Digitizing the Document

Once conservation has finished evaluating and stabilizing the drawings they are sent to the large format queue in Digital Library Center.  The DLC set up to digitize anything from film slides to three dimensional objects.  For the Carrère and Hastings materials we employ the use of a large format scanner to get a large, detailed image.

The large format scanner is used when flat work is too big for the Copibooks.  It works in the same way a large format film camera works; the larger the surface area of the negative the more detailed the photograph will be.  Think of it as a super megapixaled digital camera.   The difference between this camera and your average digital camera is this camera employs a progressive scan like your normal desktop scanner.  It scans one line at a time, 8000 lines for each image (http://betterlight.com/superModels.html).  Because it is a progressive scan type of camera, the document cannot move otherwise streaks will appear in the image.  To solve this problem the document is held down with a vacuum table.  This also helps eliminate any wrinkles of folds that the document might have.  Of course these documents have had, and have, a life of their own and are subject to folds and creases that need to be minimized while caring for the document.  To remedy this, we use lighting and reflectors to eliminate wrinkles much like fashion photographers do.  One problem we have run into is scanning drawings on tracing paper.  The vacuum table is black as to absorb light and not put glare onto what we are scanning, but for many of these drawings the black shows through the tracing paper effectively eliminating the drawing from the scanned image.  Our solution has been to first lay down some porous white vellum then place the document on top.  We lose some of the vacuum’s power but the resulting image has been much more satisfactory.

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Conservation Treatment-Deacidification

We received the Presbyterian Church drawings and blueprints back from the Digital Lab, so we are ready to complete the conservation treatment on these documents. This week we deacidified the original drawings using Bookkeeper Deacidification Spray. Next week we will encapsulate all of the Presbyterian Church drawings and blueprints in order to create microclimates. This will ensure continued preservation of the documents and aid in safe handling.

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Conservation Treatment

These architectural drawings have come a long way since their discovery in a basement boiler room in 2004 in the historic city of St. Augustine. Currently, they reside in the paper conservation lab at the University of Florida, where we are now working to preserve them. I began working on this project at the end of August and have already seen the condition of these papers improve greatly. Since August, we have done preliminary conservation work on all the drawings and plans from the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church and have sent them to the Digital Library Center to be digitized. Once they have been digitized, we will complete the conservation by deacidfying and encapsulating them.

Fortunately, many of the drawings and plans of the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church are in decent condition. (And by decent I mean not falling to brittle bits the second you try to touch them or missing large chunks.) Many of the diazotypes were previously backed with cloth, which has helped keep the paper from being too brittle to handle. In a few instances, a large fold through the middle of the plan rendered it necessary to remove the backing in order to flatten the paper so the digital lab could get a complete image. Once the cloth backing has been removed, you realize how fragile the paper actually is. Many of the hand drawings were not backed with cloth since they were done on thin paper. These have been much harder to handle since there are multiple folds and tears across the entire paper which has become incredibly brittle with age and stress from being previously exposed to poor conditions. We repaired the tears on the back using archival tape and backed two of the drawings using heat-set tissue. Small, tedious wrinkles are folded out using a small metal spatula, an alcohol solution, and a tacking iron. The alcohol solution relaxes the fibers of brittle paper and allows us to return it to its original flatness without breaking off pieces and risking loss of information. The photographs here show the process of removing folds and repairing a tear with tape.

While we await the arrival of the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church plans and drawings back from the digital lab, we are beginning the preliminary conservation work of the Hotel Ponce de Leon papers. Unfortunately, these drawings and plans did not fare so well in the hot and humid boiler room and fell victim to hungry rodents with an appetite for irreplaceable materials. Some of the largest plans (measuring over eight feet wide) are rolled up, and when unrolled are revealed for the true puzzles that they are. It’s a good thing I grew up doing 2000 piece puzzles on my mom’s kitchen table. Sorry to say that this time there will be no box top to cheat off of! (But I am looking forward to the challenge.)

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Preserving the Past

We are starting a two-year project to conserve and digitize the earliest architectural drawings of John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, designers of the Hotel Ponce de Leon and the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. Future posts will document activities by project team members working at UF in Special Collections, Conservation, and the Digital Library Center.

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