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News Art conservation students stabilize historic photographs of explorers

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​Debra Hess Norris (right) leads photograph conservation efforts.​ Photo: Evan Krape for UDaily.

​​​​​​​​​UD art conservation students have cleaned and stabilized nearly 1,000 polar expedition photographs from the Explorers' Club, for future digitization and use by researchers and scholars.​ From the UDaily article "Artists of the Arctic" by Ann Manser:


Eight boxes of albums, filled with photographs from the 1860s to the 1890s, arrived at Winterthur Museum early this month, where 10 graduate students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) spent two weeks working intensively with the collection.

“These albums are one-of-a-kind and were assembled by Albert Operti, who was known as the ‘Artist of the Arctic,’” said Debra Hess Norris, Unidel Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts, chair of the Department of Art Conservation and an expert in photograph conservation, who supervised the students. “I’m grateful to The Explorers Club for entrusting us with something that has such significance as a cultural treasure.”

The photographs, taken during various expeditions by Operti and many other photographers, depict all aspects of exploration. There are images of ships, sled dogs and walrus hunts, imposing views of glaciers and dangerous terrain, group photos of crew members—some who would survive the adventure and some who would perish—and portraits of native people. Expeditions included explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to be the first person to reach the North Pole, and pioneering painter and photographer William Bradford.

As the students worked with the images, they said they first had to identify the type of photographic process used in order to determine the best way to clean the surface. The expedition photographers, working with what was still a relatively new technology, used a variety of techniques, so students had a range of hands-on experience.

​​UD art conservation students work with 19th century photographs of Arctic explorers. Photos: Evan Krape for UDaily.

“It’s important to look at an album page or a photograph as an object, but it’s also important to consider the subject matter to put it in context,” said Keara Teeter. Like others working with the project, she is a first-year student in the three-year WUCPAC program.

Most of the photographs needed to be cleaned, and the edges of some of the album pages to which they were attached were brittle and in need of repair. The students documented the work they did, and the album pages were then stored in polyester sleeves to be returned to the Explorers Club.

“We think these photographs were always in albums, and stored out of the light for a long time, so they’re in good shape,” student Emily Farek said. “Once they’re digitized, that will cut down on the amount they’re handled in the future, so that will be even better for them.”

To read the full UDaily article and view a video about the project, click here​.

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UD art conservation students recently cleaned and stabilized nearly 1,000 photographs from the Explorers' Club for digitization and use by researchers and scholars.

UD art conservation students recently cleaned and stabilized nearly 1,000 photographs from the Explorers' Club for digitization and use by researchers and scholars.​​

1/26/2017
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu