The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: page mapping

In the last article on William Redver Stark, we discovered that the 14 sketchbooks show signs of structural and physical damage. We also noted that all of the sketchbooks had some pages missing and five sketchbooks had numerous pages missing. It is impossible to determine if Stark removed the pages himself or whether they were removed by someone else at a later date. Nonetheless, removing pages resulted in a series of negative outcomes for the sketchbooks:

  • The remaining halves of the folio pages became loose in the text block
  • The loose pages were moved so that the original order and orientation were changed
  • The loose pages became damaged as their edges projected beyond the protective covers of the sketchbooks
  • The spines and sewing structures of the sketchbooks became unstable and deteriorated
Colour photograph of two pages; the left hand page shows where there’s a thin line of the watercolour on the far right edge that is the continuation of the image.

The sequence of two single pages was discovered by a thin line of watercolour pigments on the edge of the left page which matches the right page.

To begin to remedy these issues, the conservation team examined each sketchbook page by page to determine the original orientation and order of pages. This was accomplished by looking at all the little details—the media, watercolour, ink or graphite, the bindings and every instance of damage to the pages—and mapping them out very carefully. The team used various light sources, angling the light to view physical details of the paper, a microscope for magnifying every minute detail and the precise measurement of each page.

Colour photograph of an open sketchbook showing a watercolour on the left and the transferred media on the right

Media transfer—this page was turned when the watercolour was still wet, transferring green and brown watercolour onto the facing page. The loose page is returned to sequence.

The most conclusive evidence for the original order of the pages was:

  • Media transfer and media overlap
  • Paper damage such as repetitive stains, tears and losses
  • Impressions left in the paper from the artist’s drawing instruments and the binding materials
  • Dimensions and undulations in the paper and the location of the binding’s sewing holes
  • Artist’s notations with dates and locations
Colour photograph of an open sketchbook. On the left page is a sketch of a lion which has transferred to the right page.

The graphite lion on the left is mirrored in a media transfer onto the right page confirming the sequence of these two loose pages.

Evidence that matched up two or more pages in a certain sequence was documented and the long process of revising the page order began. Each detail was catalogued in a template which really helped to develop an understanding of the sequence for each sketchbook.

Black-and-white image showing a chart that is used to catalogue the existing and the original order of the sketchbook pages.

The page mapping template describes the contemporary sequence and the most likely original collation of the sketchbook. The documentation includes details of the number of pages per signature (grouping of sheets folded and stitched together); the number and location of missing, repositioned and blank pages; pagination; and paper type. Artist’s inscriptions are recorded as well.

The first page mapping chart shows examples of media transfer and overlap. Media overlap would have occurred when Stark was actually sketching or painting as the media was applied beyond the intended area or page. Media transfer happened after sketching or painting when the sketchbook was closed and pages were in direct contact with either wet or friable (crumbly) pigments. In both cases, media was visible on the preceding or subsequent pages and provided evidence of the original order.

In the next part, we continue to explore page mapping by looking at damaged pages.

Do you have ancestors of Black heritage?

Do you want to know when or how your ancestor your first arrived in in Canada? If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on Black heritage. This page provides you with historical information, archival documents and published material from the Library and Archives Canada collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

After the American Revolution, the British gave passage to over 3,000 slaves and free Blacks who had remained loyal to the Crown. These Black loyalists joined the many other United Empire Loyalists in settlements across the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Other Black slaves joined their Loyalist slave owners when they migrated to Canada. Names of those Black Loyalists can be found in the Port Roseway Associates, Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown, 1784 and Ward Chipman, Muster Master’s Office (1777–1785) databases.

Canadian directories online

Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the release of a new version of the online database Canadian Directories. An addition to the page includes full versions of the directories in PDF format, as well as newly digitized directories which are not available through the database.

Black and white illustration of a page from the directory featuring three business card ads for hardware.

Business card-style advertisement from The Montreal Directory for 1842–3, page 213.

These 152 new directories are for the Ontario cities of Hamilton, Kingston and London and for the counties of Southwestern Ontario.

