Back to work…

The second year of the bookbinding program starts off with gold tooling, and this is probably the first part of the curriculum that I had absolutely no prior experience with before beginning coming to Boston. To be honest – it’s going pretty slowly. I have burned a lot of leather over the past few days trying to get my head wrapped around just the process of blind tooling, but then you add gilding into the mix and it all goes south. After seeing Jeff demo the process a number of times and watching the GBW video from 1997 with Don Glaister, it is starting to make a little more sense. I have quite a ways to go.

We start off by laying waste to a handful of simple plaquettes. These are just a scrap of leather, flat pared in the scharf-fix, and pasted to a board.

The goal of the exercise is to completely cover the surface with repeated lines and decorations in order to get at a consistent depth and color of impression. After 4 or 5 of these, the results are becoming a little more uniform.

This is something we will be working on for a while and I will share more when I’m able to produce something decent.

Over the summer I had put together a rather extensive list of books to read. Of course I only managed to get to a tiny portion of them, but one thing that I did cross off the list was a review of some chemistry. Like all aspiring conservators, I’ve gone through several general and organic chemistry lectures and labs. The college level courses I took gave me a pretty good understanding of general principles and at least made me familiar with the periodic table, but did little to address the specific questions I had regarding the materials and reactions commonly found in a book conservation lab. Now that I’m not forced to do stoichiometry problems everyday, I was concerned that I would start to forget things. Use it or lose it!

I wasn’t too excited about going through the material in my old chemistry textbooks again, so I began looking for new curriculum material online. I started with MIT’s Open Courseware. This is an open and free web publication of MIT undergraduate and graduate course materials. While it might be good for other subjects, their chemistry material is a bit spotty. Most courses have posted old homework assignments and exams with answers, but few have class notes or videos of the lecture.

After reading this article in Wired Magazine, I also checked out Khan Academy and found it a more comprehensive online resource. Also free and open to the public (thanks in part to funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), this site offers a catalog of approximately 10 minute instructional videos on a topic or principle. I was surprised at the sheer quantity of material offered under their general and organic chemistry sections.

In the end, however, I spent most of my time with printed books – most notably with the 3-part Science for Conservators series from the Conservation Unit of the Museums & Galleries Commission.

These books offered exactly what I was looking for. Volume one goes through a complete review of basic chemical concepts, while the second and third volumes take on the subjects of cleaning and adhesives/coatings, respectively. Throughout the discussion, example reactions are pulled from cases of material degradation or conservation treatments. While not all of the examples were applicable to book and  paper conservation, the writing was clear and well presented. This series would probably not be as helpful to someone with no previous chemistry experience. I think it is an excellent resource, however, for individuals with a few chemistry classes under their belt. The perspective these books take really had an impact on my thinking. The volume on cleaning, particularly, completely changed the way that I think about certain types of reactions and cleaning in general.

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I keep promising posts on German paper bindings, laced paper cases, and limp vellum bindings – they are still on the schedule! I’ve just finished re-assembling a new and improved photo documentation setup and reshot photos of them for your viewing pleasure. Stay tuned!

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