it was interesting to learn more about these important resources.

After lunch I took the opportunity to visit the British Library’s imaging studios. This was particularly useful as the Chester Beatty has just started an ambitious project to digitise the entire collection and make it available online. It was extremely interesting to see how they photograph oversized papyrus using a large format Sinar camera and it was exciting to learn more about 3D imaging and developments in augmented reality. The lectures then continued and Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester) started an interesting discussion around cultural ownership and challenged the idea that digitisation somehow makes amends for institutions refusing to repatriate. Museums tend to be cautious about sharing collections until they have been fully catalogued or researched, however the next three speakers highlighted how by sharing images you can open new connections and fields of study and actually stimulate new scholarship and assist with cataloguing; a theme that was returned to in Ruth Duttenhöfer’s (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) talk the next day.

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Displays at the Petrie Museum.

Claudia Kreuzsaler (Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek) gave a very entertaining talk about managing a full stocktake of their 15,000 papyrus plates and the challenges of establishing an accurate count when 1 object might comprise of 24 fragments. The Chester Beatty completed a full inventory of the collection last year, so all the challenges she faced were very familiar.  Clodagh Neligan then introduced the papyrus collection at Trinity College Dublin and eloquently outlined the ongoing programme of conservation. Louise Bascombe and Anna Garnett had presented their Papyrus for the People project last year and with the project coming to an end, it was inspiring to hear all the exciting ways they found to engage local communities, art schools and volunteers at the Petrie Museum. The first day ended with a wine reception at the Petrie, which I had never visited before.  It is a treasure trove of fascinating collections and exhibits. There was an opportunity to discuss their new display cases and app based on beacon technology, which was particularly relevant to ongoing projects at the Chester Beatty.

The second day started with a series of research projects. Adrienn Almasy’s paper on investigating the acquisition and origin of objects at the British Museum was fascinating. BL_Pap Viewing_1

I was delighted to be asked to chair the Conservation Session and particularly enjoyed independent conservators Eve Menei and Laurence Caylux’s lecture on the conservation of two Books of the Dead at the National Museums Liverpool and their approach to problem solving and the selection of glazing material. Machteld van der Feltz’s (Allard Pierson Museum) case study on removing papyrus fragments from cardboard was very practical and useful. Myriam Krutzsch (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) presented the challenge of trying to piece together over 1000 fragments from one Book of the Dead which had been deliberately damaged. She emphasised the importance of close looking and experience in helping to piece it back together and restore it.

After lunch the delegates were given unprecedented access to the British Library’s Literary, Documentary and Oriental Papyri collections. I found the presentation of conservation issues and completed projects by Vania Assis particularly stimulating, as it led to a practical discussion around shared common problems and how we are tackling them.

A key objective for the group is the production of guidelines on the handling, cataloguing and conservation of papyrus collections and the latest version was circulated and discussed at the close of the meeting.

I must start by thanking the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) and the Heritage Council for their financial support that enabled me to attend this fascinating conference.

I would also like to thank the fantastic staff at the British Library for organising such an incredible two-day meeting. It was such a privilege to see so many treasures from the collection and to learn about the digitisation and conservation projects.

With less than 50 participants, it was a great opportunity to meet curators and conservators to discuss the common problems we all face in caring for papyrus.

I’m delighted that the Chester Beatty will be hosting the Fifth meeting and look forward to welcoming everyone to Dublin in June 2019.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation.

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!

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

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

 

Focus on papyrus

Ranging in date from 1800 BC to AD 800, the Chester Beatty Library’s collection of papyrus includes rolls, codices and individual documents from Ancient, Roman, and Coptic Egypt. It includes many works of outstanding importance, with unique documents and, in some cases, the earliest known copies of particular texts. At the end of last week Dr Jill Unkel (Curator of Western Collections) and I attended the third Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation meeting which was hosted by Cambridge University Library (29-30 June). It provides a unique forum for conservators, curators and researchers to meet and discuss the challenges they face around access and preservation of their papyrus collections. I won’t go into detail about each lecture, but the full programme is available here.

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Looking at papyrus in the Conservation & Preservation Department at Cambridge University Library.

The first day started with a fascinating series of talks from colleagues Catherine Ansorge, Anna Johnson, Yasmin Faghihi and Amélie Deblauwe introducing the participants to the papyrus collection at Cambridge University Library. Catherine outlined the formation of the collection, Anna discussed building a papyrus conservation programme from scratch; Yasmin reported on the cataloguing of the Michaelides collection of Arabic papyri and Amélie the way in which digitisation is carried out at the Library.

