Flattening Techniques for Documents: Putting What We Learned to Practice

This past May, I attended a workshop on humidification and flattening techniques for documents at the Preservation Lab inside University of Cincinnati’s Langsam Library, with two of my colleagues, Teresa and Carla. The workshop was held by the Ohio Preservation Council and was led by Kathy Lechuga, a book conservator at the Indiana Historical Society. We were very excited about what we learned and immediately started gathering what we needed to practice these techniques. Our results have been very promising and we wanted to share some of the techniques we put into practice as well as some of our results.

Before shot of a certificate prior to being placed in the humidification chamber.

Before shot of a certificate prior to being placed in the humidification chamber.

With archival collections we often receive several rolled documents and photographs. Flattening documents dry is ideal. It is the least risky flattening method to use since it does not involve introducing any foreign elements to the item. If the item can be gently unrolled without forcing or damaging it then flattening dry is possible. This involves placing the item under Plexiglas and weights or placing it in a press. However, if the item won’t unroll easily it helps to slowly humidify it. At the workshop we were shown three methods of humidifying documents and photographs. Teresa and I have started working with two of these methods.

Certificate inside the humidification chamber.

Certificate inside the humidification chamber.

The first method involves a humidification chamber, using clear plastic bins, egg crates, distilled water and blotter paper. We cut the egg crates and blotter paper to fit the inside of the bins. With a clean spray bottle filled with distilled water we lightly sprayed the blotter paper; the paper must be damp, not soaked. The dampness of the blotter paper determines how quickly humidity is introduced to the item. The more delicate the item the slower we humidify. The fragility of the item and the dampness of the blotter paper will also affect how often you will check on the items you are humidifying. Once the blotter paper is damp we lay it at the bottom of the bin, place two supports on top of the paper, and then the egg crate on top of the supports. You can use thick pieces of clean plastic for the supports;we layered leftover pieces of the egg crates. The document is then placed on the egg crate and the bin is sealed. You may want to check on the item more or less often

After shot of flattened certificate.

After shot of flattened certificate.

depending on the thickness of the paper. A good way of measuring the humidity level is by using humidity cards. Once enough humidity has been introduced, the item is placed between blotting paper and inserted in one of our presses to dry. We then wait a couple of days to a week and periodically check it to make sure that the item is completely dry.

Before shot of poster.

Before shot of poster.

The second method we used is called local humidification. This process is more aggressive and is used for creased paper items. Generally this is best implemented for smaller items since the process is aggressive and can be time consuming. That being said, we implemented this process for a poster that had been folded up and stuck into a scrapbook since the 1930s. After unfolding it we saw that the poster was severely creased. Due to the frailty of the poster, Teresa and I thought it was best to encapsulate it. This required flattening out the creases. For local humidification you need distilled water, a clean brush, thin absorbent blotting paper, a bone, and some small weights. This process involves directly dampening the item, so you want to be careful how much you wet your brush. Obviously the more humid the paper, the better it will flatten. However, putting too much water can also cause staining and tearing.

Local humidification being performed on poster.

Local humidification being performed on poster.

Needless to say, Teresa and I were very careful the first time we employed this method on archival materials. Once the damp brush is applied it is important to get some blotter paper on the humid area fairly quickly and place some pressure on the paper by using the bone or by placing a weight on the blotter paper. We used a combination of weights and the bone depending on the area of the poster we were treating. Afterward, we placed it in a press between blotting paper.

After shot of poster.

After shot of poster.

There are certain things that should be kept in mind when flattening something. Be realistic. If the item is severely damaged or delicate (such as parchment) then you shouldn’t attempt flattening it yourself and consider bringing it to a conservator. For instance, you should leave flattening photographs with cracked emulsion to conservation professionals. Also, consider how flat you actually want the item. Sometimes flattening something can also flatten out the texture of the paper which you may want to maintain. It’s a good idea to practice these techniques on scraps of paper and gradually work your way to archival materials. I also strongly recommend attending a workshop and learning from someone who has experience working with these techniques.

