The Wonderful World of Paper

Vicky hones her paper bathing skills as the class looks on (and offers moral support!)

Just as the weather in Delaware turns crisp and Winterthur shrouds itself in the first beautiful colors of fall, the Class of 2014 winds up a month of Paper Block.  Our first full block of the year, we started at the very beginning of conservation with the simplest material.  Throughout the year we’ll build on our newly acquired knowledge of all things cellulosic as we progress through to more and more complicated materials.  This post finds us in a blissful–and much deserved–break between blocks.  In these four short weeks, we learned about the chemical properties of cellulose and how they contribute to the macroscopic properties of paper.  We became intimately familiar with glucose, amylose and amylopectin (oh my!).  We explored treatment options and saw firsthand the problems they present by participating in labs on bathing, mending and surface cleaning.  Three days of enlightening lectures by experts in the field of fiber microscopy gave us a wealth of knowledge about the microscopic properties of materials used to make paper (among other objects) and the chance to work on our sampling technique and examine fibers of all kinds.  By the end of it all, our hand skills had taken a leap forward to try to catch up with our rapidly developing analytical eye.

Minah Song, an accomplished conservator at CCAHA, explains to the class a treatment she's working on.

Our wonderful block instructor, paper conservator Joan Irving, took us on a tour of the awe-inspiring (and envy-inducing) Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia, where we saw treatments ranging from the enthralling to the intimidating.  Don’t worry though—these treatments were all being carried out by conservators who were much less intimidated than I!  In our last week of paper, we were fortunate enough to have a leader in preservation, Hugh Phibbs, give us a full day of his time to share with us preservation and housing options for works on paper.  And to finish it all, our class participated in the White Gloves Gang during the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums’ Annual Conference by volunteering for a day at the Historic Society of Baltimore County.  After visiting their fully intact nuclear fallout shelter (complete with sealed tins of crackers from 1962 and a wall of ham radios), we got the chance to clean and reassemble several intricately crafted dollhouses for an upcoming exhibit.  Though it was a whirlwind block, packed with so much information one could barely absorb it all, it was nonetheless a delight.  And with fall rapidly moving in, we wisely took the time to welcome the season with a bonfire, replete with s’mores and hot chocolate—a perfectly autumnal event.  Now, we forge bravely ahead into the fascinating world of textiles.  Until next time!  —Samantha

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