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Dr Ben Outhwaite introducing the exhibition Discarded History.

We then had a chance to see selected highlights from the collection in a special display after coffee. This was followed by a visit to the Library’s conservation studio where Anna demonstrated the challenges she’s faces conserving the papyrus collections as well as the successes. Dr Ben Outhwaite (Head of the Genizah Research Unit) then gave us a guided tour of the Discarded History exhibition. Ben presented the Chester Beatty annual lecture on the Genizah collection in 2015 and it was fascinating to have an opportunity to see some of the wonderful artefacts he has uncovered on display. Full details on the exhibition are available here, it is well worth a visit.

The afternoon focused on lessons learnt digitising and housing papyrus collections with papers from the British Library, London and Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin. These were particularly useful, as the CBL is about to start in-house digitisation and the papyrus will be a key priority. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London presented a case study with some imaginative initiatives and very successful outcomes on promoting understanding, access and care of its papyrus collection.

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A rare opportunity to look at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book of the Dead of Ramose.

The day finished with a walk to the Fitzwilliam Museum where Head of Conservation, Julie Dawson, presented a two-year research project on the conservation and mounting of The Book of the Dead of Ramose. This fine example of painted and gilded papyrus from the Dynasty 19 (1290-1275BC) was excavated in a thousand pieces in 1922. The group was lucky enough to have a private viewing of the conserved sheets, which due to the sensitive nature of the pigment hasn’t been on display for ten years. It really was the perfect way to end the first day.

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CBL Pma 5, an unconserved section of the Manichean papyri.

The group was initiated by Ilona Regulski, Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum in 2015 and one of the agreed aims of the meetings has been to draw up a ‘papyrus handbook’, focusing on cataloguing papyri. The second day started with a very useful group discussion chaired by Ilona on shared terminology, best practice and as it transpired the variances used in different collections, which was fascinating.

The strength of this meeting is having an opportunity to share current projects and challenges with experts; with this in mind, Jill and I presented a paper entitled The Trouble with Mani. The Library’s remarkable Manichean papyrus codices have a complicated history. Written in Coptic and dated to the fourth century, they include unique sacred texts of a lost religion. They survived the almost total destruction of Manicheanism as well as World War II and the chaos of its aftermath. The poorly preserved papyrus was discovered in 1930 and painstakingly conserved by Dr Hugo Ibscher and his son Rolf. However it remains a complex puzzle for both researchers and conservators due to the challenges of folios in sellotape-sealed Perspex frames and the significant sections that remain unconserved. It will be the topic of a dedicated post in the future.

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Dr Jill Unkel presenting The Trouble with Mani.

Helen Sharp (British Museum) then presented a paper on the recently acquired de Vaucelles papyrus; following removal from old linings and housing she was able to piece the scroll back together in the correct order which was extraordinary. Excellent presentations followed from conservators and curators at the Palau Ribes Collection, Barcelona; Stanford University Libraries, California and John Rylands Library, Manchester. Marieka Kaye (University of Michigan Library) has been exploring new glass technology developed for phone and touch screens and presented her research on how this strong flexible material might be adapted for glazing papyri. Myriam Krutzsch (Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin) concluded the meeting by presenting a list of common damage caused by well-intentioned but poorly judged repairs to papyrus and their effects on the preservation of the texts.

I would like to thank the Cambridge University Library for organising such a fascinating two-day papyrus meeting, chaired by Yasmin Faghihi. It was a great opportunity to meet curators and conservators to discuss the common problems we all face in caring for this incredible material and I’m already looking forward to attending next year’s meeting.

Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections and Conservation

 

Conservation through generations

 

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour.

Between the 3rd and 5th of May the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA) hosted their 2017 symposium, ‘From Generation to Generation – Sharing Knowledge, Connecting People,’ at the Oslo Konserthus in Norway, a wonderful modern building in the heart of this capital city.

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Elizabeth Randell speaking about her experience as an intern at the Chester Beatty and The Oslo Konserthus.

