Friday, December 10, 2010

Dürer! Me! Working!

Sometimes, at work, we just get totally awesome things. Last week we had two Dürer engravings. Two! Dürers! And I got to treat one!!!

When it comes to printmaking, German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) is The Man. Freakishly talented as a youngster, by his twenties he was noted across Europe for his mad printmaking skills, and since that time has been regarded as one of (if not the most) important artists of the Northern Renaissance.

Self Portrait, 1500 (painting, obviously)

Like most successful artists of the day, it would be highly unusual if he cut the woodblocks for the prints himself. Most likely he drew the images for his woodcuts and then had a lower-level somebody on his team actually cut them from the block.

My art history classes were years ago, and though one particular printmaking course hit Dürer really hard, I can't be certain if he made his own engraving plates... but I'm inclined to think yes, because he spent some quality time as some sort of apprentice to a goldsmith, which would have involved engraving metal.

The Four Riders of Apocalypse, 1497-98, (woodcut)

We had two engravings, belonging to a private client, which were in pretty good condition and needed only did minor treatments. How fabulous though, to spend two days six inches away from one of these! People would just drop by my bench to look at it. The photographer told me that she admired it for about ten minutes before shooting the before treatment photograph. Sometimes I just sat there and looked at it.

Dürer's works were revolutionary. And because prints are portable and so easily reproduced (compared to things like paintings), his influence was felt across Europe. You could roughly break the history of European printmaking into Before Dürer and After Dürer.

(Please note, these are examples of Dürer's work, not necessarily images of the ones we had in the lab).

Melancholia I, 1514

Saint Jerome in His Study, 1514

These last two match the tonality of the paper much better than the straight black-and-white images do. The paper is over 500 years old, so it's going to be yellow/brownish.

Adam and Eve, 1504

Saint Anthony at the City, 1513

Thursday, December 9, 2010


At work, we've been in a near-constant state of uproar for the past three weeks. Our former Director of Conservation (former as in 'retired after 20+ years in late September') passed away unexpectedly the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The entire staff was a mess. The three days before Thanksgiving involved all of our staff making phone calls and the senior staff helping his wife make arrangements and putting together a memorial service for the Philadelphia museum community. The memorial service was this past Tuesday, and a huge number of people attended. At work, people are still feeling down. You can tell, because everyone's clothes aren't as colorful as they usually are.

From the announcement made in the Book and Paper Group of the national conservation professional organization:
Glen Ruzicka's contributions to the field are international and extensive. He represented a different generation of conservators—a generation which not only mastered their craft but set new standards in scholarship. He stood out for his consummate bench skill, for his talent as a teacher and mentor, for his big hearted and warm disposition, and his contagious passion for the conservation and preservation of our cultural heritage. He was universally admired, respected, and loved, and will be incredibly missed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tape: Don't Even Think About It

I spent the entirety of last week, at work, dealing with this thing that had tape all over it. Being that I work where I do, the thing was a work of art on paper. An important 125+ year-old family document belonging to a private client. And, at sometime in the past, some genius decided to do a little self-lamination project and cover the main area of design with multiple layers of tape. Recto and verso. With like four layers in some places! I can't even imagine somebody taping this thing back together, all crooked and whatnot, and then stepping back to admire and saying, "Damn... I did a good job on that!" It blows my mind.

Ugh! The worst part is that the design liked the adhesive of the tape so so so much better than in liked the paper. What a nightmare. I generally have a 0.1% (at the most) acceptable loss policy, but I had to opt for a 10% loss on this sucker. And I have what I like to think of as mad skillz and infinite patience. (I'm pretty sure that one time I told somebody that I have a masters degree in getting tape off of things.) But - no choice. The tape had to come off. This is what they don't really get into in conservation grad school: the degree of acceptable loss.

Stuff with tape comes in all the time. And all kinds of tape, even the kinds you wouldn't expect. Like duct tape. I think my least favorite is gaffers tape: its so hard to get off of things. Ugh - and then the stains and the sticky residue all those tapes leave behind.

So, the moral of the story is as follows. If you're thinking of putting tape on something that may be of value to your descendants, be prepared for a paper/photo conservator to charge like $5,000 to deal with it. And don't whine about the cost: it was your own fault.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Liang and Michael Visit! Part Two!

The Friday night burgers got us started on our campaign of eating like the champs that we aspired to become. Plans were in the works to consume foods from the following categories: bakery, Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market, Korean, French-place-near-work-whose-name-we-are-all-uncertain-of-pronouncing, and the best cupcakes in Philadelphia. Here's Liang's take.

(Liang's blog is way better than mine about the weekend adventures, so I'm just going to post my lame-o photos and link to her stuff).

