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News Student Blog: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

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​Left to right: XRF instrument and photo documentation of books; Before and After Treatment photos for a book in the circulating collection.

​I attend Morgan State University, where I am a Junior, a member of the Honors College, and a history major. I spent my summer working in the Library Conservation Lab at Winterthur, as an HBCU Library Alliance Intern. This summer, I tackled a variety of projects that really showed me how versatile a conservator has to be. One day, I would be in the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory testing for pigments in Victorian-era bookcloths using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instrument. Another day, I would be tasked with creating a new case for a book in the Winterthur Library circulating collection.

​I made several book models with a variety of binding techniques, and I managed to use my handmade marbled paper (made in a workshop with other Winterthur interns) in some form with each one. There were always projects to work on, and people I could learn from. My work pushed me to plan ahead, take my time, and take pride in my work.

Marbled paper and HBCU Library Alliance Intern Layla Huff with the completed book models.

One of the big projects I worked on while at Winterthur this summer was a lock of hair belonging to Pre-Raphaelite muse and painter Elizabeth Siddal. With the approval of private collector and UD senior research fellow Mark Samuels Lasner, I collaborated with conservators from several different specialties (Lara Kaplan in Objects; William Donnelly in Preventive; Laura Mina in Textiles) to devise a treatment and housing plan for the hair and the small envelope it came with. The end goal of the project was to place the hair and envelope into a sealed package that would be safe for travel and display later on. The hair and envelope were in relatively good condition and didn't require much direct treatment.

Before creating the package for Elizabeth Siddal's hair,  I did a practice one using non-historic hair and carried out the steps of the treatment plan. Firstly, I covered a piece of mat board with felt and fabric. Using a curved needle, I sewed the hair onto the board, shaping it as I went with help from William Donnelly. Next, using small strips of thin Asian paper and wheat starch paste, I created V hinges and attached the envelope to another piece of mat board. The next step was to cut and arrange layers of board for the double window sink mat for the sealed package.  Once the windows were properly arranged, and the hair and envelope had been placed into the package, a sheet of antistatic plexiglass was laid on top of the boards, and the entire thing was sealed using JLAR tape.

The same process was applied when it came time to use Elizabeth Siddal’s hair. The hair was first frozen to make sure there would be no problems with pests, then the hair was sewed onto the board, the envelope hinged, and the window mats cut. The completed package will be put on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London this fall.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend my summer at Winterthur learning from so many amazing professionals in my future field. I gained several useful skills and will now to be able to further help maintain my institution’s archives. My plans are to continue to preserve Morgan State University’s archival material, including creating enclosures and mending tears. I also intend to advocate for our library more, building bridges with institutions like John’s Hopkins University and Winterthur. Hopefully, a few years from now, I’ll be qualified to apply to graduate conservation programs and become a fully-fledged conservator.

— Layla Huff, HBCU Library Alliance Intern, summer 2019

​Left to right: Regina Cordium—Rossetti's 1860 marriage portrait of Siddall; HBCU Library Alliance Intern Layla Huff arranging and neatening the practice hair; Layla sealing the mockup package with JLAR tape; Layla with the final  sealed package including a lock of hair from Elizabeth Siddal.

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In this blog post, HBCU Library Alliance Intern Layla Huff talks about her summer working with conservators and scientists on projects ranging from the analysis of Victorian-era bookcloths to the preservation of a lock of Pre-Raphaelite hair.

​In this blog post, HBCU Library Alliance Intern Layla Huff talks about her summer working with conservators and scientists on projects ranging from the analysis of Victorian-era bookcloths to the preservation of a lock of Pre-Raphaelite hair.

11/4/2019
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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