Adria Seccareccia, Processing Assistant

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Artist Drew Ernst visits the Collections!

As we prepare for Emerson Burkhart: Reflections of an Artist, check out this post from our Natural History curators about how another Ohio artist is using our collections!

"Sadness and Alcohol" by Drew Ernst, 36 x 48, oil on aluminum

Last October we published a blog about another use of the natural history collections, as an inspiration for artists. Once again we have an artist in our midst, basing their work on our collections. Working away in the narrow aisles of the natural history collections, between the large shelves holding mammoth bones and the cabinets of freeze-dried fungi, is Drew Ernst. He is an accomplished artist who has exhibited across the United States. Drew is a modern, contemporary, figurative painter (example at left) however he decided to make a foray into natural history. He is using OHC bird specimens for a series of oil paintings. It’s fascinating for us to watch Drew transform a blank canvas, or in some cases an aluminum board, into an amazing painting of one of our specimens!

Speaking of artists, be sure to stop by the Ohio History Center to see the upcoming exhibit “Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart”. He was an Ohio painter who was born on a farm in Union Township near Kalida, Ohio, attended Ohio Wesleyan University and spent most of his professional career in Columbus. This exhibit in the third-floor Library Gallery and first-floor Spotlight Gallery features a selection of Burkhart portraits, self-portraits, prints and mural studies from throughout his career. The exhibit will be open from Sept. 3, 2014 – May 31, 2015.

Drew beginning painting of the Northern Harrier
Drew with finished painting
Northern Harrier, by Drew Ernst

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Red Bird Stadium and Emerson Burkhart

Our latest exhibition, Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart is opening on Wednesday, September 3.  Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city.

Burkhart painting at Red Bird Stadium, 1948, Ohio History Connection Collections, AV 58.

Burkhart painting at Red Bird Stadium, 1948, Ohio History Connection Collections, AV 58.

While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention.  Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

Emerson Burkhart documented life around Columbus, including a series of watercolors paintings done at Red Bird Stadium. Red Bird Stadium was the original  name for Cooper Stadium where the Columbus Red Birds, and later the Columbus Clippers, played.

Cooper Stadium was a landmark in the Columbus landscape. Opened in 1932, the stadium IMG_2279hosted several baseball teams and a football team. It was constructed based on blueprints for Red Wing Stadium in Rochester, New York, but was renovated in 1977 with the return of minor league baseball to Columbus. Though it held several names over the years, in 1984 the stadium was renamed in honor of Harold Cooper, the county commissioner who was responsible for keeping baseball in Columbus in the 1950s. Over the years, Cooper Stadium hosted several players who made it to the major leagues including Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. On September 1, 2008, the final game was played by the Columbus Clippers in Cooper Stadium to a sell out crowd of 16,777. The Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park in 2009. Recently, it was announced part of the stadium would be demolished  for a new racetrack.

IMG_2282Emerson Burkhart documented life as he saw it happening on a daily basis. He helped preserved memories of life and places in Columbus that no longer exists. To see Burkhart’s portrayal of Red Bird Stadium, visit Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart.

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Ask a Curator Day Returns!

Ask a Curator Day is Back!

Ask A Curator Logo
On Wednesday, September 17, 2014 curators from around the world will be answering questions from the public via Twitter for Ask a Curator Day. And our own curators will be joining in on the fun!

How does it work?
By using the hashtag #AskaCurator. The public can ask questions to specific museums by using the museum’s Twitter handle in the tweet (So, if you are asking us a question you will use our handle @OhioHistory and the hashtag #AskaCurator.

Why?
Why not. As stated on the official Ask a Curator Day website, “Museums and galleries not only house fascinating collections, they are also the home to leading experts who love to share their passion for art, history and science.” It’s that simple.

People are encouraged to ask anything related to museums, collections, professional standards and training, or anything else that curators might be able to answer. Examples are:

General: Why did you become a curator? What did you study in school?

Practice: Why do curators wear gloves? Why can’t I take photos?

Collection: What is the largest piece in your collection? What is the most controversial piece in your collection?

