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Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions is now available!

The book is now available and it is time to get yours today! 

We have been waiting for this day for a long time. I especially want to thank all of those who pre-ordered books. In all, they ordered over eighty books. Some ordered at the time of the International Mountmaking Forum in London. Since that meeting, there has been a steady flow of orders from museum professionals, framers and mountmakers globally. I have been overwhelmed and pleased by this early support and enthusiasm for the book.

All the boxes delivered. 

The book! It looks really great, too.

How do I get a book? It is easy, you can go here to place your order and we will ship a copy to you.  Are you going to be at this years AIC annual meeting in Connecticut and don't want to wait or pay for shipping? It is only a few weeks away. I will be there too selling copies of the book.

How do you find me at AIC? You can find cards with ordering information at SmallCorp's table in the exhibit hall. Or look for conservators wearing a large button with the book cover. These conservators will also have cards with ordering information available. Or you can just find me walking around. I will have books available for purchase and am happy to arrange meeting up with people to facilitate the purchases; just send me an email at gwen@spicerart.com and we can work out the details!

An assembly line was needed for
the packaging of all of the books.
These books are headed abroad!

All of the pre-ordered books packaged and ready
to be shipped out!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Magnets to the Rescue for Mounting Paper, Books and Label Text

I have recently been contacted by a conservator at the Winterthur Museum regarding the display of books and archival materials using magnets. As part of the conversation, we discussed the idea of converting the existing display case where small pins and tacks are used to support artifacts into a full magnetic system.

It turns out that a magnetic system is perfectly suited for use with these types of materials. This is especially the case when using a three-part magnetic system. Such a system would use one magnet between two layers of ferromagnetic materials, ie steel. One layer of steel is the actual back wall of the case with the second steel part being the armature as seen in the image below. The use of a three-part system almost doubles the strength of the single magnet, allowing for the support of even heavier artifacts when using the stronger neodymium type of permanent magnet. An example of a two-part system can be found in an earlier post on the mounting of leather gloves.

The variations of two-part and three-part magnetic systems, a) Magnet-to-magnet; b) Magnet-to-ferromagnetic
material; c) Ferromagnetic material-to-magnet-to-ferromagnetic material.

A range of armature shapes and sizes made of either steel or another ferromagnetic material can be created independent of the magnet. Separating the parts allows for each to be stored. Remember the importance of proper storage of magnets.

I recently visited the musée de quai branly, in Paris. The conservator, Eleanore Kissel, generously gave me a tour of the galleries and conservation studios. Below are some images from the visit. The quai branly is unique in that their gallery display cases, designed in 2006, were purposely designed to use magnets. They are perhaps the first museum to so fully embrace a wide use of magnets. Since that time, magnetic systems have become more sophisticated and fine-tuned. It was wonderful for me to see all of the creative solutions each using magnetic force!

Having an entire surface of steel means that artifacts can be placed anywhere on the panel with no marking of the surface. This eliminates the need for filling holes in the wall between each gallery rotation. Steel, with a durable powder-coat, can also be placed in a gallery's deck and ceiling.

The armature for this basket is
attached to the cup with a magnet inside.

Magnets in 'cups' or 'pots' produce a strong pull force. The cups are available with counter-sunk holes for securing into wood or other materials or into a protruding flange as seen in images above. All of these armature elements can easily be moved and readjusted to accommodate fine-tuning.

The 'J'-shaped armature is attached to the back wall with a magnet. A
decorative coat-layer was added to the face of the steel. The armature
elements are discretely placed, to support both the lower and upper edges
of the matted works of art.

A modular system for labels can also be created with flexible magnets behind them. The printed text can then be inserted into an appropriately sized sleeve. A range of products are available for such things and the internet is filled with a variety of ideas demonstrating the range of aesthetic options and prices.

I hope that I have shown the great flexibility that using a magnetic system can offer in displaying a wide variety of artifact types, all without the visitor knowing. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Delicate Yet Functional: Ladies Folding Hand Fans

Before the age of air conditioning, a must-have accessory for comfort, fashion and flirtatious conversation was the ladies hand fan. In fact, the fan's history stretches back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, China and India, where fans were used in religious ceremonies, as symbols of royal power, for cooling oneself and for keeping away insects. The folding hand fan was a Japanese invention, but French fan-makers turned the craft into a high art form.
From around 1600, the hand-held fan was used in Europe, where it also gained the notion of a utensil for coquetry. Later on, fans were also used as commemorating special or historic events, such as weddings and coronations, the first hot air balloon flight of the De Montgolfière brothers in 1783 or for the French Revolution. Others were destined to entertain, such as the fortune-telling fan or those depicting mythological scenes.[1]

