This post was written by Clare Manias, Enhanced Conservation Work Experience (ECWE) Assistant
Near the end of the Civil War, lithographer George John Kerth was stationed with the 96th Civilian Corps, New York State Volunteers, at Dover Mines, Virginia. On June 19, 1865 he received a blank sketchbook (N-YHS museum accession no. X.433), which he filled with pencil drawings of the countryside, townships — including black townships — and other soldiers and their shenanigans while on his tour through the state.
This sketchbook came to the attention of the conservation staff while preparing for an exhibition of the work of another artist who lived around the same time as Kerth. Although it was housed securely in a custom box, it needed some serious attention. Most of the drawings were falling out of the book, and this was causing damage around the edges of the pages. The original covers were with the book and still in pretty good shape. The book has obviously been handled quite a bit, the pencil marks are a little smudged in places from moving around and there are stains at the corners from hands flipping the pages.
During discussions with the curator, it was decided that the book should be put back together rather than individually matting each drawing. We thought they would lose the context of their spontaneity and narrative order if they were separated from each other and the binding. The treatment will be to repair any tears or losses of the pages, and rejoin all of the center folds so the book can be sewn back together and put back in it’s binding.
The paper fills and mends will be made with Japanese tissue toned with acrylic paint to more closely match the sketchbook. Japanese tissue is made with natural, untreated mulberry fiber, so it is already creamy colored. The acrylic is thinned to the consistency of milk and brushed over the entire sheet and only changes the color slightly. Because each page in the book will be a slightly different color, small sheets are toned in a range of shades.
To make the fills, a piece of tissue is chosen that closely matches the paper. In the photo above, the best paper choice is the piece on the right; the one on the left is too dark.
The shape of the loss is traced onto Mylar. Then the tracing is transferred to the Japanese tissue through the Mylar with a pin-tool. The fill fits the loss with about 1 millimeter of overlap to make sure the fill is secure. Wheat starch paste is used to adhere the tissue to the sketchbook page. This process is repeated for each fill.
UPDATE (May 31, 2017): The conservation treatment of this unique sketchbook continues in part two.