Author Archives: Jill Iacchei

Rehousing the Dora Erway Doll Collection | A custom-fitting

J.M. Iacchei

Thank you to Eileen Keating, University Records Manager, RMC, for proving the information on the history of the Dora Erway dolls included in this blog post.

A selection of dolls from the Dora Erway Doll Collection

A selection of dolls from the Dora Erway Doll Collection representing dress from the 13-20th centuries. From left to right: 19th century Italian Renaissance, 20th century American Formal, 15th century English, and 13th century English

The Dora Erway doll collection is frequently used for instruction and outreach.  The dolls were made by Cornell University students between 1924 and 1928, under the direction of Professor Dora Wetherbee Erway who taught in the former Department of Household Arts.  The collection was donated by Erway in 1957 and is housed in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Kroch Library.

The dolls are representative of various historical periods and nationalities and were made in order to assist students in their study of the history of costume.  Many of the dresses are exact replicas of authentic gowns.  Some of the material in the costumes was over one hundred years old at the time the dolls were made.  With the exception of the heads, the students made the dolls as well as the clothing.  Some of the students donated their own hair in order to have authentic hair styles representative of the periods.

Some details showing the dolls head, handmade feet and shoes, and elaborate undergarments characteristic of the time represented.

Details showing the head, handmade feet shoes, and elaborate undergarments characteristic of the time represented.

For many years, the dolls were individu,ally wrapped in tissue paper for protection within archival boxes. The tissue paper wrapping covered the dolls, meaning researchers and staff couldn’t see or use the dolls without unwrapping and re-wrapping the tissue each time.  The tissue could catch on some of the hair, delicate cloth, or embellishments, making handling difficult.  A new housing solution needed to be developed that would allow visual access, and provide protection and stability.  In addition to the challenge of creating stability and preventing movement within the boxes, each doll presented its own challenges – loose limbs, delicate embellishments added to the handmade costumes, and accompanying accessories, like elaborate hats. Using archival materials, the housing solution supports each doll within its own compartment, secures the heavy bases, heads, and any unstable parts, and allows full visibility and accessibility for use and instruction.

A custom fit housing solution in six steps:

1) Side walls, lower wall, and lower edge of the archival box base were lined with Ethafoam for cushioning and support.

2) Supports for each doll were constructed from blue corrugated board, padded with Ethafoam, and notched to hold the wood bases and prevent movement.

3) Dividers constructed from blue corrugated board padded on each side with Ethafoam were placed between each doll’s support to secure them in place.

4) Blue corrugated bumpers padded with Ethafoam were placed at the upper end of each support just beyond the heads of the dolls to custom-fit each compartment to the size of the doll.

5) Foam bumpers were fit around the neck of each doll to further prevent movement when the boxes are moved and handled.

6) After rehousing the dolls are held securely in their custom-made compartments.


Preservation Week: Photo-Albums and Scrapbooks

j.m. iacchei

Today’s blog reports on the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) workshop Your Photographic Scrapbook: Identification and Preservation and is the 4th in our Preservation Week series highlighting Cornell University Library Conservation Lab’s continuing educational efforts to better preserve and protect our collections.

Our family albums and scrapbooks are treasured heirlooms. Each page offers a new story or anecdote about the people and places held within the album’s pages. They bring forth the memories, conversations, and storytelling that help us define who we are and where we come from–our family roots.

table with spread of ablums

As part of the CCAHA’s Collections Care Training initiative, Barbara Lemmen, Senior Photograph Conservator, offered a workshop entitled, Your Photographic Scrapbook: Identification and Preservation hosted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The workshop took on three main areas of focus. First, a lecture presentation providing background on the history of scrapbooks and albums, an overview of the styles of bound structures that developed to hold the contents contained within, the structural characteristics and components that deteriorate with age and use, and the ways in which to preserve and care for these items. Second, a visual sampling of a variety of photo albums and scrapbooks within the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collections. And lastly, a hands-on component evaluating condition and discussing possible preservation options for specific items.

A lot of material was covered in this one-day workshop. As a Senior Conservation Technician working within an academic institution, I found these last two components of the workshop to be the most informative. Chronologically, we may be able to place albums and scrapbooks into categories but as individual items they all present unique challenges and needs. The historical significance of the structure, the original format and placement of the images, intended use, budget, and available time are all considerations in determining appropriate treatment and storage options.

Scrapbook or Photo album?

scrapbook and photoalbumScrapbooks are not a new or recent trend. Their roots date back to the 1700’s. In effect, the scrapbook is about 100 years older than the photo album. They typically contain clippings and articles, and after the advent of photography in the mid-1800’s – photographs. The distinction between the two is that scrapbooks can be continually added to, while albums are usually themed with a specific direction – for example a wedding album.

The earliest structures used for scrapbooks and albums were blank books sold by stationers intended for writing. The addition of dimensional material adhered to the pages places stress on the binding and inhibits the covers from fully closing-causing distortion that allows light and dust to enter the pages. With the advent of photography in the mid 1800’s, albums were developed specifically to accommodate the added dimension of photographs. The structure of each album or scrapbook and the materials used in its construction inform the present condition. Below are three examples of albums more commonly found among family collections.

Carte-de-visite and Cabinet card albums (ca. 1850-1900)Album cover and open pagesThe album structure and page construction of carte-de visite and cabinet card albums were made to allow for the thickness of mounted photographs. The photographs could be slipped into the window through slots located in the pages.  Each window could accommodate two photographs – one viewed from each side of the page. carte-de-visited album and cabinet card albumThe album shown above accommodated both CDV’s (left) as well as cabinet cards (right).

If carefully placed, the paper windows held the photographs in position. However, the slots could be easily torn when the photograph was placed (as seen in the right image above). A torn window left the photographs less securely held and prone to shifting out of position.

Loose Leaf Bindings (ca. 1920-1970)

side-laced, chicagopost and three-ring albumsLoose-leaf bindings were less expensive to make and pages (leaves) could be easily added or removed. There are various types of loose-leaf bindings including: side-laced (left) Chicago or screw post (center), and 3-ring (right).

