Five Years – and Counting!

Cover of the book One Two Three Four. A leashed dog at the top of a short staris barks at two kittens who are drinking milk from an spilled bowl on the step between them and the dog.At the beginning of May 2016, the first of 634 boxes of books arrived at the loading dock of Canaday Library. The enormous collection of 19th and 20th-century works for young readers had been bequeathed to the College by Ellery Yale Wood (Class of 1952).

Delivery worker draggins a pallet of 45 large boxes onto a dolly

The books arrived by the pallet-load.

Over the next three months six student employees unpacked, vacuumed, aired out, and roughly sorted approximately 17,000 books.

Student amployees vacuum and shleve incoming books

First: unpack! Second: vacuum!

By the end of that summer, all the books had been sorted and organized by author.

Catalogers and student employees, in processing room, hole up a book above a shipping box.

Last box of books!

In the succeeding five years, 37 of our student employees have worked on the Wood collection. They alphabetized. They helped identify duplicate volumes. They helped find books to answer reference questions and requests for images – a very difficult task before the books were cataloged and given call numbers. They shelved newly cataloged books, and retrieved and then reshelved books for readers and classes. They put acid-free covers on books with dust jackets, and measured books for the conservation boxes we use for fragile items. Three students – Toby, Kate, and Beck – did preparatory work identifying online records to save our professional catalogers time.

Studetn employee looks at one book whlie seated at a computer. A cart of books in the foreground.

Toby checked new books against those we already held, and annotated lists to help the catalogers.

Three of the students who worked on the collection in the first year wrote blog posts – on the Golliwog, Mrs. Molesworth, and Beauty and the Beast.

A stack of 40 books by Mrs. Molesworth.

Books by the once-popular, and very prolific, author, Mrs. Molesworth.

In addition to the students’ posts, we have blogged about the collection 26 times. This blog is the twenty-seventh.

Handmade doll with modern paper clothing made from magazine pages, superimposed on the mid-19th century book

Blog post on Paper Dolls and How to Make Them (1857) with a homemade doll dressed in modern clothing

Subsets of the collection – paper dolls, movable books, fairy tales – are large enough to provide significant resources for scholarly research. This year’s Friends of the Libraries intern, Juliet Smith, is the third student to work on the world-class sub-collection of books about Old Dame Trot. We currently have 62 individual historic books and 25 books which include the poem among other texts. Juliet’s efforts will result in an online bibliography and guide by the end of the summer. Two other students are working on Little Goody Two Shoes and The Butterfly’s Ball – and all of their imitators and derivative works.

Student employee examines a book in our reading room. A cartful of books is behind her.

Juliet works with the Dame Trot collection

The collection has been used by 28 Bryn Mawr and Haverford classes in our seminar room. Besides English courses, these include first year writing seminars, Russian Literature, Classics, Museum Studies, and History of the Book. In Fall 2018 a 360° cluster centered around children’s literature included English, Creative Writing, and Sociology courses, with classes and individual students using the collection repeatedly.

Pages from The Orphan Girl, showing the protagonist praying and selling flowers

The Orphan Girl (1812), used in the History of the Book class

We have presented two exhibitions of these books. To Increase Your Delight introduced the collection to the community in Fall 2016. Four students – Hannah, Isabella, Julia, and Cassidy – spoke on their experiences with the books at an event celebrating the exhibition.

Sign for the exhibtion To Incrase Your Delight, with title, dates Septrem to December 2018, and an image of a teenage girl reading to other girlsThe Girl’s Own Book ran through the 2020-2021 academic year; pandemic restrictions meant that most visitors experienced the show remotely. An online version included the full text of the show and links to online versions of many of the books.

Sign for The Girl's Own Book: Selections from the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Books for Young Readers

Six students did background research and wrote draft labels for The Girl’s Own Book. Four helped install the show.

Student employee stands next to partially mounted exhibition signage.

Lucy helped hang the signs for The Girl’s Own Book

To date, 42 books from the Wood Collection have been fully digitized and shared globally on the Internet Archive. Because it is time-consuming, we digitize only works in the public domain that are not otherwise freely available.