The fans we're most likely familiar with today are the folding, hand-held kind -- a ubiquitous part of most 18th and 19th century middle and upper-class women's wardrobes." A society lady in the 18th century was expected to know how to elegantly handle and hold a fan, allowing observers to differentiate between different social statuses."[2] Silk, lace, vellum or paper were adhered to sticks of wood, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell or ivory and decorated with all manner of miniature paintings, cut paperwork, feathers, and paper festoons.
Regardless of what they are made of, most folding fans have the same basic parts. The piece that’s most visible to the eye, and the source of decorative expression for fan makers, is the leaf, which is creased so that it compacts into a little package within the fan’s monture, which includes the sticks, ribs, and outside guards. A pivot anchors the bottom of the fan, which is also known as the head, and that’s about it. Everything else is decoration.[3]
These accessories are much more fragile than they might first appear. The combination of hard or sharp materials such as bone, ivory and metals, combined with fragile textiles, feathers, and paper, make them especially vulnerable to damage. Fans decorated with feathers are very susceptible to insect damage. These fans need to be boxed and perhaps bagged independently. Opening and closing the fans may cause creases to split. In addition, fans, like hats, are prone to damage with repeated handling; care must be taken when wrapping and unwrapping them. Therefore, they are best left resting uncovered on a board with twill tape ties to prevent them from sliding. Of course material selection for the storage container is critical; ensure all materials are acid-free for the artifact's long-term preservation.

Fans can be stored fully opened or closed. The deciding factor is condition, as well as access. If a specific fan is frequently examined by researchers or others, having the fan open is preferred. Fans with warped and broken sticks, brittle fabrics or papers, and flaking paint are stored open and supported on mounts. Mounts may be time-consuming to make, but they could also be used for display. A mount style for an open fan can be smooth or have a accordion surface where each of the folds of the fan can rest.

A support for a fan that is fully open.
Images from Pauline Webber's 1984 article in The Paper Conservator.
More modern fans in good condition can be stored closed and housed in custom boxes or divided drawers or trays.
Closed fans within their original storage boxes.


1. Alexandra Starp. "The Secret Language of Fans." Objects of Vertue, April 24, 2018. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/the-secret-language-of-fans, accessed February 11, 2019.

2.  Ibid.

3.  Collector's Weekly. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/accessories/hand-fans, accessed February 11, 2019.

Annie Walker, 'History Unfolded' poster, http://www.conservation-us.org/docs/default-source/annualmeeting/2014am_poster44_history_unfolded.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Joseph Addison, "Art of the the Fan," The Spectator, No. 102, http://www.victoriana.com/Fans/art_of_the_fan.htm, accessed January 13, 2019.

"History of the Fan," Victoriana Magazine, no date, http://www.victoriana.com/Fans/historyofthefan.html, accessed January 13, 2019.

"Ladies and their Fans," AVictorian.com, http://www.angelpig.net/victorian/fanlanguage.html, accessed January 19, 2019.

"The History of Fans," The Fan Museum (England), https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/fan-history, accessed January 13, 2019.

"Victorian Hand Fans: Ladies Fans," VintageDancer.com, https://vintagedancer.com/victorian/victorian-hand-fans/, accessed January 13, 2019.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Happy New Year!

As we come to the end of 2018, we take a moment to look back at the year. The projects completed and history preserved. The new and interesting places work has taken us this last year. From leading a magnets workshop at Dartmouth to assisting with the hurricane aftermath in Puerto Rico, even multiple trips across the Atlantic to present at conferences. 2018 has been a wonderfully busy year at Spicer Art Conservation.

For our traditional holiday card this year we featured pictures from some of the many items that were treated in the studio this year, including a signed print by Victor Vasarely and a portrait of Mr. Albert N. Briggs. The lovely 1909 Wedding Dress was restored to its former beauty and packed so it will last for many more generations and a silk souvenir from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was framed for display. Fire damaged items often make their way into the studio to be cleaned and repaired, such as the painted Norwegian bench which after cleaning was stunning in its color and style.

The summer of 2018 also saw a 1910 Stoddard-Dayton Limousine brought into the studio for work on the interior upholstery. To read more about this treatment check out the blog that written shortly after the treatment was completed.

Finally, when not hard at work in the studio treating objects, Gwen was busy putting the finishing touches on her new book, Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums & Cultural Institutions, which will be out in early 2019. As a part of her continuing work with magnets, Gwen took many trips this past year, hosting workshops and presenting at different conferences both here and abroad. In her “spare time” she also went down to Puerto Rico to assist with the post hurricane damage assessment of their cultural heritage.