What has Liang so focused, in the middle of the Reading Terminal Market?

Selecting which ice cream flavors to get. Naturally.

In Chinatown, at a rendezvous with Lena. (There was an exchange of high quality chocolate between Liang and Lena. Fyi, if you ever need some, Liang requires payment for chocolate-trafficking in cash.) I attempt to photograph Michael making some sort of peculiar facial expression, but am too slow.

Free Library! Main branch, looking across Logan Circle, I think? Anyway, we went to scope out the cookbook section, and to marvel at the marble interior.

Looking down the Ben Franklin Parkway (he invented the stove, you know).

At the top of the Art Museum steps. Michael was not impressed by Rocky, and refused stand next to the Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps. We didn't go in the museum, which I was glad about: I've been over-exposed to its collection.

Living in Fishtown and coming into Center City for work, I passed the Mutter Museum every day. And I didn't go in, knowing that it would be so much better to go with Liang. The Mutter is one of the most famous collections of medical oddities in the world.

Disturbingly Informative sums the contents up quite nicely. I kept saying variations of, "Oh my god! So gross! What is that?!?" I'm not usually comfortable with the idea of internal organs (so messy), but with Liang's med school knowledge it was a creepily fun visit. I had no idea that syphilis could affect so many organs.

The Mutter Museum has a lovely and informative Medicinal Herb Garden as well as extensive collections of human skulls and conjoined twins in formaldehyde.

There were little signs next to the plants which listed the common name, the scientific name, and the uses. I find it intriguing that spiderwort is good for as a laxative and for treating bites. It must be that the mode of application differs.

Lavender - good for restlessness and anxiety - would have been handy during grad school. Just make the WUDPAC students eat handfulls of it on a regular basis.

Poor Liang and Michael - I also pushed them to watch 1776. Philadelphia! Ben Franklin! Michael starting the paperwork to become naturalized! (I told him to pay attention, he'd need to know this stuff for the citizenship exam or whatever it they make you do...)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Liang and Michael Visit!

I'm so tardy about these things lately. Operation Fitness has been taking up time, and I've been staying at work late because of this absolute nightmare project. Also, Cordie Cat has a very demanding assisted-grooming schedule.

Liang and Michael came to visit!

They made the journey from Pittsburgh to Philly in order to spend a weekend eating their way through central Philadelphia. I was more than happy to assist! Beginning with burgers at my neighborhood dive bar...

Cordelia Says...


Cordelia Cat also says to check out Liang's blog, because she's super cute on it. (Wonderful Cordie photo by Liang!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Do I Do Any Conservation These Days?


Check out what Paper Conservator Corine and I are doing in the project FOCUS at the Center's website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Visit to the Big Spicy

This summer was so absolutely miserable that, now that fall is here, all I can think about are squashes (of various sorts) and apples. Lucky for me that college-roomie Big Spicy had issued an invite for an apple-picking weekend in Albany!

Sadly, my camera batteries were dead dead dead. Missing are photos of the apple orchards, the pies (yes, plural!) that we made, the lovely turning leaves... and the possibility of unflattering snapsnots of me and the Spicy One, doing stupid stuff.

Just a few snaps that B. Spicy's dad took of us in the apple orchard. This is the oddest one, so up it goes!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gratuitous Cat Pictures

Isn't Cordelia cute these days? She's a little fatter now, and her fur is all sleek and shiny.

We're good roommates. She likes orderly routines too.

I'm pretty sure this is the best picture that anyone has even taken of a cat.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A. S. Byatt at the Free Library!

I could go on and on about my love for the Free Library, which is encouraged by the fact that I live like 300 yards away from my nearest branch.

Until it reverted back to the fall/winter/spring schedule, Tuesday was Library Day (open until 8:00 pm). Now the late days are Monday and Wednesday, which clash with my new endeavor, Operation Fitness (a topic unto itself). So Library Day will have to become Saturday.

Anyway, to move away from my fondness for schedules, this past Tuesday was the first time I visited the Main Branch of the Free Library. I didn't visit for the books, so I have no idea what the reading rooms and stacks look like.

I was there because A. S. Byatt was in town! And I had a ticket!

One of the Free Librarians, one with a background in 19th century literature, conducted the interview/chat. It was pretty much fantastic. And I was (and still am) delighted with myself because they talked about books and made book-people jokes and I got them too! It was also good for observing the other audience members: if a writer was mentioned and somebody was pleased, that the writer was a favorite, they started clapping. The Brontes got some polite cheers. A person three rows ahead of me started clapping wildly when Emily Dickinson was mentioned. It was like I wandered into the world of Thursday Next. Which would have been totally awesome.