Screenshot of search results for the EY Wood Colllection books on the Internet Archive

Books from the Wood Collection on the Internet Archive

The most strenuous effort in processing any donation of books is cataloging – describing the books and entering them into the library’s public catalog. Historically, fiction – even children’s fiction – has been added to catalogs with little or no information about the major themes in the stories. In cataloging the Wood Collection we broke with tradition to include extensive lists of topics (“subject headings” in library-speak) in the catalog records. So books are not just described as “Juvenile literature”, but with terms like Problem children, Siblings, Orphans, Child labor, Dolls, Boarding Schools,  Dreams, Imaginary Voyages, Imperialism, Stereotypes, Adaptations. This deep cataloging has made it possible for students, staff, faculty, and researchers to use Tripod (our online catalog) find books on topics of interest – impossible to do otherwise in a collection of 13,000 books.

Compared screen shots showing 9099 results for the Tripod catalog search ' "juvenile fiction" yale wood' and 54 for the search ' "boarding schools" yale wood'

Extensive cataloging permits readers to find the books they need

Three catalogers and three cataloging assistants have worked on the collection. In the first two years Patrick Crowley, Katharine Chandler, Jo Dutilloy (BMC 2017), and Rayna Andrews (BMC 2011), working part-time, added records for 2750 books.

Starting in 2018, a generous gift from Ellen Michelson (P’09) and additional support from the Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Libraries made it possible to hire a full-time cataloger and a part-time assistant to work exclusively on the Wood Collection. Amy Graham and Maria Gorbunova together cataloged 10,811 books before their appointments ended March 31, 2021. Maria worked primarily on 20th-century books, although her extensive language skills helped us add Russian, Japanese, French, and German titles as well. Cataloger Amy Graham managed the cataloging project and concentrated on the earlier volumes.

Maria Gorbunova and Amy Graham in the Special Collections office, smiling. Maria wears a t-shrt printed "No Meta-Data No Future."

Maria (left) and Amy on their last day of work

Nearly 600 of the catalog records Amy created were “original” – she was not able to use another library’s description for the book, but needed to catalog it from the beginning based on the book itself and her research on its publisher, author, date, and contents.

Title page of the book La civilité puérile et honneste pour l'instruction des enfans.

La civilité puérile et honneste pour l’instruction des enfans (1736) – one of the books Amy cataloged “from scratch”

As of June 2021, there were 13,402 books cataloged in the Ellery Yale Wood Collection.

One desnely packed aisle of the EY Wood Collection in the library stacks.The collection is still growing. Curator Marianne Hansen has taken over cataloging, to make information about additional books accessible. A relatively small number of books from the bequest still need to be added to Tripod. We have recently received three donations of twentieth-century picture books for young readers, totaling 125 books. Finally, we buy books to add to our collection – 50 in the last year – and those books must also be cataloged. We look forward to building the collection and making it available to readers for years to come!

Image from a book cover with a girl about eight years old, counting the fingers of a toddler. Below is written "One Two Three Four Five."

Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr: Museum Studies Praxis Intern Organizes Fall Exhibition

by Rachel Grand (BMC ’21)

Rachel Grand (BMC '21) stands next to an Egyptian Byzantine textile on view in the exhibition ReconTEXTILEize (Spring 2019).

Student curator Rachel Grand ’21 at opening of ReconTEXTILEize, the 360 course cluster’s exhibition that helped prepare her to organize her own exhibition this fall.

I began my internship with Special Collections as part of the Museum Studies Praxis course, where students find placements in local museums for a practical learning experience. I was placed with a History of Art PhD candidate, Nina Blomfield, who is curating an exhibition in the fall on Lockwood de Forest’s decorative arts program for the College. My initial assignment was to help with her research, but it grew into an opportunity to curate my own smaller exhibition in conjunction with hers on Marcel Breuer, another artist commissioned to design furniture for the College. Compared to my past internships, I felt extremely fortunate for this opportunity with Special Collections because of the real responsibilities that were entrusted to me. In this internship, I felt that the research that I produced for Nina was valued and impactful, and the exhibition that I was able to curate myself, has taught me an invaluable amount about curatorial work.  Because of the research opportunities afforded to me in Special Collections, I learned more about the history of Bryn Mawr College than I ever expected to know about my temporary home. 

