Conservation Lab at the National Archives


One of the goals in conservation is to make
sure that everything you add to a document is reversible. If down the line a conservator
thinks there’s a better way to repair this. Hi, I’m Annie Wilker, I’m a paper conservator
at the National Archives in College Park. Here in the Conservation Lab I repair documents
in preparation for exhibit. The illustrated family records are probably some of my favorite
documents. They were often made by professional artists or by pastors living in the town.
This is an illustrated family record from Virginia that was created in the late 1700s.
It records the marriage of John and Jane Tomlin in 1784 and the birth of their five children.
This illustrated family record is unusual. The tear that goes through the entire booklet.
At some point in its history someone came along and decided to repair that tear using
thread. So we loosened all of these threads and realigned the top and bottom half of the
page. And then reinforced the tear along here. So this is a document that’s a mock-up.
I’m gonna demonstrate how I fill this loss. So I would start with a piece of Japanese
paper like this. Conservators like this paper a lot just because of the long fibers it has,
you can see them here. So I’ll start out by tracing the shape of the loss onto this
sheet of mylar. I could use lots of different tools for this, but I like this because of
the point on it. So now I’ve cut out this piece of Japanese paper to match the shape
of the loss. And I’ll adhere this over the mend with wheat-starch paste. The Archives
has about a hundred family records like this. A lot came following the Revolutionary War.
Many women after the war became widowed and the government offered pensions to widows
who could prove their relationship. Jane Tomlin turned over her family record to the United
States government in order to receive an $80 a year pension. But unfortunately that record
was not returned to her family. We’ve done this fill here, but if this piece were for
exhibit it would be more important that the color matched better. I’m gonna tone a little
bit of paper now just to demonstrate. I try to mix up the color as close as I can to the
original document, it’s just sort of trial and error. When something goes on exhibit
we prefer that nothing catches the eye except the text and the original content and intention
of the creator of the document, not the tears and way it’s deteriorated over time. Yeah,
my work requires a lot of patience but I really enjoy my job.

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