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.

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