Earlier this summer, I wrote about processing the Wayne Bell papers. Because of my resulting familiarity with his work, I went on to work with the records of the Winedale Historical Center, the historic preservation program in the School of Architecture that Bell directed for many years.
When we interviewed Bell, we asked about the unique challenges of preserving historical sites, especially when a property or features of it have deteriorated beyond repair. His answer? You can preserve by creating a historical record. Throughout the Winedale Historical Center records are field notes, site plans, drawings, photographs, oral histories, and other materials kept safe in the Alexander Architectural Archive, documenting important information about buildings from across central and south Texas.
You hope that, with good preservation work, the building will remain. Sometimes, however, disaster strikes. In 1981, just five years after UT historic preservation students worked on the Zimmerscheidt-Leyendecker House in Colorado County, an arsonist destroyed the property. The students’ records are now that much more valuable to maintaining the cultural memory of this home. By Amanda Keys, processing assistant in the Alexander Architectural Archive and School of Information student focusing on archival enterprise and special collections
“In the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, there are drawings from casts, in pencil and in charcoal. The importance of skill in drawing and of appreciation of true proportion make this character of training as necessary for the architect as it is for any other art student.”
So begins an article that sounds like it could have been written yesterday—drawing is a major component of UT’s architecture program. However, this text was published in November 1914 in a journal called Southern Architect and Building News—long before any computer programs could help with those drawings!
As it turns out, the Architecture and Planning Library Special Collections has 106 unique issues from Southern Architect’s 1889-1932 run, more than any other institution. In addition to historical article content, the journals are heavy on advertisements, providing a fascinating look at the building materials and products available at the turn of the century.
With the generous support of School of Architecture alum Steph McDougal and her business, McDoux Preservation, we have begun an initiative to index and digitize the journal. We’re developing a work plan, manual and database, and we’ll be needing volunteers soon! Contact Beth Dodd if you’d like to help us make this valuable resource more accessible. By Amanda Keys, processing assistant in the Alexander Architectural Archive and School of Information student focusing on archival enterprise and special collections
For many years now the Alexander Architectural Archive and iSchool lecturer and paper conservator Karen Pavelka have collaborated on preserving works on paper from the archive collections. Conservation students at the Kilgarlin Center for for the Preservation of the Cultural Record gain experience treating archival works as part of the Paper Laboratory taught by Pavelka. Second year Conservation student D. Jordan Berson describes his process of treating an early 20th century watercolor by Texas architect James Riely Gordon.
To see other images of this installation, visit the slide show on the Architecture & Planning Library flickr page.
The goal of this treatment was to stabilize the fragile drawing in order to lift access restrictions and enable safe handling by researchers. It was also desired to reduce detracting visible damage. The object had tears and surface distortion, creases and a damaged acidic mat that was adhered directly to the artwork. It was evident that large areas of additional artwork were obscured by the existing mat. In addition, there were several areas along creases where the paint had been burnished or rubbed completely away, exposing the paper substrate.
The first part of the treatment was to mechanically remove the mat and adhesive residue as much as possible. Where residue remained adhered to the object, it was scraped away as possible by introducing very light amounts of moisture to soften it, then scraped away with a microspatula or wiped away with cotton swabs. This process took many hours. Then the piece was dry cleaned on both sides using soot sponges, and white eraser shavings. Tears were mended and splayed corners were consolidated using wheat starch paste. Thick Japanese tissue mending strips were glued down on the reverse side of creases to reduce planar distortion. Detracting media loss was remedied through inpainting. First a gelatin sizing was painted into the areas of loss, followed by inpainting with color-matched watercolors. Finally, a new acid-free mat was hand-cut using a Dexter mat-cutter. Instead of adhering it to the object as the old one was, a new “T-hinge” design was used that replicated the design of the original mat while enabling viewers to see the long-hidden artwork underneath.
To see other images of the treatment, visit the slide show on the Architecture & Planning Library flickr page.
During the 2010 summer session, the Architecture and Planning Library has initiated a number of projects that will provide greater access to the content located in the library’s special collections. Supported by the John Green Taylor Endowment and through the generous service of volunteers, these projects will promote special collections use by enhancing collection records and marketing its contents.
Graduate students from a number of disciplines are currently working to index individual collections, generate more comprehensive provenance notes, and develop web content that facilitates collection navigation. These projects are part of an ongoing effort to expose the rich and diverse materials held in the library’s special collections.
