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Call for proposals: Krill and Fiske Awards 2023

Call for proposals: Krill and Fiske Awards 2023

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YouTube Short on poisonous books has millions of views

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Art conservation and planning a treatment

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A student lifts a half-page photo in a book, showing the full-page photo underneath. The photos are of the U.S. Capitol dome.

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Photographs of the U.S. Capitol found inside the album Plans for Heating & Ventilating the Capitol of the United States, the General Post Office, and the University of Virginia by Captain M.C. Meigs. (Image: A. Sanford)

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A student looks through a book of photos of the U.S. Capitol.

Winterthur/University of Delaware Progra​m in Art Conservation Fellow Ashley Stanford examines one of the large salted paper prints of the U.S. Capitol. (Image: B. Weakley)

​Brigadier General M.C. Meigs (1816-1892), Quartermaster General of the Army during the Civil War, was involved with many significant engineering projects, including the rebuilding and expansion of the U.S. Capitol and Dome between 1853 and 1859. However, WUDPAC Fellow and photograph conservation major Ashley Stanford feels Meigs’ most interesting undertaking may have been a large album called Plans for Heating & Ventilating the Capitol of the United States, the General Post Office, and the University of Virginia by Captain M.C. Meigs.

The book documents the Capitol’s reconstruction from 1857-1859 through photographs, architectural plans, diagrams, and text.  A copy of this book is in the Winterthur Library’s collection. The photographs were taken by John Wood, the U.S. government’s first official photographer and the first to photograph a presidential inauguration, that of James Buchanan in 1857.  Most interesting to Ashley is that many of Wood’s photographs in the album are salted paper prints. Dating to 1839, this was the first fully developed process for producing positive photographic prints from negatives. The process, which produces a positive image from a negative by exposing it on paper treated with a solution of common table salt and silver nitrate, is credited to William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) and was widely used until about 1860.

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A student examines a photographic print, lifted above a selection of other prints on a table.

Ashley’s collection of prints from her workshop with Mark Osterman where she explored various ways to create salted paper prints. (Image: B. Weakley)​

​Before turning to the album, Ashley gained some technical experience by using the salted paper process to create her own prints from a single negative during a workshop with process historian Mark Osterman. She explored two different techniques, the developed-out process which uses chemical development to produce an image and the more common printing-out process, which uses UV light. The resulting prints differed in appearance depending on the processing method used. Ashley believes the knowledge she gained will give her a better understanding of the technique Wood used to create the album’s prints.

Ashley will continue building on her technical research into salted paper prints with the Meigs Album in mind. Working with Adrienne Lundgren, Senior Photograph Conservator at the Library of Congress, Ashley hopes to determine the specific salted paper printing process used by Wood for the Meigs Album. The album is in good condition overall, although some pages contain tears, and the cover is detached from the binding. Ashley will mend the tears but will not reattach the cover because she does not want to disturb the binding structure. Once her study and treatment are complete, Ashley will return the album to the library with hopes that it may be exhibited in the future. 


​​​A printable PDF version of this story is available online​​​. Previous stories on projects from the Department of Art Conservation are archived on our website​.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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WUDPAC Fellow and photograph conservation major Ashley Stanford is studying the materials and techniques used in a book that documents the U.S. Capitol’s reconstruction from 1857-1859 through photographs, architectural plans, diagrams, and text.
 
 
11/30/2022
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