An Investigation and Treatment of an Uncommon Ethiopic Binding Structure, and Consideration of its Historical Context and Lithography in the Age of Silent Cinema
Mr. Dan Paterson, Rare Book Conservator
and Cyntia Karnes, Senior Paper Conservator
January 29, 2009
About the Lectures:
"An Investigation and Treatment of an Uncommon Ethiopic Binding Structure, and Consideration of its Historical Context"
MS 93 of the Thomas Kane collection in the African and Middle East Division at the Library of Congress bears the hallmarks of a traditionally bound Ethiopian manuscript with the notable exception of a third sewing hole located in the middle of each section. In general, the three major characteristics of Ethiopian bindings are text blocks without a square; wooden boards sewn on with the thread used to attach the sections; and link stitch sewing consisting of even numbered sewing stations in which two stations utilize one length of thread and two needles. The cause and effect of the relationship between the number of needles to sewing holes presupposes Ethiopian bindings will automatically have 2, 4, or 6 stations, dependant on the size of the volume.
The anomalous sewing pattern of MS 93 was discovered when the volume came into the conservation lab in 2006 for extensive treatment. The presence of odd numbered sewing stations led to multiple questions that needed to be addressed prior to treatment. Some questions were best suited to conservation expertise, while some required the added knowledge and input of curators and historians. Questions that were germane to developing the treatment strategy included: Did the content or format of the book influence the sewing style? How important is the provenance to the structure of the book? Are there other items in the Kane collection that have similar sewing patterns? If so, is there something about the nature of the collection that accounts for unusual sewing structures? How does MS 93 affect our understanding of Ethiopian bindings in general? Is it much ado about nothing? This paper will attempt to address these questions through an in depth examination of the collection, consultation with experts outside conservation, and a review of published material concerning Ethiopian bindings.
"Lithography in the Age of Silent Cinema"
The 1896 premiere of the first motion picture in America sparked a period of enormous growth in the lithographic industry. Hundreds of lithographic companies competed for exclusive contracts with motion picture production companies, creating posters in ever-larger sizes and an increasing array of colors. Lithographic firms hired formally trained artists to execute bold designs according to specifications by the film studio. By the 1910s, some studios had set up art departments staffed with well-known artists to supply original drawings for reproduction through chromolithography. As such, the best silent era movie posters are highly skilled renderings that exhibit an array of tones, textures, and techniques.
Such artistry is exhibited in three six-sheet movie posters (The Embezzler (1914), The Ghost’s Bride (1916), and The Silent Avenger (1927)), each measuring almost seven feet square, recently treated by conservators at the Library of Congress. These posters, spanning the mature era of silent film, were severely damaged by active mold growth and had suffered large tears and losses; and their canvas backings, affixed with grommets for hanging, had significantly deteriorated and could no longer support their weight. It was also discovered that one of the posters, Gotham Productions’ The Silent Avenger, printed by Morgan Lithographic Co., was pasted over another poster dated thirteen years earlier: Universal’s The Embezzler, printed by Otis Lithographic Co. With support from the Library’s curator of posters, a complex treatment was undertaken to repair the damages wrought by age and exposure, and to reveal the underlying poster that had been lost to the public for close to ninety years. The treatment was recounted in detail.
The treatment of these posters, thought to be the only known surviving copies, also provides an opportunity to explore the beginnings of cinema, and the history of design, production, and distribution of lithographic posters during the silent film era.
About the Speakers:
Dan Paterson began studying bookbinding and book conservation in 1997 while working at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003 with an MLIS and Advanced Certificate in Preservation and Conservation Studies. He has worked as a Preservation Specialist and Rare Book Conservator at the Library of Congress since that time.
Cyntia Karnes is a Senior Paper Conservator at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Previously, Ms. Karnes was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in paper conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and an Associate Conservator at the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library in Delaware. She earned a Master of Science degree in paper conservation with a minor in photograph conservation from the Winterthur Art Conservation Program at the University of Delaware in 1999.