Conservator’s Notebook: One Doubtful Guest and Many Welcome Guests

A wild turkey, pausing in his stroll around the Burns Lawn, peers into the Burns Conservation Lab.

A wild turkey, pausing in his stroll around the Burns Lawn, peers into the Burns Conservation Lab.

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.

Professor Nancy Netzer and students from her class, Art Museum: History, Philosophy & Practice, visit Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard at the John J. Burns Library on October 17, 2011. Photograph by Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, Burns Library.

Professor Nancy Netzer and students from her class, Art Museum: History, Philosophy & Practice, visit Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard at the John J. Burns Library on October 17, 2011. Photograph by Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, Burns Library.

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.

Hebard shows a Jesuit binding to some of the visitors who attended her presentation, “Bookbindings in the Era of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J.” Photograph by Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, Burns Library.

Hebard shows a Jesuit binding to some of the visitors who attended her presentation, “Bookbindings in the Era of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J.” Photograph by Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, Burns Library.

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.

This book, a work devoted to the theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has a tooled vellum cover and a Jesuit device.  This book is part of the Burns Library's Jesuitica Collection and can be found under the call number BX 809 .V6 M3 1612.

This book, a work devoted to the theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has a tooled vellum cover with a Jesuit device. This book is part of the Burns Library’s Jesuitica Collection and can be found under the call number BX 809 .V6 M3 1612.

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.

  • Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, Burns Library

barbara.hebard@bc.edu

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
This entry was posted in Conservation, Exhibits & Events, Featured Collections & Books and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s