The conference was aimed at exploring the way knowledge and skills are passed on and shared with younger generations of conservators, looking at various teaching programmes worldwide, social media and academic writing amongst other subjects. The conference also focused on practical work, challenges linked to treatments, and our ability as conservators to reflect as we adapt past techniques and create new practices.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to present a research poster on the use and adaptation of yasha at the Chester Beatty Library. Yasha is a natural dye obtained from the cones of the alder tree, which was first introduced to me by the two wonderful conservators, Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson, at the Restorient Studio, in Leiden in The Netherlands.

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Repairs for CBL Heb 751 toned with Yasha (left); harvested yasha cones (right).

In Japanese mounting studios yasha is used to dye the lining papers of both hanging and hand scrolls. The light brown colour obtained from yasha helps to soften the bright white tone of the lining paper and silk so that it is more sympathetic to the delicate tones of historic objects.

Through centuries of practical application, the traditional use of yasha has proven stability and durability which makes it suitable for conservation. Papers dyed with yasha remain pH neutral or slightly alkaline and retain their brightness and colour on ageing.Most plant dyes are light sensitive but yasha is lightfast.2 It continues to be used today for these qualities.
Like many features of the traditional Japanese conservation studio, yasha is now readily available to Western conservators. With a growing interest in adapting conservation techniques imported from East Asia and Japan, the use of alder cones has become a known technique for dyeing paper when working on Japanese or Chinese Art objects. However, its use has rarely been developed outside of this small circle.

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Julia introducing her poster to attendees.

At the conference, the poster session took place on Thursday for over an hour after lunch, when attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about the research presented. I was delighted with the interest the research sparked and feedback I got from different conservators. Some had used the dye previously but were excited to hear about different application techniques, others were keen to be introduced to it and the ways to adapt its use to best suit our practice.

The conference finished with Friday visits organised at various institutions throughout the city, looking at the wonderful conservation work going on in Oslo!

Overall the two day conference was immensely varied and interesting to conservators of all generations who hopefully have learned from each other. The beautiful tributes to the important role of mentoring, teaching and sharing that Christopher Clarkson and Fred Bearman have played in the short history of conservation felt very appropriate with the overall topic of the conference. They will be sadly missed as pioneers and mentors to many.

Aurlandsfjorden

Aurlandsfjorden.

After the conference I took the opportunity to travel to Bergen. Norway is a stunning country and I was delighted to see some of the beautiful scenery, including these most amazing fjords along the way!

 

 

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

 

1 – Yeh, Brigitte. Munn, Jesse (2003) ‘An Evaluation of Xuan Paper Permanence and Discussion of Historical Chinese Paper Materials’ from ‘Scientific Research on the Pictorial Arts of Asia’. Edited by Paul Jett et al. Proceedings of the Second Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery, Washington DC, USA.

2 – Grantham, Sandra; Webber, Pauline, (2002) ‘Mellow yellow: toning papers with traditional Far Eastern colourants’, The Paper Conservator, Vol.26, pp. 49-57.

Reflections on links between Conservation in Dublin and Tokyo

While preparing for the current exhibition on display in our temporary gallery, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (3 March– 27 August 2017), and the supporting gallery rotation in our permanent galleries, I was drawn back to my experience as a participant at the ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation programme in 2015.

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CBL J 1154 on display in the Arts of the Book gallery

One of the painted handscrolls, Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals (Junirui uta awase emaki) CBL J 1154, was selected for display and installed in the permanent galleries to support the current print exhibition which focuses on Japan’s poetry circles. Between 1994 and 1995, the mid-17th century scroll was conserved at the Handa Kyūseidō Studio, Tokyo National Museum, courtesy of the Hirayama Art Research Foundation. Although having been conserved nearly 20 years ago, the scroll is still in perfect condition.

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CBL J 1154 before (left) and after conservation (centre & right) by the Handa Kyūseidō Studio.

As I was installing this beautiful scroll, I remembered with great delight my extra curricula visit to the Handa Kyūseidō conservation studio in September 2015. Set in a peaceful neighbourhood of Tokyo, I was given a comprehensive tour of the traditional conservation studio by Ikuko Handa, the head of conservation at the studio, and Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator at the studio and my course tutor.

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Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator and IICROM course tutor, demonstrating use of the karibari.

The visit was organised thanks to Keiko Furumoto. Keiko was the first Heritage Council conservation intern at the National Library of Ireland in 2007 and she has been working at the Handa Kyūseidō studio since returning to Japan. Since completing her internship, she has regularly returned to Ireland and made one of these visits in early April 2015 – around the same time I found out I had been accepted for the JPC course- so we kept in touch regarding a possible visit to her workplace in Tokyo.