Albums of this era were often made from less expensive wood pulp paper. In addition to the albums pictured above, black paper albums were also very common. Black paper was chosen intentionally by the manufacturer. Not only did it provide a strong contrasting background to the black and white photographs held within but it also hid the discoloration caused by the deterioration of lignin (a naturally occurring substance in wood that darkens and breaks down into acidic byproducts as it ages) common to wood pulp papers.

Photographs could be held in position by a few mechanisms: overall or corner mounting using an adhesive, photo corners (left) or slits cut into the support page (right).

Photographs mounted using adhesive presented two issues: 1) page distortion and undulations from additional moisture added by the adhesive and 2) adhesive failure leaving loose photographs, adhesive residue and staining, and possibly abrasion to the paper support. Mounting the photographs with photo-corners or through slits alleviated the distortion caused by adhesive and allowed the photographs to flex with the movement of the page. However, paper slits tear and placement of the photograph’s corners into photo-corners and through slits places stress on the corners which can become bent when inserted. Additionally, the photograph may become discolored in the area placed under the slot or corner.

 Magnetic albums (ca. 1960-2000)

Magnetic albums

Magnetic photo albums are often spiral bound. Each page was coated overall with a pressure sensitive adhesive and wrapped in a plastic overlay. At purchase, the plastic overlay is clear, smooth, free of wrinkles, and held photographs firmly in place. Over time, the plastic material used as overlays can wrinkle, distort, and become creased or folded (right image).  If they remain firmly in place over the photographs, any patterns of distortion (wrinkles) can be transferred to the photograph’s surface. They can also give off acid and plasticizers causing deterioration to the photographs.

The adhesive on the pages deteriorates as well, oxidizing when exposed to air. The oxidation will cause the adhesive bond to react in one of two ways – it will either strengthen, making it difficult to safely move the photos, or it will fail, resulting in loose photographs (center image above).

To better preserve your personal albums and scrapbooks they can be placed in an enclosure in an environment where temperature and humidity don’t fluctuate. The main level of your home may offer a more stable environment than the basement or the attic. Archival boxes can be purchased from Gaylord Archival Products. When they are brought out to be looked at, handle them with care. A soft pillow(s) can offer support to albums with fragile bindings. The cushioning of the pillow supports the opening, allowing the pages to be viewed without compromising the binding. For specific concerns to your personal albums (broken sewing, loose pages, photographs stuck firmly to magnetic pages), contact a conservator. They may be able to offer feasible suggestions to help preserve and extend the life of your albums and scrapbooks into the future.

For more information about preserving scrapbooks, see ALA’s Preservation Week Preserving Historic Scrapbooks and Making New Ones That Last (Melissa Tedone, 2014). The recording as well as handouts, slides, questions and answers are available as a PDF.

Below are some additional resources discussing preservation and history of photograph albums and scrapbooks.

Zachary, Shannon, ed. (2000) Conservation of Scrapbooks and Albums: Postprints of the Book and Paper Group/Photographic Materials Group Joint Session at the 27th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, June 11, 1999, St. Louis Missouri. Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation.

Haley, Alan and Adrienne Lundgren (2011) Preserving Photographic Albums. Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography. Verna Posever Curtis, ed. New York: Library of Congress and Aperture Foundation, 277-279.

Long, Jane S. and Richard W. (2000) Scrapbooks and Albums. Caring for your Family Treasures. New York: Abrams, 38-45.


Professional Development: Chemistry for Conservators


Each year I am given the opportunity to pursue professional development relevant to my position in Conservation. This support for continued growth is an invaluable benefit. This year, I decided to start working on one of my most challenging obstacles in Conservation (and Academia): Chemistry.

It is easy to get lost in the daily work – surface cleaning, stabilization, humidification, etc. that are familiar and routine – and lose sight of the underlying chemical principles that are ever present in our treatment decision making. I felt that getting a grasp of these principles was essential to my professional growth. I wanted to better understand why I was carrying out treatments and be able to apply that understanding to decision-making of items and materials that were not familiar and treatments that were not routine.

With Chemistry being well beyond my comfort zone, diving into a college level Chemistry, 18 years after my last Chemistry course, was a little too ambitious. Instead, I chose to apply to the Chemistry for Conservators correspondence course offered through International Academic Projects.  It is designed for those of us who do not have a strong background in Chemistry, but who work closely with it every day.

The course distilled Chemistry down to the fundamental principles that directly impact conservation practices – and it took out “the math”.  It is divided into four blocks to be completed over 4 months, each block building upon the last as new topics are introduced. Block 1 introduced the physical world with focus on air and water; Block 2 covered basic chemical principles – atoms, electrons, compounds, reactions, molecular models; Block 3 began to link the principles introduced in Blocks 1 and 2 to deeper concepts – solutions, electrochemical principles, organic compounds, polymers; and Block 4 addressed the challenges conservators are presented with most often – the effects of water, cleaning –why, when, and how much; adhesives, and degradation. Each of these 4 Blocks was accompanied by readings from the textbook (Chemistry 2nd ed.), the Science for Conservators Series, Volumes 1-3, and supplemental course notes accompanying each block, as well as experiments (materials supplied) and review questions. The textbook provided a general introduction to the topics covered, the Science for Conservator Series and course notes provided a more technical explanation, the questions highlighted key concept, and the experiments provided a concrete visual example of the concepts discussed in the texts.

Though simple, I found the experiments required the most time and independent thought. They provided a means to practice those skills needed in conservation assessment and decision making: observation, organization of thought, ability to draw conclusions, and direct application of understanding gained from drawn conclusions.

This course was challenging, but manageable. It is noted that is a time intensive course and to plan for 10-12 hours/week to devote to the material. This is fairly accurate – less if you are a quick reader, and Chemistry comes naturally to you; more if you are a slow reader, like to take meticulous notes, need to re-read, and Chemistry is not you forte. The course covered topics across conservation – extending beyond the conditions found with paper and photographic collections with which I am most familiar. Metal, ceramic, glass, and textile materials, have been surfacing more and more often in the conservation lab from Cornell University Library Collections. Having some framework and resources will be helpful in understanding current conditions and guiding treatment needs. With this course, I am better equipped to take a more informed approach to the treatment of the materials I am responsible for preserving. And while there is more to learn, I left this course with a foundation to build upon. I gained greater awareness of the underlying chemical principles that explain current conditions and the potential options and outcomes of material choices and treatment methods.

