Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rare Books tour @ Phila Free Library/SCIENCE in the basement of the Upenn Museum

Yesterday Sarah and I went to the Free Library to take a tour of the Rare Books section, particularly to view their German/PA Dutch Fraktur. They had recently had a symposium on this amazing stuff (sadly we missed it) and everything was still on display. Sarah and I share a great love for PA Dutch art - hex signs, crafts, fraktur - and this tour was part of some research for a collaborative project we're cooking up. So, here's some examples of the fraktur on display. Excuse the fuzziness; there was no flash allowed.

This collection of fraktur is the PA Dutch populations take on their "old world" illuminated texts. Everyone did this. The small books were typically done by children. They were given a blank book and had to fill it with their lessons. Fraktur was the immigrants way of bringing the "old country" into the "new world". It must have been a source of comfort to them in a strange new place.

The image on the bottom is a particular favorite. It was done by a child but whoever he/she was, they were an extremely skilled draftsman.

We also saw many other awesome things. Our guide took us through a very abbreviated history of books and paper (starting at Egyptian papyrus and ending with books as we know them today). We also saw the Elkins' library, which was completely moved and reinstalled in the Philadelphia Free Library, right down to the wood posts holding the floor boards together. Wowzaa. Upon entering this spacious library, I instantly felt at home. Yes, this is the home I want: rich heavy wood, open spaces, cozy warm lights, and plenty of quirky details.

Our guide talking to a couple other folks on our tour. And in the picture on the bottom, you can't see it that well, but the writing desk on the right of that photo is the very desk that Charles Dickens wrote at.

Elkins was a collector of Americana, and all those framed pictures are prints with hand coloring dating from the early days of our country. Two of them were made by Paul Revere (yes, that one. The red coats are coming!).

Sarah posing by the fire place. Also, the model boats around the library are known as "fantasy" boats. They aren't modeled after any boat in particular, but were a hobby of Elkins. I like the idea of fantasy or imaginary boats. Might try to develop a project or series around that.

Elkins liked weird lamps. These are made from tobacco jars. He had others that were large metal tea barrels. I'm a big fan of these lamps too.

This is the grave stone of Charles Dickens' daughters' pet bird, Dick. He was the "Best of Birds".

Now, let me tell you about today! Today, during my on-going internship at Upenn's Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, I got to do some science. I learned today how to make "B72" which, according to my fearless leader, Dr. Lynn Grant, is extremely imperative to know. Apparently when she travels to other countries to work on archeology projects, one of the first things she learns in the local language is "B72".
Anyway, basically is Acetone mixed with a plastic.....D...something....I'll have to ask Nina again (she's a contract conservationist at the lab). BUT, I mixed some today. First you decide the proportions of Acetone to D? and then measure out your plastic on a scale. I was making a 5% solution, which would mean 95% Acetone. So, I measured out my materials, and learned the fine art of mixing. You don't just plop your junk into the Acetone. What you do is you put your plastic pellets into a little cheesecloth satchel you rig to the top of your glass jar. You want your satchel to just slightly dip into the surface of your Acetone. Suspended thus, you can actually see the plastic break down and "rain" into the Acetone. Then you wait about an hour for this to mix together. After you've gotten your B72, you do whatever it is you wanted to do with it.

In my case, I wanted to see if I couldn't preserve some dried flowers. See, I love dried flowers, but they are so delicate. And I want to do some projects with dried flowers, but the only solutions I could think of to preserve them and make them stronger was stuff like resin or something. This usually results in a look I'm not too fond of, which is sort of blobby and very shiny. I've seen plenty of jewelry made of resin preserved flower blossoms, and while it's pretty, it's not quite reaching the level of craftsmanship that would convince me of laying my money down. The flowers look more like "flower shapes" or their encased in a cube of resin that, while it allows the flower to look more like real flowers, you loose the tactile wonder of holding a delicate flower in your hand. So, Nina suggested the B72, which means SCIENCE TIME.

So I dunked my flowers in my jar of B72. They will rest there until Monday, hopefully allowing the B72 to saturate into the petals and such of the flowers. On Monday, we'll be making the jar into a vacuum to get any extra bubbles and such that might be trapped between petals, etc. Then the flowers will stay in the vacuumed jar until Wednesday, at which point we'll see which of them survived and to what degree. Whatever looks good will probably become a piece of jewelry (a brooch or necklace or something) for Nina as "thank you!" for her helpfulness and constant entertainment value.

Flowers swimming in B72.

In other news, LOOK AT THIS!

These are crushed skulls from Queen Puabi's burial site in ancient Ur. The top one is some guy with a metal helmet. If you look closely, his helmet looks like it's patterned with reeds. This happened when the reeds fell over his helmet and pressed together. Over time, the metal actually took on the texture of the leaves. The leaves didn't press into the metal. Metal, I'm learning, does many weird things as it degrades over time.
The other skull is either another priestess or a handmaiden of Queen Puabi. She's wearing a whole lot of gold and lapis (the blue beads and details). The burial site of Queen Puabi has something like 70 bodies in it, and the running theory now is that they were bludgeoned to death and buried with the queen. Common thought was that her servants drank poison and then peacefully laid down in her burial chamber. But that changed when the scatter of the bodies was reevaluated. It's thought that if these folks had gone peacefully, they'd be laid out in nice neat rows, looking all peaceful-like. Instead, folks are scatter around the place, probably dying where they fell after their heads were smashed in. YIKES. Queen Puabi didn't wait for her staff to die and join her in the after life. She had them killed and took them with her. Now THAT'S a QUEEN.

Here's Nina working on the handmaiden:

Hi Nina!

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