Lockwood de Forest was a designer and architect who first came to Bryn Mawr College in the 1890s. His boss, and friend, was none other than M. Carey Thomas, for whom he designed and decorated a significant portion of her residence and other parts of campus. De Forest is not a well-known name nowadays among students and facultycompared to M. Carey Thomas, so it was surprising to learn that his architectural touch is all over the College, from the campus center and health center, to the ceiling of the Great Hall! When I walk around on campus now, knowing the history of the buildings enforces a sense of home. While reading correspondence between de Forest and Thomas, I got a sense of Thomas’ strong will, in regard to both interior decoration as well as the future of the college, which provided me with an educated perspective, amidst the controversy surrounding the renaming of Old Library. 

The second artist that I studied, Marcel Breuer, was commissioned for a specific project on campus. When Rhoads was built in 1937, he was approached by the college to design a set of furniture for the new dorm rooms. Marcel Breuer was a famous designer and architect who was trained at the Bauhaus, a radically modern art school in Weimar Germany.  

In order to learn more about Breuer’s furniture, I looked through the college’s archives. As I searched, I could not help but notice how the College used to place an emphasis on Bryn Mawr being “male friendly. The yearbook from 1939 boasted that women who lived in Rhoads were more likely to be engaged (to men) than any other dorm. Photographs of students in Rhoads dining hall in the 1960s depicted at least one man in each group of smiling students.  

I am told that the student body here has changed in recent years and learning more about the college’s history has only confirmed that. Today, Bryn Mawr students would not tolerate M. Carey Thomas, her elaborate expenditures, nor yearbooks boasting their marriageability. It was very impactful to be able to situate myself, as a student, in the timeline of Bryn Mawr’s past through this research at Special Collections.  

Rachel’s exhibition, Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr: Marcel Breuer’s Furniture for Rhoads, opens October 24 in the Coombe Suite Display Case on the second floor of Canaday Library.

 

Behind the Scenes: Conservation of Artifacts at The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Last semester six objects from the Bryn Mawr College Art and Artifact collections were sent to The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University for conservation treatment. Over the course of the fall semester, students in the conservation program researched, cleaned, and repaired these objects. The objects were in need of varying treatments including re-treatment where old repair methods were causing new damage and repair to broken elements that were not structurally stable.

Several of the items were constructed of fragile or organic materials that had naturally begun to deteriorate or change over time, such as the fragile cotton and wool threads used in a pair of North American Ojibwe Beaded Garters.

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Before Treatment

 

Documentation indicating areas of damage.

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After Treatment

The deterioration of the threads was causing the garter to unravel and resulting in bead loss. The conservator reinforced the garter by weaving polyester threads into the unstable sections and reattaching the loose beads and surface cleaned the beadwork.

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Basket Interior Before Treatment

The plant fibers that were woven to create a North American Tlingit berrying basket had also become brittle and broken in several places. In addition, the basket had several older repairs that were contributing to the damage.

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Before Treatment Detail

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After Treatment Detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Before Treatment

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After Treatment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the older repairs were deteriorating, distorting the shape of the basket, and visually distracting, they were removed and the basket was surface cleaned. The conservator was able to fill in the gaps and fix small splits to replace the older repairs and ensure that the basket would be more structurally sound.

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Before Treatment

Repairs to the fragile pieces of a small ivory sculpture depicting rabbits bringing rice dumplings to the rabbit in the moon also needed to be replaced. An older repair had left a visually distracting residue and was no longer stable. Thus, the conservator removed the older adhesive, surface cleaned the entire sculpture and reattached the rabbits and oar with a less obtrusive and more effective material.

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After Treatment

Several of the objects bore evidence of use and were in need of repair. The gourd and wood structure of a Japanese gourd-shaped box had cracked in several places, which caused the lacquer and gold sheet inlay decoration to flake off. These damages may be explained by use and possibly an incident resulting in impact. Animal hide glue, acrylic resins, and balsa wood were used to repair cracks and losses in the gourd and wooden structure. The conservator then used a variety of acrylic resins, copolymers, and putties to stabilize the lacquer surface.