Here are two examples:

Shown here is a tintype (silver image on black lacquered iron support) from the Loewentheil Family Photographic Collection in the Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. It demonstrates how corrosion can occur if the tintype is exposed to poor environmental conditions. Rust is the slow oxidation of iron. It occurs as 2-part reaction when the iron support is exposed to BOTH air and water. First the iron is oxidized by the air to form iron oxide. The iron oxide then reacts with moisture in the air to produce hydrated iron oxide-more commonly known as rust. By minimizing one of the two factors causing rust to occur- exposure to air or water/moisture in the air- you can assist their preservation.

Late 19th and early 20th century newspapers provide excellent examples of cellulose deterioration caused by acid hydrolysis. Cellulose in a polymer of glucose which forms from condensation reactions that occur between the reactive -OH (hydroxyl) side groups.

One of the ways these cellulose chains are broken down is by acid hydrolysis. In the presence of moisture, acids from the environment (air pollution or poor quality enclosures) or from within the paper (raw materials, manufacturing processes) repeatedly cut the glucose chains into shorter lengths. This reaction also produces more acids – providing fuel for further reactions and continued degradation. This newspaper shows the affects of this deterioration–brittleness, loss of strength, crumbly edges, and darkening.  This course provided me with an excellent background to navigate the variety of approaches to mitigating these concerns–treatment, environment, and enclosures.

I am grateful to Cornell University Library, Tre Berney, Director Digitization and Conservation Services and Michele Hamill, Paper and Photograph Conservator, for their continued support and encouragement of my professional development, and the rather generous amount of time I was given to spend on this coursework.


Pigmeat’s Laugh Hepcats

Jill Iacchei and Michele Hamill

Cornell University Library features a growing number of archives documenting contemporary, musically based cultures such as punk, Hip Hop, black metal, and Latin salsa. Working in the Conservation Lab, I have had the privilege of working with many of these collections, which often contain a fascinating mix of photographs, flyers, artwork, and LPs. A recent addition is the poster shown below promoting the 1947 film short “Pigmeat’s Laugh Hepcats” starring Dewy ‘Pigmeat’ Markham (1904-1981).

Before treatment

This poster recently arrived in Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) as part of their efforts to document 20th century music and culture. It advertises a 1947 film featuring Pigmeat Markam, whose popular 1968 single “Here Comes the Judge” is frequently cited as a precursor to Hip Hop.

Before arriving at CUL, the poster had been folded multiple times, resulting in deep folds, some splitting and torn.  Rubber-based and acrylic pressure sensitive tapes had been used to reinforce these areas that had split or torn. Tape may go on clear at first, but deteriorated rubber-based tapes stain the paper a disfiguring amber color.  The edges of the poster had many small losses and tears and the lower right corner was fully detached. Overall, the poster had yellowed in appearance and had some surface dirt.

Left: discoloration and staining resulting from tape deterioration. Right: Edge tears and losses.

The poster was brought to the Conservation Lab to fill and stabilize the numerous edge tears and losses, reduce the dark staining caused by rubber-based tape residue, to slow deterioration of the support with aqueous treatment, and to be housed in a way that would offer support, prevent further damage, and facilitate access.

The poster was first surface cleaned with smooth sponges to reduce dirt—this step is necessary before any aqueous or chemical treatment so surface dirt isn’t trapped in the paper support. The plastic carriers of the tape were removed and adhesive residue was reduced mechanically. Discreet testing of the inks and paper support was then performed to determine what aqueous or chemical treatments may be possible.  Testing showed the red and black lithograph printing inks were stable in water and that the paper support would absorb water readily, indicating that the poster would respond well to aqueous treatment. Testing also indicated that the tape adhesive residue and staining could be solubilized and reduced from the paper support using a polar organic solvent.

Stain reduction in process

Shown above is this stain reduction in process to a corner that had separated from the remainder of the paper support. Areas of the poster with adhesive staining were placed on the suction table and masked off. The solvent was painted over these areas so the residue and staining would be pulled through the poster support onto the absorbent blotter below, thereby reducing the residue and associated discoloration. This improves the paper condition and brings your eye back to the poster design and away from condition concerns.

Next, the poster was treated aqueously to remove soluble degradation products within the support, in effect slowing further embrittlement and discoloration that these degradation products cause. The drying and flattening of the poster after the aqueous treatment reduced the deep folds, giving the poster back some of its intended original appearance—a smooth surface that showcases the striking design.  The areas of loss and tears were stabilized with Japanese tissue toned to blend with the support, unifying the appearance of the poster. A polyester sleeve allows the poster to be stored and handled safely and securely.

Aqueous treatment removes soluble degradation products within the support.

Poster treatments can run the gamut of basic stabilization to more complex treatments such as this one, depending on condition, use, and importance.  After treatment, this poster now joins the rest of RMC’s deep and growing collections documenting 20th century music and culture.

After treatment

You can listen to Markham’s Here Comes the Judge here.



“Less of You; More of My Ancestors” | Part II

J.M. Iacchei

In Part I of this blog series I introduced barkcloth, gave a brief historical and cultural overview, described methods of production, and concluded with the importance of conservation and preservation efforts. Part II continues with highlights from the treatment of the 12 pieces of barkcloth from the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection.“Less of you; more of my ancestors.” These were the words of guidance shared by a colleague when I inquired about treatment for this collection. I wanted to be certain that an appropriate level of treatment was provided without compromising the historic integrity of these ethnographic items. Because many of these pieces of cloth were oversized, they would need to be rolled both for final storage, and for transport to and from the digitization studio. This would mean needing the strength to withstand numerous rollings and unrollings during the imaging process, as well as afterwards in use in instruction and research.

In addition to this stability concern were the inherent causes of deterioration rooted in the items’ history, extending from the time of manufacture and the processes involved to use, and the environmental conditions of previous and present storage.

