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ECPN Interview: Textiles with Annabelle Camp

ECPN Interview: Textiles with Annabelle Camp

A new series from AIC's Emerging Conservation Professionals Network highlights specializations that require particular training. WUDPAC Class of 2022 Fellow Annabelle Camp is the first interview in their textile series.
 
Art conservation and mending the past

Art conservation and mending the past

Kaeley Ferguson, a library and archives conservation major, became the most recent WUDPAC Fellow to treat a volume from a 19th-century diary series in the Winterthur Library collection.
 
Conservation in action

Conservation in action

​Time-lapse video of WUDPAC students cleaning a 400-year-old Turkish rug is the newest addition to the Department of Art Conservation's Instagram account.​​
 
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Student Blog: Weissman Preservation Center

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Stacks of brown paper-wrapped packages on library shelves.

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​The current storage configuration of the Tibetan and Mongolian pothi format book collection at Yenching Library. (Image: Rachel Bissonnette)

​During the second week of my internship at the Weissman Preservation Center, I surveyed the Tibetan and Mongolian collection at Harvard-Yenching Library with my supervisor, Katherine Beaty. The Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) is a unit in the Preservation Services division of Harvard Library. WPC is responsible for the preservation of special collections from the 70+ libraries that comprise the Harvard Library. Katherine Beaty is a Special Collections Book Conservator and is the conservation liaison for Harvard-Yenching Library. Yenching Library is the largest repository of East Asian holdings outside of Asia. I was excited to join the conservation team at WPC so that I could learn more about book structures and materials from outside the United States and Europe. Working with Katherine on collections from Yenching Library has let me do just that.​

​We were performing the survey to inform developing a housing protocol for the Tibetan and Mongolian pothi format books. Pothi style books are not bound like Western codices. These books consist of stacks of loose leaves which are held together by two boards wrapped in cloth and fastened with a strap or buckle. The Tibetan and Mongolian books at Yenching Library are currently stored without protective enclosures, leaving them vulnerable to accumulating dust and incurring damage from light exposure. Furthermore, the books are difficult for library staff to access because they are hard to take off the shelves. For these reasons rehousing the collection is a preservation priority.​

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A multicolored silk fabric is wrapped around an object.

​The innermost wrapping is an elaborate patchwork textile made of silk fabrics. (Image: Rachel Bissonnette)

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A group of multicolored fabric tags.

​Embroidered tags attached to the outermost wrapping of the Mongolian Kangyur. (Image: Rachel Bissonnette)

​During our survey, we discovered this incredible pothi format book wrapped in ornate textiles. It was clear that this object is unique and warranted our attention, so we brought it back to the lab for further assessment. When I unwrapped the book, I discovered it is the first volume of the Kangyur printed in Mongolian. The Kangyur is a compilation of sacred Tibetan Buddhist texts. This volume has five textile wrappings made of silk and linen with elaborate embroidery and patchwork (Fig. 2). The outermost wrapping is decorated with 15+ tags that have tassels and embroidery. The tags are akin to mementos or needlework placed between the pages of a family bible (Fig.3). The boards are covered in beautiful textiles, and on the inside of the boards, there are paintings protected by silk curtains (Fig.4). The intricate paintings, multiple wrappings, and textile tags denote the importance of this text to its creators and previous caretakers.

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The fabric cover lifted, revealing multicolored drawings and writing.

​The lifted curtain on the front board reveals the hand-colored printed illustrations and gold calligraphy. (Image: Rachel Bissonnette)

​​​​It is a privilege to work on such an amazing object and a challenging project that is testing the limits of my skills as a library conservator. My treatment of the Mongolian Kangyur will focus on stabilizing the object so that it may be safely handled by researchers. WUDPAC prepared me to encounter all types of materials in the First Year Block curriculum, so I feel equipped with the knowledge necessary to take on this challenge. I have also used this project as an opportunity to consult with my classmates who specialize in Textiles and Objects conservation and to network with experts on Tibetan book arts in the field of conservation. I have also reached out to Harvard faculty and Buddhist community members about my treatment of the Mongolian Kangyur to get their input and wisdom. This treatment is exciting and complicated, not only because it involves a range of unique materials, but also because it is a spiritual object. I want my preservation plan to take into consideration its tangible and intangible properties.

​​In addition to rehousing the Tibetan and Mongolian pothi format books at Yenching Library and my treatment of the Mongolian Kangyur, WPC has lined up many other exciting treatment projects for me. A 20th c. photo album, British nautical navigation charts, German wooden boards bindings, Thangka paintings, an illustrated Korean manuscript, parchment deeds, an Italian stationery binding, and so much more. The diversity in library collections and issues surrounding access drew me to the specialty of Library & Archives in the first place. I am glad that my internship at the Weissman Preservation Center is providing me the opportunity to delve into my passions.

— Rachel Bissonnette​, WUDPAC Class of 2022​​

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A student lifts the fabric cover to show the object to a tour group.

​Rachel unwrapping the Mongolian Kangyur to show a tour group. (Image: Debora Mayer)

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WUDPAC Class of 2022 Fellow Rachel Bissonnette talks about starting her third-year internship at the Weissman Preservation Center and working with the Tibetan and Mongolian collection at Harvard-Yenching Library.
10/30/2021
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