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Before Treatment

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After Treatment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Peruvian (possibly Ica) feathered mosaic miniature dress fragment bore evidence of its deposition circumstances. The fabric was buried alongside another fabric piece with silver medallions, and several medallions transferred during that contact. In addition, the delicate nature of the feathers that constitute the decoration of the garment also necessitated treatment. Although the silver medallions were not part of the original garment, they are important evidence of the context, history and use of the artifact. Thus they were stabilized and retained. The feathers were brushed into alignment and loose feathers were reattached.

Treatment Object 2

After Treatment

A North American Inupiaq drawstring bag made of fish skin was very brittle and fragile from age and had been flattened in storage, losing its original shape, in addition to having many, tears, and losses. The bag was carefully reshaped using gentle humidification and slowly expanding it into its original shape.  Before and during this process the bag was also surface cleaned.

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After Treatment

 

Fish Skin Bag Report Draft_FINAL(1)

Before Treatment

The conservator treating this bag created a time-lapse video of her repair work: (see link below)

www.viddler.com/v/b2b56d65

We wish to thank the graduate conservation students at The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, Emily Frank, Rebecca Gridley, and Bermet Nishanova, as well as their professor, conservator Samantha Alderson, and Manager, Laboratories and Study Collection Catherine A. Lukaszewski for working on these artifacts to help preserve them for future generations.

 

Lab 5: pXRF

On December 4th, for our final lab session, Dr. Anthony Lagalante, from Villanova University presented a lecture and lab session on utilizing a portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer.

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Dr. Lagalante demonstrating the spectrum capture software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portable XRF units are commonly used to help non-destructively identify the surface elemental composition of metal alloys, pigments and other fine art and archaeological artifacts.  The data is generally qualitative when used in a non-destructive manner.

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Analyzing pigment on an Egyptian polychromed wood sarcophagus fragment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students were able to operate the instrument and the computer during the data capture and looked at a variety of object types including; Roman coins, polychromed Egyptian materials, and Greek pottery.

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Determining where to take a spectrum on a polychromed terracotta Ushabti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Analysis of differences in the surface composition in Attic pottery between the black-glaze and clay body.

Lab 4: Microchemical and Related Testing

For week 4, the class focused on different tests to identify materials.

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Marianne administers a lead spot test.

First, Marianne demonstrated different spot tests and micro-chemical tests that can be applied to identify or to ascertain the presence of certain materials in or on an object. One test determined whether chlorides were present in pottery. Marianne combined silver nitrate, deionized water, and pulverized ceramic material in a test tube. Chloride was present, so silver chloride precipitated out.

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Spot test for nitrates and nitrites in soil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students then examined the makeup of different ceramics through a process known as petrographic analysis. A thin section is cut from the vessel and examined under a microscope. In this manner, the different minerals or vegetal material that the ceramic is made of are easier to identify.

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Examining petrographic thin-sections

 

Lastly, Marianne discussed the different ways of identifying fabric. Animal, plant, and synthetic fibers have different characteristics that can be identified through various examinations.

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Examining different fibers under the microscope

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Animal, vegetal, and synthetic fibers all look different.

Not only do fibers appear visually different under a microscope, but when placed in an open flame burn in a variety of ways.

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Students identifying the different burn characteristics of some common fibers.

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Testing Common Fibers.

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Testing Common Fibers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lab 3: Mending Pottery and Glass

The third lab focused on the art of mending pottery and glass.

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Marianne demonstrating mending glass

Marianne demonstrated mending broken glass with the adhesive Hxtal (NYL-1). She first made repairs to a piece of flat colored glass from a leaded window and then to a drinking glass.

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Broken glassware and window glass

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Adhesive, Hxtal (NYL-1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marianne then showed the students how to create a plaster fill in a terracotta pot.  She first placed tape along the inside of the broken pot at the location of the missing piece to act as a backing.  This can also be achieved with dental sheet wax.  She then applied 10-15% Acryloid B72 in acetone onto the pot in the area to be filled.  This will help to prevent the plaster from becoming embedded in the surface of the pot while the fill is being leveled.  She then mixed plaster and filled in the loss area.

