AUSTIN, Texas—The conservation department at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin celebrates 25 years of service in the field of conservation and preservation with an exhibition of diverse treatments and projects. “Celebrating 25 Years” runs from Sept. 30 through Oct. 30.
Since its inception in 1980 the center’s conservation department has remained a pioneer in the conservation of library materials. Charged with the care of the center’s collections, the department addresses ongoing challenges in the areas of treatment, preventive care, research and education.
“Treatment of the center’s varied holdings requires an in-depth understanding of many types of material, a broad range of technical skills and the development of unique procedures and structures,” said Jim Stroud, associate director and head of the conservation department. “Although each conservator is skilled in a particular specialty such as book, paper or photograph conservation or exhibit preparation, all are equally engaged with preservation, exhibition and access for the full range of objects in the center’s collections.”
Conservation efforts are an integral part of the center’s mission to preserve and make accessible the creations of our cultural heritage through the highest standards of cataloging, conservation and collection management.
Though the department is primarily responsible for the care and preservation of the Ransom Center’s collections, it occasionally provides conservation services to other state and federal agencies.
Some notable documents the department has conserved are the Texas Declaration of Independence and the “Victory or Death” letter sent by Colonel William B. Travis from the Alamo the day before Santa Anna captured it. The state of Oklahoma sent its constitution to the Ransom Center for a conservation assessment, minor repairs and guidance and development of its exhibition case. A 1297 Inspectumus of the Magna Carta was flattened and repaired and prepared for an exhibition across the United States. Most recently, department staff engaged in a two-month program to help with preservation practices in libraries and archives in Ukraine.
The conservation department also supports the training and education of future conservators by encouraging students from the university’s Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record and interns from international conservation training programs to work with conservators at the center.
The exhibition displays “before and after” images of conservation treatments for items such as William Faulkner’s poetry fragments, more than 400 sheets of poetry that were badly charred; Anthony Burgess’ typescript, “Earthly Powers,” a 700-page manuscript that was covered with an oily fluid that penetrated the paper; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) “Photographs Vol. III,” the author’s photograph album that was re-bound to maintain the integrity of the structure; and James Joyce’s final page proofs of “Ulysses.” With the “Ulysses” treatment, conservators made every effort during treatment to maintain the subtle variations of color in the handwritten notations and corrections to neutralize acids in the paper.
“The exhibition highlights our efforts and provides visitors with an understanding of the ongoing role of the Ransom Center to serve the university and the public in an effort to protect our heritage for future generations,” said Mary Baughman, book conservator. “Conservation infuses all aspects of the center, from the initial inspection of materials when they arrive in the building to the ways in which they are handled. This is an opportunity to provide visitors with conservation and preservation awareness and to see the long-term care of some of the center’s wonderful treasures.”
“Celebrating 25 Years” is on view on the second floor of the Ransom Center. High-resolution images relating to conservation and the exhibition are available.
For more information contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Ransom Center, 512-471-8949.