Enjoy!

All papers are not created equal

You may be aware that over the last 25 years, there has been a major effort to convert paper production from acidic products that deteriorate quickly to more stable paper. The movement largely came from the library community’s concerns about rapidly deteriorating paper in their collections. The result is that there are now no western producers making acidic papers anymore (other than newsprint), which is great news for libraries, archives and consumers.

Not all of these papers, however, can be guaranteed to truly last long-term (by that we mean over 300 years). Manufacturers can, and do, change the chemical composition of papers quite regularly, and as consumers and staff in a library/archive, it is good to know what is available and how to use it best.

So, let’s look at what’s around us. Our inexpensive everyday photocopy paper is not acidic when tested with a pH pen. This paper can be labeled “acid-free.”

Colour photograph of piece of paper with the words: “Purple = Ok!!” on it. This means that the paper is acid-free.

Test of the pH on everyday photocopy paper.

But it does not meet standards for longevity that we want for paper that will be incorporated with collections on a permanent basis. It’s perfectly fine for bookmarks and flags—items used temporarily.

For long-term quality, look for papers that are marked “permanent” or “archival,” with the infinity symbol set inside a circle.

An image of the acid-free paper symbol—the number eight lying on its side enclosed in a circle.

Infinity symbol designating a permanent or archival quality paper.

Permanent papers can be made with wood pulp (where the harmful acidic lignin is found), but the lignin is generally removed and no acidic additives are included during manufacture. Permanent papers are expected to last several hundred years under normal library or archival storage conditions. To be labeled “permanent” with the infinity symbol, the paper must meet either ISO 9706 or ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 standards.

Archival papers are made to an even higher standard and will last up to 1000 years. These papers are produced with cellulose fibres from plants other than wood and do not contain lignin (usually cotton or linen). Also, the standard for archival papers (ISO 11108) includes requirements for paper strength, which the standards for permanent papers do not include.

Papers labeled as either permanent or archival are recommended for long-term use with collections. It is probably best to choose archival papers when strength is a consideration, such as wrapping or enclosures.

A colour photograph showing an enclosure to house textual documents.

An archival quality paper enclosure.

As a final note, it is important to remember that the storage environment for paper also has a huge impact on its longevity. For every five-degree reduction in temperature, it is estimated that the lifespan of paper doubles. Everybody put on a sweater!

“The Complete Set”: Some fascinating examples in Library and Archives Canada’s portrait collection

The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holdings include one-of-a-kind historical artifacts that relate directly to specific portraits in the collection.

In some cases, items that were separated over the years were reunited at LAC. In others, LAC was fortunate to take over the custodianship of a carefully preserved ‘set.’ In all cases, these somewhat unexpected holdings provide invaluable context for better understanding the portraits they are associated with.

Copper plate image showing Captain George Cartwright checking his fox traps during the winter in Labrador. He wears snowshoes, carries a gun over one shoulder and has a dog on a leash, tethered to his belt.

Captain Cartwright visiting his fox traps (MIKAN 3986048)

This copper plate, for example, was created as a means of ‘publishing’ the evocative oil portrait of Captain George Cartwright (1739–1819), a retired army officer who set up trade as a trapper and fur trader in Labrador.

Oil painting showing Captain George Cartwright checking his fox traps during the winter in Labrador. He wears snowshoes, carries a gun over one shoulder and has a dog on a leash, tethered to his belt.

Captain Cartwright visiting his fox traps (MIKAN 3964571)

It illustrates one process that was used, before the development of photography, to “translate” paintings into a printable format, so that they could appear in books. The painted portrait was created specifically to provide a frontispiece image for Cartwright’s important Memoir, A journal of transactions and events, during a residence of nearly sixteen years on the coast of Labrador… (1792).

The same image as above, except in printed form, published in a first edition of the 1792 book.

