On a rainy April day last spring, a large wild turkey was observed strutting around the labyrinth on the lawn of the John J. Burns Library. When attracted by the light, he came and boldly peered in through the window of the conservation lab where he was captured on camera by my colleague, Shelley Barber. The turkey seemed quite fearless and loitered outside the window gazing in for some time before moving back onto the lawn. He was not the only party interested in the activities of the conservation lab in recent months, although his was the only unscheduled visit.
Recently I hosted two groups in the lab, the first on October 17, a Boston College professor and her students. Nancy Netzer, Director of the McMullen Museum, requested that I teach the conservation portion of her class, Art Museum: History, Philosophy & Practice. My role was to describe the conservation assistance I gave in setting up the Making History: Antiquaries in Britain exhibition at the McMullen Museum. The group, including graduate students, undergraduates, and international students, met Professor Netzer and I at the McMullen Museum where we recounted the decisions made to plan and install an exhibition of rare items. I gave an overview of conservation issues faced by museum personnel including treatment decisions, proper packing for shipment, temperature and humidity levels, safe handling of materials, and appropriate supports for display. Diana Larsen, Exhibition and Collections Manager/Designer, spoke about the challenges of designing exhibitions. Professor Netzer wrapped up the museum discussion by describing the role of the curator and explained the necessity of open dialogue between curator, exhibition designer, and conservator to achieve the highest standards for world-class exhibitions like Making History. I then lead the class to the conservation lab in the John J. Burns Library. In the lab I pointed out equipment, such as a sewing frame and finishing tools, which would have been used to create the rare books displayed at the McMullen Museum. Additionally, I allowed the students to see and touch materials like those represented in Making History, including vellum, goatskin leather, hand-made paper, and oak galls (an ingredient for some inks). The artisans who made the books and scrolls would have used these materials: the students were amazed to learn that the same materials are still in use today by bookbinders and conservators. The Boston College students took extensive notes and seemed to enjoy their visit. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to assist Professor Netzer and her class.
On October 20, I presented “Bookbindings in the Era of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J.” to a group of interested Boston College alumni and staff members. I planned this presentation as an event to complement the Burns Library exhibition curated by Father Jeremy Clarke, S.J., Binding Friendship: Ricci, China and Jesuit Cultural Learnings. Father Clarke and the students who assisted him with the exhibition catalog were very fascinated by the appearance of the books and the catalog features beautiful images of some Jesuit bookbindings, taken by Kerry Burke, Boston College Photography Production Supervisor. To view the Binding Friendship catalog please click here.
These bookbindings could not be seen in the exhibition—the books were opened to exhibit text or illustrations—so I wanted to offer visitors an opportunity to see and to hold books from the era of Father Ricci, the Jesuit showcased in the Binding Friendship exhibition. The visitors were shown a variety of early 17th century bindings. I focused on a number of books bound in pigskin because these volumes have an impression of the seal of the Jesuit order on the front covers. The talk was well received; my guests had fun holding and examining the books and we had a lively discussion about them.
If you missed the October 20 presentation or are not in Professor Netzer’s class, are you compelled to loiter outside the conservation lab window, peering in like the doubtful guest of last April? Absolutely not—please contact me and I will be happy to schedule a visit for you or an interested group. The John J. Burns Library has a wealth of rare books and I’m willing to talk about their history and structure. If you would like to visit the McMullen Museum or the Burns Library, click here for directions.