Conserving Cartoons: Interns Get to Work on the Whitefriars Collection

A team at the Rakow Library is hard at work assessing and conserving a selection of stained glass cartoons from the Whitefriars collection the library received in 2008 as a gift from the Museum of London. With 5,000-7,000 large-scale design drawings, ranging in size from 4 to 20 feet in length, selecting objects to focus on was no small feat.

Rolls of Whitefriars cartoons.

Rolls of Whitefriars cartoons.

In 2014, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a National Leadership grant to the Rakow to develop a cost-effective method to preserve, digitize and offer public access to the Whitefriars collection.

Phase one of the three-part planning grant had Rakow staff working with the Museum of London to select the first set of rolls to be preserved and digitized—roughly 15 rolls containing about 150 works—representing important artists and installations, as well as local pieces of interest for both the Museum of London and the Rakow.

But the Rakow faced several conservation and storage challenges when it came to this significant collection. The cartoons were dirty from being used as working documents on the factory floor, and they had been stored in less-than-optimal conditions in a warehouse for several decades. How would the now-brittle cartoons be safety unrolled, let alone conserved?

That’s where phase two comes in. The Rakow has brought on two interns to preserve the selected rolls in conjunction with West Lake Conservators.

Nicole unrolls a roll of stained glass cartoons.

Nicole unrolls a roll of stained glass cartoons.

The interns, Nicole Monjeau and Natasa Krsmanovic, arrived in June. Nicole is a 2014 graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, holding a conservation master’s degree in art on paper. Natasa is a Queen’s University at Kingston student in the master of art conservation program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history, specializing in the history of printmaking, early photography, and materiality/digitization of art objects.

Natasa places stained glass cartoons in a drying stack to be flattened.

Natasa places stained glass cartoons in a
drying stack to be flattened.

Nicole and Natasa are spending three months in a newly-established preservation lab at the Rakow, unrolling and separating objects, making condition reports, photographing and surface cleaning the objects, and mending them once they have been humidified to lie flat. Once repaired, the objects are placed in housing materials and go back to the stacks.

Nicole unrolls a roll of waxed canvas tracings.

Nicole unrolls a roll of waxed canvas tracings.

But it isn’t all about mending tears and taking notes. They’ve made some fun discoveries along the way.

“I really like to see little bits and bobs doodled around the objects,” said Nicole. “We’ve found a dog doodle, sketches that show they were trying to get the right proportion and position of hands and feet, notes, and tea stains. It gives a sense that a lot of these, the waxed canvas tracings in particular, were working documents for the Whitefriars.”

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This internship allows Nicole and Natasa to work with a wide range of materials, such as machine-made paper, waxed canvas, tracing paper, and silver gelatin photographs. Both were excited about the opportunity to work with so many oversize objects.

Nicole and Natasa have also visited several churches which house the finished stained glass windows of some of the cartoons they’ve been working with. They will soon share a post about the experience.

This week, the interns will be taking over our Instagram channel, sharing photos from the preservation lab. Follow along @CorningMuseum!

Read more about this project in previous posts.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#LG-55-14-0110-14).

The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9am to 5pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.

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