B-31 Olin Library
This detail of a 20th century black and white silver gelatin photograph
shows the permanently cracked emulsion caused by rough handling.
|Photographic collections are present
throughout the nineteen Cornell University Libraries and holdings
number into the hundreds of thousands. Photographic prints and negatives
are complex materials made from sensitive components and are easily
damaged by a poor environment, rough handling, and poor quality
The Photograph Conservation unit is
responsible for the preservation of these materials on a collection
and item level by:
- surveying print and negative collections to assess deterioration,
and treatment, housing, and duplication needs
- executing major and minor treatments including cleaning, flattening,
mending, and emulsion stabilization
- rehousing print and negatives collections in appropriate enclosures
- advising Library staff and the public on safe handling and care
of photographic collections.
This severely deteriorated 20th century acetate negative was identified
and isolated (to prevent contamination of other negatives) through
survey of the collection.
The Photograph Conservation Unit also conducts surveys,
treatment, and housing of manuscripts, documents, maps, and photographic
reproductions, such as blueprints. The unit has undertaken several special
projects including The
A.D.White Collection of Architectural Photographs. This
was a major project undertaken by the Photograph Conservation unit in
collaboration with the Department of Rare and Manuscript Collections.
This collection includes over 12,000 19th and early 20th century photographs,
primarily albumen, gathered by White in his development of Cornell’s
school of architecture and added to over the years by University Librarian
and professors. The collection of architecture, decorative arts and
sculpture photographs, many large in size and suffering from years of
use and then neglect, was cleaned, stabilized, and rehoused to conservation
Shown in its previous storage location,
the A.D. White photograph collection has
now been relocated to the temperature and
humidity controlled Kroch Library vault.
This detail of an albumen photograph from
the A.D. White collection shows the warm
brown color and wonderful detail possible
with this 19th century photographic process.
The Photograph Conservation unit conducted the conservation
treatment and custom framing of the Cornell University’s Gettysburg
Address. In preparation for exhibit in 2003, the condition
of the Gettysburg Address was documented, minor condition concerns were
treated, and the Address was rehoused in a custom mat and frame to conservation
standards. The unit conducted a major research project into previous
preservation efforts of the Address to aid in the long-term care of
this important document.
The Susan A. Douglas Collection in the
process of unpacking and reorganization.
|The Photograph Conservation Unit also
reviews grants at a state and national level and writes and executes
grants in support of the preservation of Cornell’s collections.
A. Douglas Collection of Political Americana was a
collaborative grant project with the Rare and Manuscript Collections,
funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, to preserve,
catalogue and digitally image the collection. The unit organized,
cleaned, treated, and rehoused over 7000 items (paper, glass, ceramics,
metal, and textiles) in innovative, custom-made enclosures.
|The multiple layers
of protection are shown in this example of the custom-made enclosures.
||The completed housing of glass
||Textiles are housed on custom-made
mounts and then in archival folders and boxes.
The Photograph Conservation unit participates heavily
in exhibit preparation, both in-house and loans, by conducting condition
review and conservation treatment, and establishing light level and
duration recommendations. Care and handling sessions are given to Library
staff and guidance is provided in digital imaging projects to ensure
the safety of Library materials. Training students, technicians, and
interns, giving seminars and workshops on the care of photographs and
family papers, and serving as a resource for the public and professional
colleagues are part of the unit’s education and outreach activities.
This unit is located in B-31 Olin Library and shares laboratory
space with the Book Conservation Unit. The Photograph Conservation unit
is staffed by Michele Hamill, Paper and Photograph Conservator. She
received her MS in Art Conservation in 1991 from the University of Delaware/Winterthur
Museum specializing in paper and photograph conservation. She is a Professional
Associate of the American Institute
of Conservation. For further information on this unit contact Michele
Hamill at 607-255-5766 or email@example.com.