The Handa Kyūseidō studio is set-up across 3 separate floors. The ground floor is a reception and digitisation area, the first floor is dedicated to the conservation of painted hanging scrolls, hand-scrolls and folding screens and the second floor to archive (historical documents), calligraphy and book conservation. Although it is located in a modern building, the studio is everything one would expect from a traditional Japanese conservation studio: low work tables, tatami mats, paste bowls and sieves, drawers full of Japanese repair papers and of course, karibari boards of all sizes lining the walls!

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Julia preparing a handscroll at the ICCROM JPC course (left), and a traditional paste bowl and brushes (right).

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Chester Beatty to reconnect with the prestigious studio, as during the 1990’s the Handa Kyūseidō Studio was also responsible for the restoration of one of the great treasures of the Library, a pair of Japanese picture scrolls entitled Illustrated Scroll of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Chōgonka gakan) CBL J 1158 and the beautiful hanging scroll on silk Portrait of the Bodhisattva Jizō (Jizō zō) CBL J 1214.

The funding for this conservation treatment was provided by the Joint Council for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Japanese Art Works in Foreign Collections, a council made up of The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties and the Art Research Foundation and supported by the Tokyo National Museum.

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Participants of the ICCROM JPC 2015 course in Kyoto.

I am very grateful to Head of Conservation, Ikuko Handa for her kindness and generosity in facilitating my visit, and my tutor Makoto Kawabata for showing me his work outside of the ICCROM JPC course setting. I am also grateful to Keiko Furumoto for acting as a wonderful tour guide and translator during my visit.

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

Shared experiences in Copenhagen

In April, I had the chance to fly to Denmark to be part of the 16th International Seminar on the Care and conservation of manuscripts, which was held in Copenhagen from the 13th to the 15th of April, 2016. It took place in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen. During the three days of the conference various topics were debated, from preservation and conservation case studies, to digital imaging and bookbinding history.

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The Faculty of Humanities, Copenhagen University.

The quality of presentations was very high, and it was difficult to choose a favourite. Going through my notes, I selected the ones that particularly raised my interest; Michaelle Biddle’s talk about her work in Nigeria, and Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris’ presentation about the conservation challenges they faced in Ethiopia were both fascinating. Their creativity carrying out conservation treatments in a less than ideal environment was admirable.

Bookbinding history was well illustrated by Frederick Bearman’s talk on laced overband bindings, and Abigail Quandt’s research on purple-dyed parchment manuscripts. I also learned a lot about digitisation and its possibilities for conservation purposes through, Alberto Campagnolo’s presentation. He demonstrated his PhD research in creating a digital model of the collation of bookbindings. Multi-spectral imaging was also discussed in Michael Toth’s presentation and demonstration.

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Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris’ presentation,“The conservation of a 15th-century large parchment ms of Gädlä säma ‘tat from the monastery of Ura Mäsqäl: Further conservation experiences from Easty Tigray, Ethiopia.”

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Matthew Collins talk about the York biomolecular study of parchment. Using a non-invasive rubbing technique, the York laboratories have managed to extract DNA from old parchment, therefore enabling the study of the animals (such as their species, age, size, etc.) used to create writing supports.

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Presenting my paper with prof. Lieve Watteeuw, “Sewing threads in hand-made West European bookbinding: Historical sources, imaging and analytical assessment (12th– 19th century).”

On the final day of the conference, I also had the privilege to present my MA research project in collaboration with Professor Lieve Watteeuw (KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts, Illuminare – Centre for the Study of Medieval Art). Our presentation, “Sewing threads in hand-made Western European bookbinding: Historical sources, imaging and analytical assessment (12th -19th century)”. It was a wonderful experience and I was delighted to be able to share the results of my MA research with the audience, a subject you can read more about in my previous blog post here).

Attending the conference was also an amazing opportunity to meet other professionals in the field and to discuss conservation! Finally, on the last day of my trip, I even had a few hours to discover how beautiful Copenhagen is.copenhagenThe conference was a huge success, with approximately 220 participants from all around the world. I hope I will have the chance to go back to Copenhagen soon, and attend the next “Care and conservation of manuscripts” conference in April 2018.

Cécilia Duminuco, Heritage Council Intern.