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.

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