Before discussing the causes of deterioration, it is worth noting that some parts of the manufacturing process actually inherently strengthened the quality of the cloth produced. Steps taken during the pre-beating processes, and the nature of the beating and drying processes each involve aspects that facilitate the longevity of the cloth.The practice of soaking or steeping the bark for several hours prior to beating encourages a stronger and more flexible cloth. As a result of this process, bacteria and fungi from fermentation cause the plant cell wall material to break down, allowing the pectin and hemicelluloses that normally stabilize the cell walls of the living plant to solubilize and redistribute. Because of this redistribution, the resulting cloth is more flexible. The pectin and hemicelluloses that remain in place add strength to the fibers and consequently, also to the cloth.[1]

During beating, the grooves on the face of the beater spread the fibers and alter their parallel orientation to one that is angled and interlocking as well as allow excess water and air to escape. This interlocking, rather than parallel orientation, is stronger and less prone to lateral tears that most often occur parallel to the grain of the cloth’s fiber.[2] In the drying process, the barkcloth is stretched out in the sun. The high UV content of the tropical sun stunts the growth of micro-organisms.[3]

It is the following stages of decoration, use, and storage conditions that most contribute to deterioration. Just as environmental factors affect paper materials, mechanical stresses, light exposure, fluctuations in relative humidity, biological agents, and pollutants each contribute to further deterioration of barkcloth; the effects of which can be seen in color changes, staining, insect damage, mold growth and weakening of fibers.

The traditional methods of island storage were not preservation-minded. Typically, large pieces of barkcloth were stored in rolls among the rafters of the home, often in areas affected by cooking smoke. While the cooking fire kept the cloth dry and free of mold and the aldehydes in the wood smoke acted as a preservative against bio-deterioration, the exposure to smoke allowed for the collection of soot, an environmental pollutant which will overtime lead to deterioration.[4]

The dyes, pigments, resins, gums, paints, and oils used to decorate and finish barkcloth over time can deteriorate – becoming faded, brittle, and flaking.  Consequently, the cloth below the colored area will also become brittle and stiff, causing breaking, tearing along folds, or separating along the grain, leaving holes.[5]

In this collection, the main concerns were the stubborn folds incurred from previous storage, and the embrittlement of  the dyes used to apply designs to the cloth.

Eleven of the twelve items were stored together over long periods of time in a box resulting in stubborn horizontal and vertical folds. The stubborn folds were a concern both for quality of image capture and for compression overtime which leads to tears.

Overtime, dyes begin to become brittle and flake, and/or cause the fibers below to become brittle resulting in loss.

Numerous small lateral splits in the barkcloth, areas of loss, and areas of potential loss presenting instability needed to be addressed before these items could be safely transported on a roll to the digitization studio. Before these concerns could be remedied, surface soil that would contribute to further deterioration or that would otherwise embed into the fiber of the cloth when moisture was introduced during humidification first needed to be removed, and the folds reduced.

Each piece of barkcloth was vacuumed through a screen with a Nilfisk HEPA vacuum, lightly humidified to relax the fibers of the cloth, and dried under weight. Very light weight was used so as to not affect the inherent textured quality of the cloth- just enough to reduce the stubborn folds.

(Left) Holes that occurred at the time of manufacture during beating were patched with small pieces of barkcloth. (Center and Right) Similarly, later repairs were made with recycled pieces of barkcloth. In these instances, the previous repair was left. The black tape shown in the rightmost image above however, was removed.

Areas of instability, like the ones shown below, were addressed by mending with a stable Japanese tissue of an appropriate tone and weight (to blend with the natural color and thickness of the cloth). Wheat starch paste was chosen as an adhesive. In previous testing, it proved to be the most compatible with the texture and finish of the cloth. Other adhesives, methyl cellulose for example, seemed to leave a shiny finish.

(Left column) Before treatment – recto and verso                                                             (Right column) After treatment –  recto and verso

Significant tears and loss required a different approach. The barkcloth shown below had a central vertical tear extending nearly the entire length (just under 8 feet). The dyes were brittle and flaking; the cloth on either side of the tear was also brittle, shredded, and mangled. Temporary reversible bridge mends were applied on the front to ensure that the design was aligned correctly. The cloth was then rolled, unrolled to have the underside face up, and mended on the verso (back).

(Left) Vertical tear extending nearly the full length of the cloth; (Center:top) Aligning areas along the tear prior to mending on the verso; (Center bottom and right) Temporary reversible bridge mends to hold cloth in position

(Left) After treatment recto; (Right) after treatment verso

Once treated, each item could be safely transported for digitization. Each side of each item required multiple shots (12-15 shots per side) that would then be stitched together using the camera software.

Simon Ingall, Digital Imaging Assistant, expertly facilitates the maneuvering and successful image capture of the oversized pieces of barkcloth.

Ideally, if space allows, barkcloth should be stored flat. Among this collection, those that fit in folders were stored flat in archival paper folders in flat file map cases. The remaining oversized pieces were rolled on archival tubes covered with ethofoam (for cushioning) and a Mylar cover (a barrier between the barkcloth and the ethofoam). The barkcloth was rolled face up with Hollytex interleaving (spun polyester web), labeled with thumbnail image and catalogue information, and returned to The College Human Ecology, Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design for use in instruction and research.

While this treatment included practices commonly used in paper conservation treatments –  utilizing the same materials and stabilization techniques, working with laminate structures, and navigating over-sized items there are inherently unique qualities about barkcloth that required research, collaboration, and skills from allied conservation specialties. We are very grateful to our international colleagues at The Smithsonian Institution, Te Papa Museum, NZ, Bishop Museum, HI, and University of Glasgow for sharing their knowledge and expertise that only comes from the experience of working directly with these materials.

Below is a short video highlighting the treatment process of these items:



[1] Rowena Hill, “Traditional Barkcloth from Papua New Guinea: materials, production and conservation,” in Barkcloth: Aspects of preparation, use, deterioration, conservation and display, ed. Margot M. Wright (London: Archetype Publications Ltd, 2001), 33.

Due to the partial fermentation that occurs “activity from invading bacteria and fungi acquired during wetting and soaking, leads to a partial breakdown of the cell wall material helping to liberate pectin and hemicelluloses which normally cement the cells together ‘in vivo.” Thus dispersed, some of these binding chemicals get washed away, reducing the overall stiffness of the cloth. Those which remain ‘in situ’ help to thicken the fibers and bond them together in their newly aligned positions thereby strengthening the cloth.”