With over 20,000 volumes, special collections comprise almost 1/5th of the library’s holdings and function as an invaluable resource for scholars in the disciplines of architecture, art and architectural history, landscape architecture, community and regional planning, building technology and construction science.
Many people shy away from group projects. After all, teamwork frequently suffers when clashing personalities and working methods meet. But when it is successful, collaboration can yield a better outcome than working alone and serve as a learning experience. While much of the work that goes into planning an exhibition is not visible in the final product, the process itself is often very exciting, particularly when dealing with an archive. I wanted to take a moment to share my experience co-curating Maya Architecture.
It was only a few months ago that I discovered the George F. and Geraldine Andrews collection tucked away in the Alexander Architectural Archive. A classmate of mine was looking for a rare photograph of a Maya structure taken before it collapsed. [He found it.] I was trying to get a sense of the Andrews’ documentation of Puuc architecture for my own research. At the time of our visit Beth Dodd and Donna Coates had already started organizing an exhibition for the Architecture and Planning Library reading room to call attention to this unprocessed collection. Aware of the importance of this resource I offered to help, and they gladly accepted.
A collection of didactic materials from an earlier exhibition on George Andrews’ work on Maya architecture acted as the framework for the show. The panels emphasized George Andrews’ photographs and final drawings, but we also wanted to reflect the depth and variety of the Andrews archive.
The three of us met on several occasions to sort through prints, photographs and drawings for the wall cases, moving and adding some, vetoing others. The large glass cases in the library also allowed us to curate objects. One of the perks of assisting on this exhibition was that I had the opportunity to search through the collection with the explicit order to pull some of the most interesting, and obscure, materials housed in the stacks.
Though it was difficult to choose from the thousands of objects, books, drawings (some in progress), negatives and photographs available, we tried to provide a representative example. The exhibition even includes photographs of the collection while it was still in George and Geraldine’s home in Oregon!
The text for the exhibit is a mix of old and new writing. Some of the text came directly from the earlier exhibition, other text was pulled from George Andrews’ publications and artist statement. A number of panels were written specifically for this display.
The organic working process provided plenty of opportunities to talk through ideas and make changes when necessary. The exhibition was truly a team effort. Donna, Beth and I worked closely together, but also had the help of staff members from the Architecture and Planning Library and the Alexander Architectural Archive. Many people assisted in compiling information, hanging and arranging work, editing, printing labels and posters, and building on the concept of the show.
It was a great opportunity for me to get to know the collection and work closely with the staff in the Alexander Architectural Archive…and a chance to promote a significant Maya resource at UT!
Think of historic preservation in Texas and you think of Wayne Bell. So when my Introduction to Archival Enterprise group was assigned to process the papers Bell donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the UT professor emeritus who was instrumental in founding the historic preservation master’s degree program.
When organizing an individual’s papers, you hope that they left enough reports, notes, photographs, and more to be able to piece together a story, to understand the person and his or her work. Bell had—for projects like the Inge-Stoneham House (1982-1987) and its relocation as part of the Winedale Historical Center program, we discovered day-to-day memoranda of contractor decisions, in addition to numerous photographs and other documentation. However, there also were many unlabeled contact sheets, research files without a clear project affiliation, and other records that only Bell could explain to us.
What we learned in chatting with Bell was even more revealing—while he showed remarkable powers of recollection about 40-year-old photos, there were a few photos and documents in the Wayne Bell papers that even Wayne Bell couldn’t explain. Sometimes an archivist just has to make an educated guess about a record and how it fits into the narrative—and hope that researchers will be able to complete the story.
iSchool students digitally archive George and Geraldine Andrews materials
In the Spring 2010 semester, School of Information students completed a project to digitally archive materials in the George F. and Geraldine D. Andrews collection. The project team includes Tim Arnold, Matthew McKinley, Lisa Rivoir, and Kathryn Pierce, who were School of Information students in Dr. Patricia Galloway’s Problems in the Permanent Retention of Electronic Records course.
The team accessed files on 3.5 inch and 5.25 inch floppy disks used by George and Geraldine Andrews in the course of their extensive documentation of Maya architectural sites. Andrews’ field work documenting Maya architecture began in the 1950s. He, along with his wife, Gerrie, conducted architectural surveys at field sites from 1958 through 1997. The two compiled a rich collection of records, including measurements, architectural drawings, sketches, photographs, and descriptive text, documenting sites in the Puuc, Chenes-Puuc, Chenes, and Río Bec regions of the central Yucatán Peninsula. The pair documented approximately 800 buildings at 224 archaeological sites.