Frontispiece from Captain George Cartwright’s Memoir (AMICUS 4728079)

Special Notes on the Frontispiece, compiled by Cartwright, underline the significance he attached to every one of the painting’s details. Like the Memoir, the painting reads like a primer for would-be adventurers—including innovative, Aboriginal-inspired solutions for survival, such as wearing snowshoes when checking traplines in winter.

Copper is a soft metal that allowed engravers to faithfully reproduce these details, as well as something of the feel of the original oil painting. Here, for example, the soft-edged atmospheric landscape of winter was created by protecting some areas of the plate with wax, while allowing acid to wash over other exposed areas.

It’s rare for any institution to hold a painting, its copper plate and a first-edition copy of the resulting book, but LAC’s collection includes all of these items.

Another example: LAC’s collection includes this pendant and earrings.

Colour photograph of two gold earrings with a stylized spiral pattern and a matching pendant.

Marie-Louise Aurélie Girard’s earrings and pendant (MIKAN 3994256)

This was the actual jewellery that Marie-Louise Aurélie Girard (ca. 1868–?) wore when she sat to have her portrait painted by the distinguished Montreal artist, Alfred Boisseau (1823–1901):

Oil painting showing a woman in a black dress looking straight at the viewer. She is wearing the same pendant and earrings as shown in the previous photograph.

Marie-Louise Aurélie Girard (MIKAN 3993116)

These precious items remind us of the human process behind historical portrait painting. Prominent and wealthy sitters would often deliberate over which items to wear or include in a portrait, not only for sentimental reasons, but also to convey social status. In this case, the sitter was the wife of a former Premier of Manitoba.

A Canadian icon: celebrating Sir John A. Macdonald’s bicentennial

It has been 200 years since the birth of Canada’s first prime minister and the interest in his political and personal life has not diminished. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has an extensive and varied collection of records related to Sir John Alexander Macdonald, including a virtual exhibition that includes personal papers, photos, artwork, and publications. Within LAC’s Sir John A. Macdonald collection, there are over 100,000 letters to and from family and close friends, which gives researchers a rare glimpse into his personal life.

Black and white photograph showing Sir John A. Macdonald sitting on a chair, both his legs and his arms are crossed.

Sir John A. Macdonald, 1872, by William Topley (MIKAN 3333452)

As well as revealing a little bit about Sir John A.’s family life, LAC’s collection also contains artwork and objects that use the former prime minister’s image as a political symbol and, at times, a comic caricature. From political cartoons disapproving of the National Policy and Canadian-American relations, to a derisive phrenological chart of Macdonald’s head, the image of Sir John A. has become a part of Canadian iconography.

Lithograph showing Sir John A. Macdonald dressed as a marching British soldier in front of a locked gate. Behind his back, Uncle Sam is reaching for bags of money from some business men straddling the fence.

Electoral campaign sign reading, “We can’t undo the lock, Sir John is on guard. Hand it over the fence?” (MIKAN 2847973)

Beyond the more politically charged cartoons, Sir John A. Macdonald’s image has also been used commercially in beer advertisements, an endorsement for tomato chutney, and he has even been made into an action figure.

Print of a Molson’s ale ad featuring Sir John A. Macdonald seated and looking off to the side. Behind him is a map of the Dominion of Canada and underneath the image the text reads, “Fifty-six years ago when Sir John A. Macdonald was first Premier of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, Molson’s ale was then 81 years old! The ale your great-grandfather drank.”

Molson’s Ale, Sir John A. Macdonald. (MIKAN 3000462)

However, lest our mental image of Sir John A. Macdonald become a caricature, this bicentennial marks an opportunity to reflect on the personal history and life behind the icon. LAC’s Sir John A. Macdonald collection is a monument to the man and the myth, but his legacy extends beyond these images, back to his Scottish origins. In 1968, outside the tiny village of Rogart in the Scottish Highlands, a memorial cairn was dedicated to Sir John A. Macdonald and unveiled by the 13th Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker. This memorial is built on the site of the home of Sir John’s grandparents and is made of stones from the original family home. Accompanying the cairn is a plaque that states that the monument is but “a footnote to his greatness.” This type of disclaimer is a good one to keep in mind when examining Sir John A. Macdonald’s accomplished and storied life through such a diverse range of records.