[2] Hill, “Traditional Barkcloth from Papua New Guinea: materials, production and conservation,” 34.

[3] Hill, “Traditional Barkcloth from Papua New Guinea: materials, production and conservation,” 35.

[4] Hill, “Traditional Barkcloth from Papua New Guinea: materials, production and conservation,” 35.

[5] Hill, “Traditional Barkcloth from Papua New Guinea: materials, production and conservation,” 41.

“Less of You; More of My Ancestors” | Part I

J. M. Iacchei

Our work in Conservation requires collaborative efforts with our colleagues throughout the library. Digitization projects are becoming increasingly more common. Together with Digital Consulting & Production Services (DCAPS) and the College of Human Ecology, Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, we recently treated 12 pieces of Polynesian barkcloth, also called tapa, from the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection.

Barkcloth, called siapo by the Samoans and Futunans, ngatu by the Tongans and Uveans, ahu by the Tahitians, masi by the Fijians and kapa by the Hawaiians, is widespread. Historically produced throughout the Pacific, Eastern Asia, and Africa, this cloth-like material is made from the inner bast fibers of select plants. The most prevalent fiber source throughout the Pacific was the Broussonetia papyrifera of the Moracaea family, more commonly known as paper mulberry. Depending on geographic region, other varieties of the Moraceae Family were also used, notably the Artocarpus (breadfruit) and the Ficus (fig and banyan). [1] Additional sources of fiber were obtained from the poison tree (Antaruis Toxicaria) and the Mamaki (Pipturus Albidus), in the far eastern tropics and in Hawaii, respectively.[2] Each fiber produced a cloth of its own color, quality, and fineness. Traveling in 1769 with Captain Cook, Joseph Banks wrote, “of this thin cloth they have as many different sorts almost as we have of linen; distinguishing it into different fineness and the different materials of which it is made.”[3]

Paper mulberry does not grow natively on the Pacific Islands but must be propagated from cuttings or suckers. [4] 7000-9000 years ago (5000-7000 BC), the inhabitants of the Asian mainland began to migrate to the Pacific Islands.[5] Among the items of necessity that they would need on their sea voyage and upon their arrival for settlement (food, fresh water, livestock, and plants), they brought with them paper mulberry. Transporting paper mulberry required great care; its survival depended upon shelter from the saltwater of the ocean and the use of fresh (drinking) water to keep it alive.[6] This was not a risk-free undertaking, suggesting the significance of both the plant and the material made from it to the people who made the effort to bring it with them across such vast distances.

Traditional uses of barkcloth range from utilitarian household purposes (curtains, room dividers, bedding, mosquito nets, bandages, candle wicks) to ceremonial (burials, deaths, births, taxes to the chiefs, and offerings to the gods). Barkcloth as clothing seems to have been a privilege of the nobility, reserving certain fashions and coloring that could be worn only by select individuals. Barkcloth carried with it a symbol of wealth, second it seems, to finely woven mats, also given in events of gift exchange, as tribute, or tax.

The fundamental steps of barkcloth production are shared among practitioners of the craft; however, the specific processes involved vary by location. Harvesting, preparation, beating, implements used, decoration techniques, and patterns each contribute to the unique qualities and characteristics that make one place of origin distinct from another.

Historically, women were responsible the manufacture of the cloth, often taking place as a communal event. The degree of the men’s participation in this activity varied by island. On the whole, they were given the responsibility of making the implements needed for their manufacture – the wooden beaters and anvils, carved designs on bamboo stamps, and wooden printing boards. It was the women of the village who were responsible for the harvesting of the bark, the beating and manufacture of the cloth, the preparation of the dyes, and the construction of the vegetal (pandanus leaves, coconut midrib, sennit) printing tablets used in their decoration.

In very general terms, the practice was to harvest the fiber, separate the outer bark from the inner bark which was then cleaned and beaten on a wooden anvil. The cleaned thin strip of bark was laid on an anvil, often hollowed for resilience and musical resonance, and beaten until it became a soft, widened, thin piece of cloth expanding in width from about 2 inches to 14-18 inches. Larger pieces of cloth were made by overlapping the edges of smaller beaten strips and adhering them together with a starch adhesive (arrowroot). Thickness was determined by the number of layers, usually 2, but more (4-5) for items like bedding. With the exception of traditional Fijian cloth, the practice was to lay the upper layer perpendicular to the lower.

Above: Wooden mallets (beaters) used to transform the strip of inner bast fibers into a soft widened piece of cloth. (Images from: Brigham, William T. Ka Hana Hapa: The Making of Barkcloth in Hawaii. Memoirs of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History, Vol 3, Honolulu, HI: Bishop Museum Press, 1911.)

Various beating methods were found throughout the islands including: folding and beating in bundles, beating strips individually, and felting. The sides of the wooden mallets (beaters) used to beat out the bast fibers were grooved, often in varied width and depth, with at least one side left smooth. Initial beating was done with the coarser side of the beater, moving progressively towards the smooth. In Hawaii, this process was at times taken one step further – giving a final beating with a beater with a carved surface (far right image above) to impart texture and pattern into the finished cloth.

Above is an example of barkcloth without a printed design. Right: A detail of the image on the left showing the texture imparted by a patterned I’e kuku (beater)

Methods of decoration found among barkcloth varied by location. There was some overlap, but distinct practices, patterns, motifs, and overall look to a finished cloth by island developed. The designs and patterns are applied by a variety of methods: freehand, stencils, stained with local dyes, smoked, and/ or printed.

Left: Freehand; Center: Stenciled; Right: Freehand over printed design

Before the introduction of synthetic dyes, native plants were used to create dyes and impart color to a finished cloth. It is no longer known exactly how these dyes were made, but it is know that they were often made from the bark, fruit, and roots of local flora. For example: brown from the bark of the candlenut tree, reddish brown from the bark of the Bischofia javanica, black from the soot of burnt candlenut kernels, and yellow from the root of the Curcuma viridiflora.[7]

One method of design application, practiced in Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, is the use of design tablets or printing mats to transfer an image onto the cloth. These mats and tablets, called upeti in Samoa, kupesi in Tonga, and kupeti in Fiji, were constructed of two layers of pandanus or coconut leaves. The top layer carried a relief pattern most commonly created from pandanus leaves, sennit, coconut midribs, bamboo, and hibiscus fiber. A rubbing technique was used to transfer the relief pattern to the beaten cloth.