The iSchool students used resources in the newly established Digital Archeology Lab in the School of Information to access the older media. The goals of the project were to inventory the floppy disks, take disk images, access the files,and ingest these materials into Pacer, the DSpace digital repository hosted by the School of Information.
The project is the Alexander Architectural Archive’s first foray into digital archeology. One remaining goal of this project is to add the recovered files to the set of digital materials from the George and Geraldine Andrews collection that are being deposited into the University of Texas Digital Repository.
The Webb collection includes of over 700 documents, including architectural drawings, “tearsheets”, photographs, sketches, doodles and presentation pieces. Sir Aston Webb worked as an architect in London during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and was responsible for the design of many public buildings and monuments. This important collection was transferred to us through The Harry Ransom Center in 1983.
These images offer interesting insights into the working process of Sir Aston Webb. Many of the drawings have hand-written notes, corrections and annotation scribbled on them. We have a few literal back-of-the-napkin calculations and ideas, as well as very rough conceptual sketches. It is this kind of evidence which brings us closer to history and the people who built the world we live in today.
Working with two iSchool volunteers, Ana Cox and Ashley Butler, our primary responsibility was to create digital images of each item in this collection to allow eventual digital access, but along the way we also re-housed some items and performed some minor conservation on others. The re-housing was performed to keep the smaller items from sliding around in large drawers, and also to allow for more efficient storage. We encountered several jewels which our images, though accurate, fail to do justice to. A big part of this project, for me, was the increased appreciation of the artistic value of these supposedly technical drawings.
Most of the conservation performed was simple surface cleaning. While it may seem elementary to clean a dirty document, some important considerations must be acknowledged. First, the cleaning is abrasive to the surface of the document, and so should only be carried out on those objects sturdy enough to withstand it. The method of surface cleaning must also be considered, as some are more effective, and more potentially damaging, than others. Finally, time has to be taken into account. Each item must be cleaned front and back.
Cleaning by itself might seem to some to be of little importance, especially when the document being cleaned has a huge tear running through it. However, dirt can do damage in a number of ways. Small particles can be sharp, and as one object slides against another these particles can scrape the paper, damaging and weakening it. Also, dirt can attract pests which eat paper. Paper by itself can be food to some insects, but dirty paper is delicious food. Dirt obscures details, warps our perception of color, and can easily be transferred from one object to another through careless handling or just through contact. Dirt can include pollutants from the air, which in this case means that our collection was coated in a thin layer of Victorian London’s industrial smog. I’m not sure exactly what such smog was made up of, but I am confident that chemicals harmful to paper, such as sulfur and chlorine, were in the mix.
This during-treatment image of some surface cleaning gives an idea of how a simple treatment can have a dramatic effect. The left side has been surface cleaned with soot sponges, while the right has yet to be worked on.
Assessment of a collection is a necessary step, but it is only one step in the life of a collection at an institution. It is sandwiched between accessioning on the one side and re-housing and conservation on the other, and even that simplification fails to take into account the previous and future life of the collection. Our assessment was not only able to tell us what we had, but where it was, what its condition was, how it was treated before it came to us and how we could best treat it in the future. Owning a collection is not simply a matter of keeping it in drawers, but is an active and thoughtful process that should be managed with care and consideration.
Sustainable Architecture in Vorarlberg by Ulrich Dangel
Earth Day is celebrating its 40th anniversary on April 22, 2010. This once-a-year event galvanizes millions of individuals across the world to help make the planet a cleaner, more sustainable, place to live.
Architects play a crucial role in this effort, helping to solve such issues as urban sprawl and density, environmental impact of building projects, energy performance of buildings, affordable housing, social equity and sustainable technology.
In his book, Sustainable Architecture in Vorarlberg, Ulrich Dangel, assistant professor of architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses the regional building style in Vorarlberg, an Austrian city known for its sustainable construction methods that have culminated into a model for architecture worldwide.
Dangel will have a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, May 6 at Domy Books located at 913 East Ceasar Chavez, Austin, Texas.
By Amy Crossette, Director Public Affairs for School of Architecture, School of Information.
This book is available at the Architecture & Planning Library.
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