Paper and Water – Friends or Foes?

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Making paper by hand. The wooden vat contains cotton fibers suspended in water. I am holding a wire mesh mold which was dipped into the vat to pick up some fibers. I am shaking the mold back and forth to get even fiber distribution while the water drains.

We all know that paper isn’t exactly one of the most waterproof materials out there. In fact, water exposure is one of the most common causes of damage to paper objects that I see as a paper conservator. It can cause major issues such as distortion, staining, loss of media, and mold, just to name a few. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, then, that water is a crucial part of many types of conservation treatment. People are often a bit shocked that bathing paper (yes, it’s what it sounds like) is a common practice with positive results! In this post, we will explore a few ways in which water interacts with paper on different levels, how conservators harness and leverage these interactions to treat condition issues, and how, if left unchecked, these interactions can cause major and irreparable damage.

Papermaking – Wet Beginnings

To understand paper’s relationship with water, we have to go back to the beginning – papermaking. True paper is defined as a non-woven mat of fibers formed by draining water from a slurry. The water holds the fibers in a suspension into which a screen called a mold is dipped and drawn upward, allowing the water to drain and the fibers to settle into a layer over the screen. To ensure an even distribution, the mold is shaken back and forth while the water drains, causing many of the fibers to orient in the direction of the movement before coming out of the water. This causes a characteristic called “grain” in a finished piece of paper.   Read more

Conservators at Home

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This Monday marks eight weeks since the museum staff started working from home. For the Conservation Department it’s been an interesting transition. The majority of our daily life is spent treating objects, constructing object housing, and running analytical equipment. None of which we can do from home. In fact, professional museum bodies frown on conservators taking their work (aka the objects) home with them. Fair enough, but it does beg the question: what have you all been doing?

I’m so glad you asked. Paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. We’re finishing reports, catching up on research, and organizing object files. Also watching webinars, completing training, and planning for the future. It has been nice to have time to devote to the things that are usually relegated to the back burner.   Read more

On the right track

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Detailed view of the interior of the turret showing one of the Dahlgren guns on its carriage.

It has been too long since we’ve given an update on the conservation of Monitor’s port gun carriage. So long in fact, that the conservation of its 250-ish components are now complete!!!

Looking back and reflecting on the many steps of this (large) object’s treatment, I really love that it has benefited from all of the research and discoveries done in the lab over the past 10 years. It is, after all, the largest Monitor object completed thus far and we were experimenting a lot along the way to provide the best treatment possible with current knowledge. We also knew that the work would benefit not only “our little Monitor” but the field at large. And we learned so much!   Read more

Iceberg, Milk and Moos

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Parka shirt and pants sewn by the tailor on Admiral Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition. Made from a thick blanket material while enroute on board the BEAR of OAKLAND 1936.23.01

The mysterious continent of Antarctica has fascinated explorers and dreamers for centuries. Through the possibilities of scientific discovery or just the challenges that come with the hardship of survival there, the siren call of the ice has beckoned many. But there were four intrepid explorers who never asked, or even wanted, to go there. From January 1934 to February 1935 they braved the cold, storms and whims of their fellow explorers while doing their part to support the expedition.

In 1928 when Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr. announced his intention to go to Antarctica and explore the continent by airplane, he quickly found financial backing for his quest from wealthy Americans and private citizens. Among his many accomplishments, Byrd was famous as the navigator on a 1926 trip that he and pilot Floyd Bennett claimed was the first airplane flight over the North Pole. This trip to Antarctica would now make him the first American explorer there since Charles Wilkes’ U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1840. The successful 1928-1930 expedition launched a public revival of interest in Antarctica and more interest on Byrd. Along with the scientific research, the team established Little America base on the Ross Ice Shelf and Byrd made the first airplane flight over the South Pole.   Read more

Ice Boats on the Delaware River

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Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emmanuel Leutze (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Every American know the glorious painting by Emmanuel Leutze, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”. It is one of the most inspiring paintings of the American Revolution, showing the heroic Washington standing on the prow of a small boat crossing the ice-choked river on Christmas Day in a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, New Jersey. What strikes me, as a weather guy, is the extent to which the river in that painting was already iced over! Not just iced over, but there were small bergs in it!

I suppose that was rattling around in the back of my mind when I was working on photographs of Ice Boats No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3, operated by the city of Philadelphia. According to the City of Philadelphia’s records, “The purposes of the Trustees of the City Ice Boat(s) was to operate a vessel on the Delaware River which would be instrumental in breaking the ice during winter months and ensuring a free and open passage on the river to the Port of Philadelphia.”   Read more