We hope you have enjoyed this little look back at 2018 with us and while we look forward to another exiting and fun filled year, we wish you a wonderful 2019!

Gwen, Mark, and Kimberly
Spicer Art Conservation LLC

Thursday, October 18, 2018

AAGPBL: They Looked Like Ladies, But They Played Like Men

For baseball fans October usually means one thing, MLB playoffs!  While the rest of the world turns it’s attention towards the MLB, here in the studio we have been working with a baseball artifact from a different league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Image 1: Betty Yahr's Rockford Peaches Cap (Before Treatment) 
(Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL for short, began in 1943 and played their final season in 1954.  Despite its relatively short tenure as an operating professional baseball league, the AAGPBL left a lasting impression on the landscape of baseball and pop culture for decades to come, including the Diamond Dreams exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the well known film A League of Their Own.

Professional baseball has long been a man’s sport; there are the occasional stories of women playing for exhibition, such as the story of Jackie Mitchell who famously struck out both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1931.[1]  Another woman who left a mark on baseball was Effa Manley, an owner and executive for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues.  To this day Manley remains the only female to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.[2]  These women represent some of the rare instances of women being able to penetrate the male world of baseball.  However the onset of World War II created the opportunity for, even if temporarily, a much more prominent place for women in professional baseball.

As more and more young men headed into the armed services, concern about the impacts this would have on the sport of baseball led a few enterprising men to form a new professional baseball league for women.  Over the years the AAGPBL went through some name changes as well as variations to the playing rules, however by 1945 the league had taken the shape it remains most known for today, women playing professional baseball, using the rules of Major League Baseball, and most importantly overhand pitching (as opposed to the underhand pitching style softball is known for).[3]

Image 2: South Bend Blue Sox Player Betsy "Sockum" Jochum is pictured at 
bat during her baseball career[4]

Image 3: Sophie Kurys, star of the Racine Belles of the AAGPBL, 
slides into the bag[5]

Most people are familiar with the AAGPBL through its depiction in the film A League of Their Own.  This film tells the fictional story of the Rockford Peaches, their starting 9, and their head coach, Jimmy Dugan.  The film may be fiction, but it was inspired by the stories of the real women playing professional baseball in the 1940s.[6]  The Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in the film, was one of the first teams in the AAGPBL, playing in Rockford, Illinois.  The Peaches would be one of the few teams to play every season of the league’s existence.[7]
1946 was an exciting season for the Rockford Peaches as they made the playoffs and faced the Racine Belles in the league championship game.  The Peaches would end up losing to the Belles, finishing in 2ndplace for the season.[8]  Making her professional debut in 1946, playing outfield for the Peaches was Betty Yahr.[9]  Ultimately Yahr would only end up playing this one season for the Peaches as she decided to return home to Michigan at season’s end.[10]  Despite her short tenure in the AAGPBL, Yahr and her legacy remain an important part of the story of professional women baseball players.

Image 4: The 1946 Rockford Peaches Team Photo[11]
Back, L-R:  Bill Allington (Manager), Rose Gacioch, Dorothy Kamenshek, 
Dorothy Green, Dorothy Moon, Naomi Meier, Mildred Deegan, 
Helen Smith, Margaret Wigiser, Mildred Lundahl (Chaperone).
Front, L-R:  Betty Yahr, Dorothy Cook, Lee Surkowski, Helen Filarski, Olive Little, 
Margaret "Mobile" Holgerson, Dorothy Harrell. Carolyn Morris.

Image 5: Betty Yahr, Rockford Peaches 
Baseball Card[12]

In 2007, a relative of Yahr donated many items from her playing days to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to be used in their exhibit on women in baseball, Diamond Dreams.  Among the donated items was the cap Yahr wore while playing for the Rockford Peaches in 1946.[13]  As is often the case with game worn items, the cap showed signs of wear and damage.  The Hall of Fame funds its conservation efforts through crowd sourcing for individual artifacts, and recently Yahr’s cap met its fundraising goal for treatment.[14]  As a part of the treatment the cap was cleaned and holes were repaired. Additionally a custom mount was created for the cap to ensure it is properly supported, both in storage and while on display, to minimize new damage in the future, allowing fans to learn and appreciate the legacy of Betty Yahr, along with all the women of the AAGPBL, for years to come.