In 2012, I visited the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago while researching barkcloth as part of a final project at The University of Iowa Center for the Book. Shown above and below are some examples of Vegetal printing mats from that visit.

Recto, verso, detail: The origin of this cloth was labeled as “unknown”. The patterns seen on the verso are indicative of the use of a vegetal printing tablet. Considering that this method was used most notably in Samoa and Tonga, and the designs are similar to known cloths of each location, it is likely that one or the other is the place of origin.

Recto, verso, detail: The origin of this cloth was labeled as “unknown”. The patterns seen on the verso are indicative of the use of a carved wooden printing board. Considering that this method was used most notably in Samoa and Tonga, and the designs are similar to known cloths of Samoa, it is possible that Samoa is the place of origin.

On Samoa, the use of vegetal upeti began to decline in the 1930’s after the introduction of metal tools proved the use of carved wooden upeti a more durable alternative. About this change, Patricia Lorraine Arkinstall quotes Margaret Mead writing in 1930: “But so well defined is the province of tapa making as women’s work, that men have not exercised their imagination on the carving of these boards.” Arkinstall further adds, “Thus, the patterns on the rubbing boards have become somewhat stereotyped. The women are not happy with the situation, but since wood carving has traditionally been men’s work, they do nothing but sit by as their patterned tapas become less and less interesting.” [8]

The Importance of Conserving Barkcloth

Because production of barkcloth has ceased in the majority of the islands, the methods of production originally used by the ancestors of today’s inhabitants are not wholly known.

The effects of European influence and missionary initiatives began to heighten during the 18-19th centuries. The introduction of European cloth, synthetic dyes, and the replacement of vegetal design tablets used in Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji with wooden ones are a few examples. By 1890, production of barkcloth in Hawaii had ceased.[9]  Adrienne Kaeppler, of the Smithsonian Institution, noted that by 1984 of the Polynesian Islands, only Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji were still producing barkcloth. [10] With few exceptions, the production and high cultural regard of barkcloth has waned and current manufacture is produced in lesser quality for the tourist market.

The indigenous technologies that were once used have been altered, and over generations,  have become lost to unrecorded history and memory. Because nothing of equal quality is being produced today, conservation efforts to identify the material, environmental, and technological influences responsible for current condition are necessary in order to determine appropriate treatments. In preserving these materials, an abundance of cultural, historical, sociological, and artistic information is retained for further research and study of the Pacific Islands and Pacific Island culture.

Read more about the treatment of this collection in Part II.

[1] [1] Neich and Pendergrast, Traditional Tapa Textiles of the Pacific, 9.

[2] Leonard and Terrell, Patterns of Paradise, 13.

[3] Ann Leonard and John Terrell, Patterns of Paradise: The Styles and Significance of Bark Cloth Around the World (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1980), 22.

[4] Neich and Pendergrast, Traditional Tapa Textiles of the Pacific, 9.

[5] Rod Ewins, Bark-cloth and the Origins of Paper”(Paper presented at the First National Paper Conference, Hobart, Australia, 1987), 13.

[6] Ewins, “Bark-cloth and the Origins of Paper,” 13.; Anthony Meyer, foreword to Tapa: Bark Cloth of Oceania, written by Pascal Cusenier (Paris: Galerie Meyer, 1998), 2.

[7] Kooijman, Simon. Tapa in Polynesia. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 234. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1972, Table E.

[8] Arkinstall, Patricia Lorriane, A studty of barkcloth from Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji: An exploration of the regional development of distinctive styles of barkcloth and its relationship to other cultural factors, Thesis, 1966, p119.

[9] Arkinstall, Patricia Lorriane, A studty of barkcloth from Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji: An exploration of the regional development of distinctive styles of barkcloth and its relationship to other cultural factors, 109.

[10] Mary J. Pritchard, Siapo: Bark Cloth Art of Samoa (American Samoa: Council on Culture, Arts and Humanities Special Publication Number 1, 1984), vi.


A leaf from a Persian Manuscript, circa 15th century

J.M. Iacchei

Image hand-drawn directly from: Hunter, Dard. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1943.

The map above shows the spread of papermaking from China west to Korea and Japan, its spread East across the Chinese empire to Samarkand, then to Europe, and finally to the Americas. What is fascinating about this map is the amount of time papermaking took to spread from East to West – over 600 years to reach Samarkand in the 8th century and over 1000 to reach Moorish Spain in the 12th century.

The basic principles of papermaking are shared among Eastern and Western methods – fiber source, fiber preparation, beating, sheet formation, drying – but the raw materials selected for fiber, the local conditions, and the methods used to carry out each of these steps varied by region resulting in finished papers of distinct characteristics and qualities.

Some of the finest and most beautiful papers were said to come from the Islamic lands. These papers, made from flax or hemp rag fibers, were highly burnished with a stone giving a very smooth surface. The calligraphy and illuminations that were composed upon these papers were as remarkably beautiful as the surface on which they were inscribed.

Shown here is a manuscript brought to the lab to be removed from its mat, treated for digitization, and then rehoused. The new housing – a double-sided window mat with hinged cover allows both sides to be viewed.

Before treatment: recto and verso

After treatment: recto and verso

Double-sided window mat: recto and verso

Additional information about Islamic Papers can be found:

Bloom, Jonathan M. Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Soteriou, Alexandra, Gift of Conquerors: Hand Papermaking in India. Ahmedabad, India: Mapin Publishing, 1999.

Selfies and Snapshots: What’s in Your Closet?

Michele Hamill

Due to the rise of digital photography, photographs are being shared faster and in unprecedented volume than ever before. To learn more about your digital photographs, this Library of Congress resource is a good place to start.

Some credit the first selfie to Robert Cornelius who took a daguerreotype self-portrait in October, 1839. This image, courtesy of The Library of Congress, is believed to be the earliest extant American portrait. Learn more about the fascinating effort currently underway to document Cornelius’ photographs here.