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Marianne creating a plaster infill for a pot

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Filled loss

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Loss before filling

 

Next, Marianne demonstrated the art of mending broken pottery.  Each student was given a broken flower pot (with some pieces missing) and assigned the task of dry-fitting the pieces back together.  Then Marianne showed the students the steps involved in mending the pottery following the procedure outlined in:  Koob, Stephen, and Tony Sigel. 1997. “Conservation and Restoration under Field Conditions: Ceramics Treatment at Sardis, Turkey.” Objects Specialty Group Postprints: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 5: 98–115.

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Students mending pottery

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Applying Glue

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Piecing two halves back together

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Lab 2: Examination Techniques and Accession Numbers

The second lab focused on the examination processes one walks through to get acquainted with an object.

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Getting Acquainted with Objects

Marianne demonstrated several different ways to look at and manipulate an object to learn more about it. First the class examined a Laconian kylix (cup) and an Attic jug under ultraviolet light, as the repairs made the vessels can be made clearer under UV light.

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Using an IR microscope

Marianne also demonstrated how different materials appear under different lighting conditions including infrared light and raking light. For example, the presence of carbon containing inks may become clearer under IR light, which can be used to see the under-drawing of a painting. On a fragment of pottery, when examined under raking light, one could see the outline of a different shape (a kylix or cup) underneath the final image of an amphora (storage vessel).

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Examining a pottery sherd under raking light

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Step 1: In regular lighting, one can see a red amphora (storage vessel), lying on its side.

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Step 2: Under Raking light, a small kylix (cup) can be seen in outline inside the area of the red amphora (storage vessel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Lindenlauf and Marianne explained how magnification can elucidate the fabric of a vessel to understand how it was manufactured or the average number of warp and weft threads per centimeter in a Coptic textile.

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Examining vessel fabric

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Using the digital microscope to examine a Coptic textile

In addition to spending time really looking at an object to discover more about it, Marianne explained that if an object represents a known type, research can help point to features that one may not be able to see, but can be found if you look. For example, Marianne demonstrated how when air moves through a pair of Peruvian pots, the vessel whistles. The whistling would occur when the vessel was tipped to pour out liquids.

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Whistling Pots

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Munsell charts and Pantone color cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Color cards for photographs, Munsell charts for pottery, and Pantone color cards for fine arts all increase one’s ability to accurately document color. Calipers, rulers, scales, and vessel diameter charts quantitatively describe an object’s size, shape, and weight.

All of the data gathered about the object would go into a condition report. Marianne and Professor Lindenlauf walked through some of the processes with a vessel by the Bryn Mawr Painter and recorded the data on a sample condition report form.

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Examining the Bryn Mawr Painter Plate

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Loan Condition Report Example

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Sample Condition Report Form

In addition, the class learned how accession numbers are applied to objects. Each object has its own unique accession number that identifies it within the collection. In order to ensure that an object is always identifiable, this number is attached to the object in a variety of ways. Marianne demonstrated two different techniques. For metal, stone and ceramic objects, a small layer of acrylic resin (Acryloid B72 in Acetone) is applied to create a base layer upon which the accession number can be written in permanent ink or acrylic emulsion artist paints. The resin protects the object from the ink and can easily be removed with acetone. In addition, a top coat of a different resin (Acryloid B67 in Naptha) is applied to protect the number from smudging or wear. Another type of label that can be used is a small piece of cotton twill tape with the number written on it which can be applied with a few tacking stitches to a textile object (as long as the object is in good condition and sturdy enough for this type of numbering system).

