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.

A Sticky Situation: The Perils of Sticky Notes

The convenience of the sticky note cannot be beat… the variety of sizes and colours allows us to organize and place our notes and thoughts exactly where we want them. They are used in offices, homes, schools—I only wish I held the patent!

There are strong arguments, however, against their use in libraries and archives. Between 1988 and 1989, when conservation scientists at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration first tested sticky notes, they found that an adhesive residue remains on the surface of the paper that comes into contact with the note (even if the note is placed and removed immediately), that the adhesive can remove electrostatic images (that is, printing ink), and that the dye in the note can run if exposed to water. A more recent repeat of the testing confirmed these findings, showing that most of the note adhesives will stain over time.

The following images show the results of a highly unscientific test conducted at Library and Archives Canada. Although the results are startling, they are not surprising.

1. This is a good book—I will need to reference this chapter later…

A sticky note showing colour fading from the sun

A sticky note showing colour fading from the sun

2. “Goodness, I’ve heard about what light can do to colours. That really faded in a short time.”

A sticky note is used as a bookmark

A sticky note is used as a bookmark

3. “Uh oh… I was not expecting THAT… this didn’t even get wet.”

Evidence of glue residue on a page after a sticky note is removed

Evidence of glue residue on a page after a sticky note is removed

So, that’s why sticky notes are not approved for use with collection materials, not even for temporary use!

Remember, please keep sticky notes away from collection materials, and continue to contribute to the long-term preservation of Canada’s documentary heritage.

William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks

Different approaches have been tried over the years for conserving sketchbooks or bound volumes. For a long time, the works were simply detached in order to remove the binding. Nowadays, the historical and archival value of the binding is widely recognized. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is no exception in this regard, and conservation treatments are now designed to preserve the work in its entirety, including the binding.

In a previous article, we introduced you to the work of soldier William Redver Stark. The sketchbooks that are part of the William Redver Stark fonds were never repaired or preserved, and were beginning to show signs of wear:

  • Tears and holes
  • Pages detached, missing or in the wrong order
  • Broken binding threads
  • Covers weakly bound to pages or completely detached

The sketchbooks therefore are undergoing various conservation treatments, undertaken by a team of LAC’s highly specialized conservators in the field of book conservation and restoration. These conservators worked with the collection managers and archivists to respect the integrity of Stark’s work, and to give him his full moment of glory.

The drawings and watercolours in this collection are in very good condition. Some even look like they might have been completed only a few days ago. It should be noted that the sketchbooks remained closed for nearly a hundred years, and that the pages were rarely exposed to air or light. Thus, to study a Stark work is to travel through time, to see the work of an artist exactly as it was created a hundred years ago, during one of the most deadly and crucial wars of our time.

In sum, the restoration work done by LAC‘s conservation and restoration team will make it possible to stabilize the condition of the sketchbooks in order to ensure that they will withstand the ravages of time, and will allow future generations to have access to an important part of our history.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.
© Library and Archives Canada

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.
© Library and Archives Canada

See Also:

Summary of comments received in French between July 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014

  • A reader from Wimereux (France) thanks LAC for its work on the restauration of William Stark’s sketchbooks. It turns out that William Stark was stationed in Wimereux and made a lot of sketches of the surroundings. The reader was able to identify some of the sketches and he is offering his work to LAC.

The digitization of the Lord Grey banner

We have explained the origins of a large banner donated to Canada by Lord Grey in a previous blog.This current blog post reveals the work involved in digitizing this unique piece of Canadian history.

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) digitization staff are accustomed to handling a range of objects, such as documents, photographs, negatives, microfilm, paintings, maps and books. Occasionally, non-conventional objects present unusual challenges, such as the digitization of the Lord Grey banner, a tall embroidered banner in fragile condition.

Due to limitations in the existing digitization equipment and the size and condition of the banner, the technicians needed to come up with some creative solutions. To minimize the amount of movement, the banner was delivered from storage to the photo conservation lab in LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec. As it could not be hung vertically, it was placed on the floor in an evenly lit open space.

The camera is positioned above the banner, which is laid on the floor.

The camera is positioned above the banner, which is laid on the floor.

Images of the banner were taken using a Phase One 645 DF+ medium format digital camera mounted on the largest camera stand available. With the camera suspended seven feet away, the banner was captured in eight separate sections and the images reassembled using Photoshop for a complete view. Switching to a 150 mm macro lens, the camera was then lowered to get a selection of detail shots showing the many parts of the banner, such as the signature on the back, the shield with St. George and the dragon, and the types of stitching used. When the front was fully documented, the banner was turned over so that the back could also be captured.

Part of the fabric depicting St. George, patron saint of England and the dragon.

Part of the fabric depicting St. George, patron saint of England and the dragon.

The digitization work was undertaken to create a visual representation of the banner, providing the details of its design and the beautiful workmanship. LAC has now created a permanent digital record, making the banner accessible online, reducing the need to handle the physical item and thereby ensuring its long-term preservation.

Visit our Facebook album to see what went on behind-the-scenes to digitize this banner.

Unravelling the mystery of the Lord Grey banner

A large banner depicting two female figures in a rural setting is among the most interesting and unique items in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection. Measuring 2.4 x 1.8 metres, this needlework is made from linen, cotton and wool, in addition to being beautifully embroidered with silk and other threads. On the back of the banner, more embroidery indicates that is was “worked by Agnes Sephton 1907.” According to former archivists, Governor General Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey, gave the banner to the Dominion Archives sometime between 1907 and 1911. The banner hung in the office of the Assistant Dominion Archivist until 1953 when it was put into storage. In 1967, it was moved to the National Archives at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, and has been housed at LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec since 2000.

The banner donated by Lord Grey.

The banner donated by Lord Grey. Source

During preparations for the latter move, staff learned more about the circumstances surrounding the banner’s creation. It is thought to be one of a series commissioned by Lord Grey in hopes of making a lasting impression upon the minds and hearts of young Canadians. He planned for banners to be hung in schools across the country to reinforce the ties between Great Britain and Canada. According to legend, St. George, the patron saint of England, demonstrated immense courage in slaying a dragon. Lord Grey wanted young men and women to emulate these heroic qualities. St. George can be found on the shield held by Britannia, the female figure dressed in red. She extends a protective arm around young Canada, who is wearing a white dress adorned with doves and pine trees.

Recently, while preparing the banner to be photographed, LAC staff tracked down the identity of the woman who created it. When Canadian sources failed to reveal a possible candidate, archivists found one in British census and marriage records. Agnes Bingley was born in 1868 in London, England, the daughter of James Bingley, a landscape artist. In 1901 she married George Sephton, who was a painter. The couple lived in London and were associated with a group of artists and designers linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is hoped that further research will reveal more clues about Agnes Sephton’s banner and how it came to LAC .