To dramatically switch topics, my first though upon seeing A. S. Byatt walk out onto the stage was that she looked just like Miss Emmer (high school librarian). At least, from the rear-middle of the auditorium, they were twins.

Apparently the Free Library turns these into Free Podcasts, so whenever this goes up I'll attempt to make a link of sorts.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Banned Books!

One reason I've been looking forward to Banned Books Week isn't just because I think we should all Stick It to the Man, but because of a little Banned Books Celebration I was planning on attending at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

The foundation of the collection at the Rosenbach is the library assembled by the Rosenbach brothers. The brothers were noted rare book and manuscript dealers, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were involved in forming important public rare books libraries, like the Folger and the Huntington Libraries. There were certain things the Rosenbach's couldn't bear to part with, and those materials are what eventually became the Rosenbach's collection.

These include the only surviving copy of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac, the manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses, and the papers of several poets.

They also have a well-known collection of Dracula materials, including Bram Stoker's working notes for Dracula. If you've read The Historian, the little library the narrator leaves at the end is the Rosenbach. Pretty cool.

They also have most of, I think Maurice Sendak's drawings.

Anyway, the Banned Books Celebration was Authors of Mischief! Notable Philadelphia cultural figures read passages from many of the banned and censored books in the Rosenbach collection. All the audience members received a program outlining the readers and readings, and a brief explanation of why each book was banned or challenged.

It was great! Stand-out readings include selections from the following:
  • Don Quixote read by a Princeton Spanish and Comparative Literature professor,
  • Twelfth Night performed by the Rosenbach interns, a librarian, and education director
  • Leaves of Grass read by the Rosenbach Poet-in-Residence,
  • In the Night Kitchen, complete with projected illustrations, read by the director for the Heritage Philadelphia Program.
The best by far, though they were all very good, was a portion of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (Fun fact: apparently the book was banned in 1931 in Hunan Province, China, because "animals should not use human language")

The scene when Alice meets the caterpillar was performed by two local actresses/performance artists. It was wonderful: the woman playing the caterpillar had a half-drunk iced coffee as her hookah, into which she kept slowly blowing bubbles. She also, instead of reading the lines, "one side makes you larger and one side makes you small," sang them in the style of Jefferson Airplane.

Too bad the Timmy wasn't there: two of his favorite things. Jefferson Airplane and Sticking It to the Man.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Book, One Philadelphia

Happy Banned Books Week!

Philadelphia, proud home of the Free Library! I live right by a branch of the Free Library and I've check out like twelve books within the past month and a half, which is fabulous. One annual even that the Free Library does is called One Book, One Philadelphia. One book (clearly) is selected each year, the general population is encouraged to read it, and a number of lectures and events are hosted by the library. The most awesome part about this is that there are billboards! Along the highway! Billboards saying, "Let's all read this book! Because Books are Awesome!" Also, I love the idea of a whole bunch of people who don't even know each other, all reading the same thing at the same time.

Anyway, I'm like a zillion months behind the actual events of One Book, One Philadelphia, but I don't really care. As part of my personal Banned Books Week celebration I'm reading Marjane Satrapi's The Complete Persepolis.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Continued Adventures of Mum's Labor Day Weekend in Philly

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a mosaic folk art extravaganza on South Street. Artist Isaiah Zagar spent twelve years making the Magic Gardens; excavating tunnels, sculpting walls, and installing sculptures, tiles, mirrors, bicycle wheels, and glass bottles. I had never been here before (though I'd walked by it, and by the many murals Zagar has done around South Street), but I was curious, and though Mum would get a kick out of it.

After exploring the mosaic-crazy, we headed down to Jim's Steaks, for the Philly Cheesesteak Experience. Which must involve Cheese Wiz.

This is half of Mum's. Clearly she opted for the peppers as well as the Cheese Wiz.

I did have another destination in mind for after the cheesesteaks, but since it was more eating, I made us walk all over Old City first. While walking we passed this sign, celebrating the press that printed Thomas Paine's "Common Sense." The press was no longer: the sign was next to a little parking lot.

After stoping at the Visitors' Center at Independence Hall for a new Philly map for Mum (Cordier Cat hid the first Philly map under the chair), we headed to Elfreth's Alley. The entire alley is a National Historic Landmark District. The earliest houses date to 1702, and the street has been a residential neighborhood since that time.

The houses were so little! There was one for rent and I totally wanted it to be mine!

After winding our way through the eastern half of Center City, we made it to our final destination for they day: the Franklin Fountain! A fabulously old-timey soda fountain with a sweet tin ceiling, we beat this line full of loud children and sulky college students.

After ice cream, we walked the 20-odd blocks back to my little apartment. Mum fed Cordie Cat more treats, and we got Indian take-out and relaxed our tired feet for the rest of the day!