To learn more about Sir John A. Macdonald and his legacy:

Library and Archives Canada releases seventeenth podcast episode, “Let us be Canadians: Sir John A. Macdonald

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Let us be Canadians: Sir John A. Macdonald.

January 11, 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. To celebrate this anniversary, award-winning journalist-historian Arthur Milnes and LAC art archivist and curator Madeleine Trudeau join us to discuss the life and career of this important political figure as well as the related resources available at LAC.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at podcasts@bac-lac.gc.ca.

The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: the details

Over the next few months, the blog will feature a series of articles to uncover behind-the-scenes conservation work. This work ensures that the Library and Archives Canada collection is maintained, preserved and available for future generations to enjoy. We will be following along as the conservation team conserves the William Redver Stark sketchbooks. We had a preliminary overview of the restoration of the sketchbooks this year as well as a podcast about William Redver Stark. Now over the next months, the team will be conserving the sketchbooks and documenting the conservation process on the blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Examining the sketchbooks: the groundwork

The paper in the 14 sketchbooks is either wove watercolour or wove drawing paper. Wove paper is paper made on a closely woven wire roller or mold and having a faint mesh pattern. Unsurprisingly, the eight sketchbooks with drawing paper do not have watermarks. Watermarks are a design or symbol, such as the maker’s name, that is impressed on a piece of paper and can be seen when the paper is held up to the light. Three of the six watercolour paper sketchbooks have watermarks from different English papermakers.

Colour photograph showing a watercolour sketch of a horse. Along the bottom edge is the faint imprint of a watermark reading “1915 England”

Watermark reading “1915 England” on one of the sketchbooks.

The dimensions of the sketchbooks range from 84 x 126 mm to 145 x 240 mm which makes them roughly the size of a smart phone or a deck of cards. There is no pagination in any of the sketchbooks but a close examination reveals the sequence in which the artist used the sketchbooks—some were used from front to back, some back to front or in a completely random order.

Colour photograph of three stained sketchbooks on a white table with a smartphone beside them to show the relative sizes of the items.

Three sketchbooks laid out beside a smart phone for size comparison.

Further examination reveals other important nuggets of information. Some of the books have bookseller tickets, artists’ colourmen labels or ink stamps. These can provide further information on the composition of the paper, the format and provenance of the book. Some labels indicate the number of pages which is very useful in determining if pages are missing. The examination concluded that many pages were missing from these sketchbooks. The provenance information also reveals that the books came from a variety of book makers and booksellers in London and France and that some were marketed to English, French and German consumers.

Colour photograph of a yellow label with information on the maker of the sketchbook.

An example of an artists’ colourmen label showing the maker, the provenance of the sketchbook, the number of pages and quality of the paper.

The text blocks (the main book body) are composed of signatures of between four to eight folios. A signature is a group of folios. A folio is a single page, folded once. All but two of the sketchbooks were traditionally bound, one with two metal spine rings and another with a stapled binding. These two simple binding structures were hand produced and do not use the commercial industrial manufacturing commonly used in book production at the time. All the sketchbooks have hard board covers. The bindings are plain and utilitarian with no decoration on the covers or spines except for manuscript notations in ink or graphite possibly written by the artist. Two sketchbooks have leather spines with cloth on the boards. The others have beige canvas bindings with an elastic-wrap closure. Most of the sketchbooks have pencil holders.

The sketchbooks have not been previously repaired or conserved and all exhibit multiple minor or major stability issues as follows:

  • pages breaking off at the spine
  • paper tears and pieces of paper broken off
  • missing pages
  • pages out of their original order
  • broken sewing threads
  • weak or broken attachment of text blocks to covers
  • adhesive tape on covers
  • fragile areas on cloth covering and boards

The next article in the series, “The William Redver Stark sketchbooks: page mapping,” will look at how the conservation team determined the order of the pages in the sketchbooks.

Visit Flickr to view more images of the conservation examination.