Image 6: Yahr's Cap (After Treatment) (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
Image 7: Cap and Custom Mount (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
If you would like to learn more about the history of women in professional baseball and the AAGPBL stop by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to visit the Diamond Dream exhibit and also check out the official AAGPBL website (www.aagpbl.org)

[1]Tony Horwitz, “The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig,” Smithsonian Magazine(July 2013) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-woman-who-maybe-struck-out-babe-ruth-and-lou-gehrig-4759182/.
[2]“Effa Manley,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/manley-effa.
[3]“League History,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-history.
[4]Margaret Fosmoe, “Women Pro Baseball Players Gather, Reminisce in South Bend,” South Bend Tribune(August 7, 2015) https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/history/women-pro-baseball-players-gather-reminisce-in-south-bend/article_218cc831-cdf2-5105-8b42-d15bee181766.html.
[5]Nicole Haase, “Women’s Baseball Trailblazers Reflect on the League, 75 Years After its Founding,” SBNation(May 30, 2018) https://www.sbnation.com/2018/5/30/17407798/women-baseball-trailblazers-reflect-aagpbl-75th-anniversary.
[6]“A League of Their Own,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_League_of_Their_Own.
[7]“Season Timeline,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons.
[8]“1946 Season,”All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons/1946.
[9]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[10]Alicia Meyer, “’We Saved Baseball’ Betty Yahr and the Rockford Peaches,” Rockford Retold, (October 29, 2015) http://www.rrstar.com/article/20151029/BLOGS/310299999.
[11]“About the Rockford Peaches,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/teams/rockford-peaches.
[12]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[13]“Pastime: Betty Yahr Cap, 1946,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://collection.baseballhall.org/PASTIME/betty-yahr-cap-1946-5.
[14]“Our Museum in Action,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.baseballhall.org/museuminaction.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pre-Order Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions and Save!

We are excited to announce that Gwen's new book, Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions, will be available in December and we are now taking pre-orders through April 15th at a 10% discount off the cover price. Order your copy today!

The book is an essential text for mount-makers, exhibit designers, museums professionals, curators, conservators, collections managers, archivists, and architects. It systematically explains magnetic behaviors and the procedures involved in developing magnetic mounting systems for artifacts. With actual case studies and over 80 photographic images and drawings, the book explores a broad range of applications, including artifact types and magnetic systems that can be employed and manipulated for uses in exhibition and storage.

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions is an essential reference text for any reader planning or executing displays, including mount makers and exhibit installation teams within museums and the commercial exhibition industry. It is a must have for everyone who displays collections in museums of all sizes, galleries, archives, libraries and private collections. It will be beneficial to conservation students and any technical staff who wish to employ magnets in their proper fashion to insure the safety of objects they are installing or mounting.

Table of Contents

Additional information

  • Softcover
  • Over 400 pages
  • 59 case studies each with cross-sections and images
  • 16 chapters with extended glossary, appendixes and reference list
  • 44 tables
  • Chapters contain "how to's," "Useful tips" and "Wacky behavior"
  • Available May 2019

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Low-Tech Treatment for Small Areas of Visible Mold

The humidity many of us have experienced this summer due to torrential rains and heat sweeping across the country can easily lead to mold growth. Now in the wake of Hurricane Florence mold will be rampant as the flooding recedes. (For more on freezing see our earlier post.) It's important to be vigilant by monitoring humidity levels throughout your institution or home to prevent excessive moisture levels. Mold is not only a hazard for objects, it's also a danger to people.

If you've got a big mold problem, first fix the source of it and then call in professionals to remediate it. Poor drainage, foundation or wall cracks, leaking roofs or plumbing, lack of sufficient ventilation or air-conditioning all contribute to the spread of damaging mold.

If you have visible mold in less than 10 continuous square feet, you may be able to remediate it yourself with dehumidification and a low-tech water trap attached to your vacuum to capture the spores.

The water trap can be made of any glass or jar. The one we use in the studio is in the image below. It is important to ensure that it is well sealed around the openings and the tubes. Ethafoam (a strong, resilient, medium-density, closed-cell, white polyethylene foam which is acceptable for use in the preservation of objects) is really helpful for this. Gwen even carved out a stand for the glass to ensure it would not fall over. The other critical aspect is the ends of the two tubes inside the glass are above the water line. It is the vacuum's suction that forces the mold spores into the water i.e. trap, while not traveling into the vacuum cleaner.

The above photo illustrates how the water trap is connected to a vacuum. The right hand hose (with the blue end on it) is the one used to suck up the mold.

When finished, thoroughly clean all of the associated tools, mark them and save them together, including brushes.

It's very important to contain the spores, not spread them around (which is what regular vacuuming will do). Here's a step-by-step guide to what to do next and don't forget to wear an approved N95 respirator, gloves, and eye protection!

Captured mold

Gwen Spicer. When Water Strikes, It's a Freezer to the Rescue! March 2018.
Ibid. Mold on Pastel Portraits, why it grows and how it can be prevented. January 2017.
Idid. Mold in museum collections is the environmental "canary in a coal mine". September 2014.