In addition to the plethora of digital photographs, family collections include prints, snap-shots, and studio portraits that form the pictorial history of generations of family members.  Let’s take a look today at some of the types of photographs in family collections.  (And, by the way, an interior closet on the main floor of your home, is a great place to store your family photographs since it tends to maintain a stable temperature and humidity.)

A daguerreotype (1839-1865), like the Cornelius self-portrait, is a treasure in a family collection. It is one of the earliest types of photographs and was most popular from the early 1840s to 1860. Daguerreotypes are comprised of a silver-coated copper plate housed in a sealed package behind glass. The sealed package sits in a protective hinged case made of wood covered by leather, cloth, or paper. Daguerreotypes have a highly polished, mirror-like surface and are often hand-colored with pigments.  They are complex, unique objects that deserve special care.

An Ambrotype, most popular in the late 1850s, is another type of cased photograph, but they differ from daguerreotypes because the emulsion containing the silver image is coated on a sheet of glass rather than metal.  Ambrotypes were a popular means of portraiture and were an economical alternative to daguerreotypes, but were largely replaced by tintypes, which were even cheaper, faster, and easier.

Tintypes were popular from the start of the Civil War until the 20th century. They were less expensive than cased photographs, and they were made on coated iron, not tin. They were placed in paper mats or albums, or left loose, as in this example. Tintypes are most commonly found in the carte-de-visite size (approx. 2 ½” × 4″ to 4 ¼”). Because they often have no protective covering, tintypes are frequently dented, scratched, or rusted.

Albumen photographs were most popular from 1850-c. 1895. They have a silver image in an albumen emulsion coated on thin paper, like this cabinet card portrait. Albumen, the white part of an egg, was the most common emulsion for 19th-century prints. To make them studier, most albumen photographs were mounted to a secondary support or card. Cabinet refers to the format used to present the image, not the photographic process used to create the image.  Cabinet cards measure approximately 4 ½ by 6 ¼ inches and often have information about the photographer or studio which is useful for dating and identifying images. Albumen was gradually superseded by gelatin and collodion printing-out papers around 1885.

Another format of the albumen print is the carte-de-visite – which, at 4 ¼ by 2 ½ inches, is smaller than a cabinet card and about the size of calling cards or modern-day business cards. They were an enormously popular form of presentation for 19th-century portraits.

Printed-out photographs, such as this 19th-century cabinet portrait, have a warm brown-purple image rather than a neutral tone, because the silver image was formed from “printing-out” in daylight, not from chemical development. Printed-out photographs can look similar to albumen prints but have a major difference.  Printed-out photographs have a very white baryta layer between the paper support and the emulsion. Emulsions for printed out photographs can be either gelatin or collodion.  Many glossy collodion prints exhibit a subtle iridescent effect on their surface.

Cyanotypes, most popular from 1880 to the 1920s, are readily identified by their distinctive blue color, which results from using iron rather than silver as the image material. Family collections often contain cyanotypes, because their low cost and easy processing appealed to amateur photographers.

Crayon portraits, popular from the 1880s to the 1920s, were enlargements that could be life-size. They were made using a weak photographic base extensively hand-colored with pastels and charcoals, among other artist materials. Crayon enlargements were sometimes mounted to cloth and often placed in decorative frames. This 19th-century crayon enlargement shows the line of discoloration in the upper right corner where the cracked glass of an old frame let in atmospheric pollutants. It also shows overall darkening from damaging light exposure. The edges were protected from light exposure by the frame. Crayon enlargements can be brittle and are best stored in shallow boxes.

Platinum prints (1880-1930), in which platinum and not silver is the image material, have rich details, a velvety black color, and good image stability with no fading. Platinum prints were often used for studio portraits presented in a folder format. The characteristic image transfer of a ghost-print to the paper folder helps identify this print as platinum.

This 20th-century, silver gelatin, black-and-white snapshot shows one of photography’s popular themes: children.  People, pets, weddings, and vacations are common subjects. The image is made of silver suspended in a gelatin emulsion, the most common emulsion used for photographic prints in the 20th century. Remnants of the black paper corners are not harmful and can remain.  This wedding portrait was well-processed and remains in superb condition.

Most postcards were made using ink printing process, like lithography.  However some postcards are true photographs, or “real photo postcards”, with a postcard back, such as this silver gelatin postcard.  There are many resources to learn more about the history of postcards and for dating the stamp box found on real photo postcards.

Sepia-toned silver gelatin photographs, like this portrait in its complementary brown presentation folder, were created by toning 20th-century black-and-white photographs to a warm brown or “sepia” reminiscent of the 19th century. Sepia-toned photographs are very stable and show little image deterioration or fading. Because the brown folder is the original presentation for this photograph and is not causing damage, the folder and photograph can remain together.

Hand-colored silver gelatin photographs, like this example from the 1940s, were an early attempt to bring color to black-and-white photographs using artist’s materials. For this 1940’s print, dyes (which readily fade) were used to color the image.

Color photographs formed the largest segment of the snapshot market, beginning in the 1960s. Dyes used in color prints are prone to fading, exacerbated by light and heat. Early color photographs often show fading, or a shift in color, where one color predominates. Improvements in the 1990s resulted in longer-lasting color images.  These 3 color photographs show fading (left), color shift (middle), and modern color (right).

Polaroids, most popular in the 1970s and 1980s, often have a distinctive white border as in this example. They were a form of instant photography with do-it-yourself appeal because they did not require processing in a darkroom. Polaroids are one-of-a-kind images, because no negative is created in the process, so they may be unique images in a family collection. They can suffer from stability problems, including fading, cracking, and delamination.

Digital prints can be made using a variety of processes, including ink-jet (the most common printer used at home), electrophotography (office color printers), digital photo processors (used in many photo labs to print snapshots), and dye sublimation (used to make prints at photo kiosks). The stability of the digital prints depends on the process used to make them, the combination of the inks or dyes and paper used, and how they are stored and handled.

Here are some great resources for more information about family photographs:

The Graphics Atlas is a sophisticated resource that presents a unique, object-based approach for the identification and characterization of prints and photographs.

The Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP) from the University of Illinois Library has a great format ID guide:

And from the Getty: The Atlas of Analytical Signatures of Photographic Processes…/publicat…/pdf_publications/atlas.html


Let’s Roll

Michele Hamill

Some paper artifacts, like oversize maps, posters, and architectural drawings and plans, are larger than available flat storage so a practical solution is to roll them.  It’s tempting to roll oversize artifacts tightly and put them inside narrow cardboard tubes to save space. But, in the case of oversize paper artifacts, it’s better to be on the outside of the tube. Wait—how is it safer to store artifacts on the outside of a tube rather than placing them inside? The first problem starts because tightly rolled paper artifacts placed inside a tube spring open and expand to fit the interior diameter of the tube. (If you’ve ever tried to pull a poster out of a mailing tube, you know it’s hard to reach in the tube and remove it without tugging or having it telescope, with one end of the poster still stuck firmly in the tube).  To add to the first problem, when stored under fluctuating environmental conditions, multiple artifacts inside a tube can become impacted—pressed so firmly together and restricted by the tube–they won’t budge. Then add in age and brittleness and artifacts inside tubes become stuck.

The cardboard tubes holding these architectural drawings had to be cut away to free the drawings safely.

Rolled artifacts are safest stored horizontally. If stored vertically, the contents slip down and the edges become damaged by weight and compression.

Rolling on the outside of the tube provides firm support for the artifact, distributing its weight, and avoids the artifact from getting compacted and stuck in the tube. Rolled storage can be a good choice for large paper artifacts in good condition with enough flexibility to withstand rolling and unrolling.  The recommended method of rolling oversize artifacts is to roll onto a tube with a large diameter–the larger the diameter, the gentler it is on the artifact. Multiple artifacts of similar size, condition, and related content may be rolled together, especially if they aren’t used frequently. Acid-free, buffered tubes are the best but wider diameters and longer lengths increase in price.  A non-archival tube can be used if a barrier layer of polyester film covers the tube and is securely held in place (double-sided tape works—just be sure it is fully underneath the barrier layer).

This fragile barkcloth was rolled onto a wide diameter tube. The artifact, face up, was laid on polyester webbing (polyester film and archival paper are other good choices), with enough extra material at the start to roll onto the tube first. In this way, the support layer can also act as interleaving and provide support, protection, and cushioning. Rolling oversize artifacts can be a 2-person job.

Preservation supply companies offer archival tubes in different lengths and diameters. The tube should be longer than the artifact on both sides to protect the edges of the artifact from being crushed. Long tubes can be cut with a saw to desired lengths.

After rolling, the tube is covered with an outer layer of sturdy archival paper and/or polyester film for light and dust protection.  The newly rolled artifact should be stored horizontally in a single layer on a supportive surface (the top of map cases can work if not too high).  It may be desirable to lift the ends of the tube up, using foam supports or cradles, so a fragile artifact is not bearing any weight.

The outer protective layer can be secured with Velcro (the self-fastener type is handy), or wide cloth ties, and labeled with an image and description of the contents for easier identification and retrieval.

Flat storage is preferred, but sometimes the large size of collection materials necessitates rolled storage. In the recently renovated stacks space of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, they have incorporated both solutions–oversize flat drawer storage as well as a custom cabinet to store rolled collection materials and tube boxes. Image courtesy of Duke University Libraries.

Tube boxes are another alternative and can be stacked in small groups for efficient storage. The contents can be rolled on tubes that fit inside the boxes. Tube boxes also provide good protection for collection materials, like rolls of modern posters, that are safe to store temporarily rolled without tube support.

Some institutions have created an efficient, supportive honeycomb system of rolled artifacts on tubes placed inside wider diameter tubes. Image courtesy of Syracuse University Photo and Imaging Center.

This video from the Smithsonian Libraries Archives shows a treated panorama photograph being carefully rolled onto an archival tube. Only panorama photographs in good condition, with intact emulsions, and good flexibility can be rolled.

Libraries and archives have an abundance of rolled collection materials.  After stabilization, they are stored flat when possible. If not, now you know how we roll.


The Bruce Ferrini Paleography Collection


In an earlier post, I shared some highlights from the Seminar in Papyrus Conservation at The University of Michigan I attended last summer. I mentioned that the greater majority of papyri at Cornell University were given to The University of Michigan in 1972, but that President Andrew Dickson White’s first papyrus purchase as well as fragments of papyrus contained within the Bruce Ferrini Paleography collection remained here in Ithaca among Cornell University Library’s collections. This later collection includes examples of various historical writing systems – hieroglyphics, Demotic, Greek, and Coptic scripts on fragments of papyrus dating from 1500BC – the 6th century A.D. Due to lack of protective enclosures and condition, this collection has been under-utilized and under-studied.

Applying what I learned at the seminar, I was able to reduce loose surface dirt, open up fragile folds, re-align fibers, bridge areas that had become separated, and rehouse the papyri fragments contained within this paleography collection.

Left: before treatment;  Right: after treatment, including loose fragments previously adhered to verso

These items were removed from their old plastic sleeves (which release plasticizers and hold static, problematic for friable media), treated, and rehoused between glass to improve storage conditions and increase accessibility for study and instruction. Glass, the recommended storage material, allows for greater clarity of the inscription on the fragment as well as the visibility of the laminate structure of the papyrus itself, recto and verso. The disadvantage of glass is that it can break, but most often, especially with smaller examples, it is the glass that takes the impact of the damage rather than the papyrus.

Left: The edges of the glass are aligned (1/8 inch annealed soda-lime glass, with edges sanded, free of bubbles and scratches). Right: One edge of the glass is sealed with Filmoplast SH linen tape.

Left: The fragment is placed on the lower glass surface and held in position with a small weight; Center: The fragment is anchored to the glass using tiny (hard to see, but they are there) strips of glassine coated with dextrin. The glassine strips require very little moisture and pressure to adhere the fragment to the glass. Right: The remaining three edges of the glass are sealed with Filmoplast SH linen tape.

A custom fit tray, labeled for identification, was constructed to hold each glazed piece.

I am grateful to the University of Michigan for sharing their expertise that developed the skills that have allowed these materials to be cared for and safely stored.