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Test Objects Ready to Receive Accession Numbers

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Accession Numbers Added to Labels

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bryn Mawr College to Host Protecting Collections: Disaster Prevention, Planning, & Response

 

PCRN_Banner - Copy
Only a few more days to register for Protecting Collections in Bryn Mawr, PA
Register by June 11th!
Protecting Collections: Disaster Prevention, Planning, & Response One of the most important steps any cultural institution can take to safeguard its collections is to be prepared in the event of an emergency or disaster.  This two-part program will guide participants in risk mitigation, emergency planning and preparedness, response, and recovery.  By the end of the second session, participants will develop and complete an emergency preparedness and response plan; learn how to train staff to implement the plan effectively; set pre-and post-disaster action priorities for collections; learn how to use practical decision-making skills during an emergency or disaster; and have information on salvaging a variety of materials, including books, documents, photos and objects.By registering for this program, attendees agree to participate in both the first and second sessions; the two sessions are scheduled several weeks apart in order to give attendees time to undertake several planning assignments.SPEAKERS

Laura Hortz Stanton, Director of Preservation Services, CCAHA
Dyani Feige, Preservation Specialist, CCAHA
Jessica Keister, Paper & Photograph Conservator, CCAHA

LOCATIONS & DATES

June 24 & August 5, 2014 – Registration Deadline is June 11th!
Bryn Mawr College Special Collections
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
www.brynmawr.edu

Times: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

REGISTRATION & PAYMENT

Fee: $50
Registration Deadline: Register at least two weeks prior to the program date.

Registration, secure credit card payment, and additional program information are available at www.ccaha.org/education/program-calendar.

NOTES

  • Lunch will not be provided.
  • Refunds will be given until two weeks prior to the program date, minus a $10 cancellation fee.
  • If you have special needs, please contact CCAHA at least three weeks prior to the program date so that accommodations can be made.

Questions?  Call CCAHA’s Preservation Services department at 215.545.0613 or email us at pso@ccaha.org.

Protecting Collections: Disaster Prevention, Planning, & Response is a part of the Pennsylvania Cultural Resilience Network (PaCRN).  Funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant, the goal of PaCRN is to create a strong network and provide resources for effective emergency response and recovery for cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.  Training, relationship-building, and Commonwealth-wide policy development will be the primary focus of this two-year initiative.

Recent Donation of Prints

This semester, John and Joanne Payson rounded off a year of exceptional generosity by donating a collection of twentieth-century prints and print portfolios to Bryn Mawr College’s Special Collections.

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Teddo, Paul Cadmus, 1985, Lithograph, 9 7/8” x 10 ½” (2014.11.6)

The donation followed a substantial loan of American art used to form the student-curated exhibition, “A Century of Self-Expression: Modern American Art in the Collection of John and Joanne Payson,” which will hang in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room of Canaday Library until June 1, 2014. The students, members of the 360° course cluster “Exhibiting Modern Art,” had the opportunity to work closely with the Paysons on the exhibition and accompanying publications, programs, and special events. The course cluster blog at http://modernart360.blogs.brynmawr.edu/ tells the story of this amazing year in the voices — and with the images — of the students.

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Lion of Prague, Jack Levine, 1982, Etching and Aquatint, 11 1/8” x 9” (2014.11.10)

The recent donation includes work by Jack Levine, Isabel Bishop and Paul Cadmus, who are all featured prominently in “A Century of Self-Expression,” as well as by Doris Rosenthal, Ben Shahn, and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. Like many of the works in the exhibition, the prints appeal largely to a realistic style of representation that persisted alongside more radical and experimental visual trends that are often thought to characterize twentieth-century art. The prints cover a wide range of subjects, including portraits, political, mythological, and biblical stories, and scenes of modern city life.

It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with  Paysons and especially to catch up with Joanne, who received both her AB and MA from Bryn Mawr College. The new prints will serve as a source of interest and inspiration for students involved in the recent exhibition and for future generations of Bryn Mawr scholars.

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Pygmalion, Jack Levine, 1977, Lithograph, 19 1/2” x 12 1/2” (2014.11.1)

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Portfolio of Eight Etching 1927-1934, Isabel Bishop, 1989, Etching 14 ½” x 11 ½” (2014.11.11.a-j)

 

Theory and Practice: Students in Spring course produce exhibition and education program Part 4

making our worldThe Spring 2013 course “The Curator in the Museum” at Bryn Mawr College mixes theory into practice in the new exhibition “Making our World” located on the second floor of Canaday Library. Through readings and guest lectures related to the broader course theme of analyzing the “institution” of the museum and all its related parts, we integrated these models into our own project exhibition and corresponding education program for local high school students.

