Reflections on a Summer of Stained Glass Cartoon Conservation

This post comes from Nicole Monjeau and Natasa Krsmanovic, Rakow Library interns who worked on conserving the Whitefriars cartoon collection over the summer. Read more about this project in previous posts.

From mid-May to mid-August, we treated a variety of stained glass cartoons at the Rakow Research Library. This was a three month joint internship between The Corning Museum of Glass and West Lake Conservators that focused on the conservation of the Whitefriars stained glass cartoon collection. Now that the internship has come to an end, we thought we would reflect on our time at the Rakow Library.

The Whitefriars collection includes roughly 1,800 rolls of cartoons, photographs, tracings and stencils, totaling an estimated 10,000 individual objects. The goal for the summer was to conserve 10-15 rolls. We ended up treating 12 rolls, which amounted to 100 objects in three months.

Treating such a large collection in a short period of time meant that it was imperative to follow a treatment protocol. This allowed us to manage both our time and our work space in an effective manner. It also ensured that we followed conservation codes of ethics, holding ourselves accountable for the work we carried out.

The first step was to photograph each object in its original condition and write a condition report and treatment proposal. Next, the objects were cleaned to remove any surface debris. Humidification, the next step, gently introduced moisture to the objects. The paper fibers relaxed, which prepared each document for flattening. The cartoons remained in a flattening stack for roughly two weeks, after which they were dry and relatively flat. The flat objects were then ready for tear repair; we focused on repairing the most vulnerable tears to prevent further damage. At this point, the stained glass cartoons were ready for after-treatment photography and a treatment report, which detailed the conservation treatments that were carried out. Finally, the objects went into their storage containers. Smaller objects were stored flat in folders, and the larger objects were rolled onto an archival core, which was placed inside a box.

The Whitefriars project did not require the most in-depth conservation treatments, but it was a valuable learning experience. Due to the sheer size of the collection, we had to focus on carrying out the most effective treatments in the time we had. This allowed us to treat many cartoons at one time. Our goal was to stabilize the objects for digitization and long-term storage. We also had to consider the set-up of the conservation lab and respond dynamically as new challenges came up. This gave us great insight into batch treatments of large archival collections, and helped us use our critical thinking skills to create effective and time-saving treatment methods.

Another great aspect of the internship, in addition to working with such a large collection, was the opportunity to visit other institutions in the area. We took a day trip to the George Eastman House in Rochester, where we were able to increase our photo identification knowledge and tour the archives. We visited four institutions in New York City. One was St. Thomas Church, where we saw stained glass windows which corresponded to some of our treated cartoons. This was an exciting and somewhat scary experience – we were up on a 60-foot catwalk! We also visited conservation labs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Morgan Library. It was a great way for us to interact with other professionals in the field and learn how other conservation labs are set up.

This internship provided us with the opportunity use our conservation skills in a fast-paced, yet effective, way. It allowed us to explore cultural institutions in New York State, and gave us the wonderful experience of working as a team. We hope to continue the momentum by introducing even more people to the Whitefriars collection.

Catch up on the progress of the Whitefriars project.

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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