Personal: Have you ever been grossed out by an object in your collection? What is your favorite piece?

Specialized: Can you tell how many times a musket has been fired? Why are the frames of “masterpieces” so detailed?

A huge “thank you” goes to our curatorial staff who have agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to participate tomorrow. Answering questions in 140 characters or less can be fun (and a bit of a challenge) and some questions may require a quick bit of research. The goal of Ask a Curator Day is connect our in-house experts with an interested public…digitally and differently than they may have before.

Who will be answering your questions?

Cliff Eckle – Currency, fire arms, flags, military collections and political memorabilia

Erin Cashion –  Natural History; Ohio birds, and reptiles & amphibians

Dave Dyer – Natural History; Ohio mammals, Ice Age animals, fossils

Brad Lepper – Ohio archaeology

Lisa Wood – Historic film and photography

Emily Lang- Ohio art and textiles

Invite your friends and family to join in! To learn more about Ask a Curator Day click here to visit the project website.

Looking for more information about Twitter and how it works? Click here for an introduction to get you started.

We look forward to answering your questions!

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Register Your Kroger Plus Card to Support Ohio History!

Don’t forget to register your Kroger Plus Card to support Ohio History! The more you shop, the more rewards you earn for history.

Last year, our staff, volunteers, members and friends raised over $2,100! Register your Kroger Plus Card today and Kroger will donate a percentage of your purchases to benefit the work of the Ohio History Connection.

Best of all, the only cost is a few minutes of your time. All participants must re-enroll each year to make their purchases eligible for community rewards.

  1. Go to www.krogercommunityrewards.com
  2. To find the nearest participating Kroger store, please select “View participating Columbus, Ohio stores” or “View participating Cincinnati, Ohio stores.” Please note that Kroger’s Columbus Division has participating stores throughout the central, northwest, and southeast region of Ohio. Kroger’s Cincinnati Division has participating stores throughout the southwest region of Ohio.
  3. Select your location and register with your Kroger Plus Card.
  4. When asked which nonprofit you would like to support, enter the organization number: 84059.
  5. Shop at Kroger and use your Kroger Plus Card at the register.

Be sure to register today to make all your purchases eligible. Help us get the word out by sharing this great opportunity with your friends and family.

It’s easy… just shop, swipe your card and earn!

kroger

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State Wide I Found It In the Archives Contest

Cast a vote for your favorite I Found It In the Archives entry from institutions across Ohio!

I FOUND IT IN THE ARCHIVES

The statewide competition is sponsored by the Society of Ohio Archivists. There are finalists from three organizations:

Click here to read the entries and make your selection. Voting ends on August 31, 2014.

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Prepping for Our Latest Exhibit, Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart

From SC 22

From SC 22

Our latest exhibition, Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart is opening on Wednesday, September 3.  Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city. While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention.  Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

Annotation in one of his books.

Burkhart’s annotation in one of his books.

The Ohio History Connection is fortunate to have a large archival collection of letters, personal mementos, and notes from the artist in MSS 440. Part of this collection includes books from Burkhart’s personal library. Burkhart used these books to keep track of paintings he sold, experiment with block printing, and even wrote letters in them. When doing research for the exhibition, a passionate letter was found to his wife Mary Ann in A Bibliography of the First Editions of John Cowper Pawys. Emerson and Mary Ann had a troubled relationship and simple arguments often turned into loud brawls. After one particularly bad fight, Mary Ann left the house and Burkhart wrote this letter to her in the book,

BurkhartMaryAnn“If you go, I die, where you are there I want to be also. I talk reason but sweetheart there is no logic in love…Mary Ann you tromp on my tears, what do I need to do to convince you I love you. Why did I let you go and in a storm? Yes the world is coming to an end for me.”

To learn more about their relationship and to see the portrait of Mary Ann painted by Emerson, visit Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart opening September 3.The exhibit will be displayed in the Archives Library 3rd floor gallery and a companion piece on creating art using Burkhart’s mediums will be in the Spotlight Gallery on the first floor of the Museum Center.

Emily Lang, History Curator

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