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News Student Blog: Making project-specific tools

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UD Class of 2021 ARTC major Sean Billups placing a miniature clamp on a basket weft.

​This spring semester was a bit unprecedented, to say the least. I began an organic materials internship, wrote up a condition report and started cleaning my assigned Tlingit basket, then never got to see it again. Instead, when campus closed down due to Covid-19 I was given a contemporary dollar-store basket with significant damage, a kit with various adhesives, papers, and paints, and instructions to document the process of repairing each break like it was a collection object.

While it was disappointing to leave the Tlingit basket's progress in a state of limbo, using a non-collection object took the pressure off and gave me the freedom to experiment with different techniques. The most effective experiment was building some tiny clamps to stabilize the wefts of the basket while they dried.

​Left: Three iterations of clamps; the third (far right) was the most effective. Right: Clamp in place and adhesive drying.

​The basket had wide warps (the vertical weaving strands) and very narrow wefts (the sideways strands). A large line of breaks went down one side, and all the wefts were broken. This is where the majority of my time was spent in repair work. Using tiny strips of Japanese tissue and PVA adhesive, I tried to adhere each side together, but had little success since the tension in the wefts pulled them back apart. The wefts measured only about ⅛" tall, and not even 1/32" thick, severely limiting the surface contact for the adhesive.

To solve this issue, I drew up a few ideas for a tiny clamp to fit in between the wefts and hold the two ends together until they dried. The photo shows the progression of clamps from left to right; the 3rd iteration had a clamp arm that was small enough to fit easily between the wefts to hold them in place and was easily removed afterwards. Each of them feature a tiny lip on the end with a loose brass rod which is opened and closed with a small bolt.

​The basket before and after treatment.

I found that adding some thin cardstock on either side of the weft before clamping helped to result in a smooth transition. These clamps may be a bit rough to look at, but they worked beautifully and allowed me to put the basket back together. The repairs are still holding well after a few months.

Even though I was disappointed to miss out on treating the Tlingit basket, I really enjoyed getting to treat a non-collection object; it gave me a chance to be more creative with different problem-solving techniques. I think this experimentation will also contribute to future treatments by making me think differently about how to solve problems--including making project-specific tools to complete a treatment in the safest, most effective way possible.

— Sean Billups, Art Conservation Major, UD Class of 2021

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In this blog post, Class of 2021 ARTC major Sean Billups talks about his experience making project-specific tools for working with delicate, organic materials.

​In this blog post, Class of 2021 ARTC major Sean Billups talks about his experience making project-specific tools for working with delicate, organic materials.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489