This post was written by Saira Haqqi, Enhanced Conservation Work Experience (ECWE) Assistant.
Our upcoming exhibition, Tattooed New York, will feature this delightful sketchbook containing tattoo designs by an unknown artist. Before it could be exhibited, the book needed some conservation treatment. When it came to the lab it showed signs of extensive use: the covers were paint splattered, pages were loose, and there were multiple creases and tears. Mixed among the larger leaves were some smaller pages, probably from another sketchbook belonging to the same artist. These issues made the volume difficult to handle and display safely.
I began by thoroughly documenting the book’s condition. This is a key part of conservation work, as it ensures future researchers can access the information that I gather during treatment. I cleaned the covers and leaves with vulcanized rubber sponges. Dust encourages insect activity as well as the deterioration of paper and cloth, so this simple action is more important than one might imagine!
After these key steps, I disbound the volume. I mended tears and reinforced creases with Asian tissue and wheat starch paste, a common conservation adhesive. Loose pages, and those pages that were smaller than the others, were attached to longer tissue stubs to allow for resewing. I sewed the leaves through a piece of airplane linen, which was then adhered under the original pastedowns. Meanwhile, the spine-piece was reinforced with tissue so that it gave more support to the textblock.
When I first got the book, I noticed that the textblock was a little thin for the spine of the cover. Perhaps there were missing pages that had been torn out of the book at some point in the past? Whatever the reason, I compensated for this lack of bulk with loose pieces of shaped matboard that served the double function of adding thickness and protecting the edges of pages, which now stuck out a little beyond the covers.
The book was now ready for exhibit! It could be opened and handled safely, and all the original evidence as to structure and use was preserved. I heartily recommend seeing it in person once the exhibition opens on February 3rd!