The following updates — written and edited by students as part of the team-based approach to the entire project — are reports on our progress along the way. Please let us know your thoughts.

Oral Histories: Gathering Information and Making Connections

Student bloggers: Xingzhe He, Jennifer Rabowsky, Alison Whitney

Jennifer:

Courtney Pinkerton oral history interview with (clockwise from lower left) Jennifer Rabowsky, Xingzhe He, Pinkerton, Brian Wallace, and Alison Whitney.

Courtney Pinkerton oral history interview with (clockwise from lower left) Jennifer Rabowsky, Xingzhe He, Pinkerton, Brian Wallace, and Alison Whitney.


Back in late February, while sitting across from our first interviewee, Courtney Pinkerton, our nerves threatened to botch our first oral history.  Just a week before, we had sat down with Professor Brian Wallace and Educator Shari Osborn, where quite simply put, we were told that we were going to be conducting oral history interviews of Bryn Mawr alumna for the “Making Our World” exhibition.  The process seemed intimidating—there is a widely known, appropriate way to go about conducting these interviews—and all three of us had never done one before.  Luckily for us, Courtney was excited to participate, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was incredibly patient.  When we had to spend five minutes to figure out why our recorders weren’t working, this last quality turned out to be a godsend.  And, by the time we started the interview the ice had been broken and it was smooth sailing.

Courtney’s answers to our questions were engaging and, most importantly, were full of emotion.  She told us a humorous anecdote of a prank she performed sophomore year—she and two friends replace the flags from the Thomas Hall turrets with Texas flags—followed by more serious anecdotes about how Bryn Mawr helped her view her fiscal independence as a positive.  Courtney allowed us to see the influence that Bryn Mawr College had on her, and by the end of the interview we had captured a snapshot of Courtney’s life.   When we walked away, we were all excited that we had conducted a successful oral history interview.  But more so than this, we were excited that we had created something that would be accessioned into Bryn Mawr’s permanent collection, and that would be used as an integral part of “Making Our World”.

Xingzhe:

Xingzhe He interviewing Kimberly Blessing '97.

Xingzhe He interviewing Kimberly Blessing ’97.

I interviewed two alumnae, Margery Lee, who graduated in 1951 with a BA in History, and Kimberly Blessing, who graduated in 1997 with a degree in Computer Science. Kimberly was my first interviewee, and the interview was conducted over the phone. While I was a little nervous for my first oral history project, I became more relaxed as the conversation unfolded. Kimberly was an engaging and inspiring character, and it was truly a pleasure to share with her some of the best memories she has had at Bryn Mawr, the moments of accomplishment, difficulties and confusion she had encountered as a young college student.

Later I interviewed Ms. Lee in person. Almost 60 years have passed since she left Bryn Mawr, yet she is still deeply attached to the college and the place. She recalled the classes she loved while being an undergraduate, her role as the coordinator of her Garden Party, and her involvement with the alumnae association after graduation.

Alison:

I was the second person in our group to interview an alumna on our own, and I have to say, it was nerve-wracking. But I could not have interviewed a more charming, interesting woman than Jackie Koldin Levine, graduate of Bryn Mawr’s class of 1946. Jackie received her BA from Bryn Mawr in psychology, with a minor in political science, and has led a fulfilled life as a self-described “full time volunteer”.  Jackie has been very involved in national organizations for the National Jewish Community, and also with the Civil Rights Movement.

Jennifer Rabowsky and Alison Whitney during the Jackie Levine interview.

Jennifer Rabowsky and Alison Whitney during the Jackie Levine interview.

In our interview Jackie spoke proudly of her experiences marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, and attending the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She shared that she gained her strength at Bryn Mawr, a place where she learned to not be afraid and to express herself and her beliefs — even when others disagree. My favorite moment during our interview had to have been the discovery that Jackie lived in Rockefeller dorm, where I have lived for three years. I realized that the dorm room I am living in now has been occupied by incredible women like Jackie Levine (or even Jackie herself!) who have gone on to graduate from Bryn Mawr, achieve great things, and live fulfilled lives. I am proud to know that I am a part of that legacy.