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Textile Preservation Seminar October 9 at the Koenig Center

In times like this, where flooding has occurred – it is easy to see the need to protect your own family memorabilia. The Oyster Bay Historical Society has a great deal of expertise in that area and will be holding the second of what will be a regular series of workshops on how to preserve your treasured items.

Nicole Menchise, OBHS librarian said the success of their first preservation workshop earlier this year encouraged them to do more of them. The next one will be held on Oct. 9, in celebration of Archives Month. “We liked the turnout and the feedback from the original preservation workshop that we did -so we decided to do something like that a couple of times a year. One may be more specific and another more general.

“The next one is called Textile Preservation: an introduction. It covers environmental threats and signs of infestation; safe handling and storage; and disaster recovery techniques. It’s on how to preserve them; and to notice what kind of damage is happening; and how to house them in your home. That means in terms of the best boxes and types of material to store them in; as well as where in your home.

“It’s always good to know what to do if you have to take care of grandmother’s wedding dress or to learn if something stored where it shouldn’t be,” she said.

There will be no appraisals given, but they will answer questions about preserving items: it is a workshop and an open forum. Questions will be welcome.

Ms. Menchise said, “It is important to know how to assess for damage from insects, humidity and temperature and talk of storing things properly. Now with many homes affected by Hurricane Irene, disaster recovery methods are important. Although, mostly - textiles go to a conservator; but sometimes you can stop the process of deterioration and start the process of saving your valuables.”

Ms. Menchise said, “Wedding gowns are always a popular item families want to preserve. Sometimes they don’t want to open the box they are stored in – maybe for reasons of fear and guilt that all is lost, but it is still important to take them out and evaluate any damage. They should be kept in cool and dry locations. Moisture and temperature are the problems.

“Usually the items are a lot better then they think,” she said.

“I was surprised when I took out my mother’s wedding dress, to see how well it was preserved. There is a lot to learn about preserving textiles and we will have a lot of examples. We found we have in the collection, some beautiful old gowns we have been working on; and gowns on permanent loan.

“We are preserving the Colonial Military jacket which we found (as Executive Director Phillip Blocklyn and I went through the collection) belonged to the Bayville Historical Museum. We have taken it off display and it is housed in a special place – in its own archival box with acid-free tissue paper. We had spent a lot of time looking at the jacket to see that there was no more damage evident. We will be talking about the process we went through to preserve it.

“The jacket will be taken out as needed. Everybody would like to see it, but with something that rare, we have to think of what’s best for the item.

“We are working with the Bayvillle Historical Museum and we have an agreement that they loan it to us permanently as part of the Koenig Center which is a state-of-the-art repository. We also received the Christ Church archives. It is a testament to the building that we can keep these new pieces here safely,” said Ms. Menchise.

She said the staff of the OBHS didn’t take safety for granted when Hurricane Irene hit. “We spent all day Friday backing up computer files onto portable drives but thankfully all was well. We just had some debris outside but inside all was dry and well.”

Preservation 101

The first preservation workshop was led by Ms. Menchise and Mr. Blocklyn, who is also a librarian. They spoke to people interested in preserving items they hold most dear. Some brought family treasures they wanted to preserve.

One woman, Nancy Lubrano, brought a Bobbsey Twins book: a childhood book she and her sisters had read, loved and had written in. The corners of the book were bent, and the book needed some TLC.

FYI: The Bobbsey Twins were the principal characters of what was, for many years, the Stratemeyer Syndicate‘s longest-running series of children’s novels, written under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope. The first of 72 books was published in 1904, the last in 1979, with a separate series of 30 books published from 1987 through 1992. The books told of the adventures of the children of the middle-class Bobbsey family, which included two sets of fraternal twins: Bert and Nan, who were 12 years old, and Flossie and Freddie, who were 6.

At the workshop, Mr. Blocklyn explained, saving paper items has an inherent problem. “After the Civil War the U.S. went from linen-based paper, to wood-based paper, and it tends to turn brown and become brittle.” Mr. Blocklyn’s advice to Ms. Lubrano, was to get an archival book box to store the precious volume – whose value was purely personal.

Mr. Blocklyn, who is also a rare book dealer, demonstrated how to correctly repair a book which is coming away from its cover. Don’t just put some white glue on the back and think you are finished. Bugs like to eat the glue, he said!

He demonstrated the correct procedure. Using a special fine piece of archival tissue paper and mixing a batch of wheat paste, Mr. Blocklyn cut a length of paper, carefully smoothed on some of the paste with a small spatula and applied it to the book. The book cover was propped up so that the joint would dry flat. An old flat iron was put down on top of the patch to make sure it dried flat. Time would dry out the seam to make a secure repair.

Some hints about preservation are: when handling photographs use white gloves because the oil from fingers damages the emulsion; don’t use Scotch tape on items as it leaves yellow stripes on things; if making marks, use pencil and not pen; don’t use paper clips or staples, they rust and damage items; oversize books need oversize shelving; aerosol sprays are bad for textiles; quilts need re-folding; organize your material so you don’t have to riffle through to find things; minimize handling; film thrives best in cold settings or refrigeration; make digital copies of photographs and watch for the next generation of “jpg” technology that you will need to switch to eventually.

Mr. Blocklyn said of preservation, “You are constantly migrating from one platform to another. It is always a race against time. You just have to keep doing it.”

Family History

One of the attendees, Debbie Wells, Roslyn Landmarks Society assistant director brought three books she had created, using archival materials. She had preserved two diaries written by her grandmother Anna Jacobs who wrote them in 1924, in Yiddish and Polish. The other book was dedicated to preserving the memory of her husband’s great aunt, Annie Nicholas. She died 100 years ago in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC in 1911.

Joan Nelson of Lindenhurst, a member of the Townsend and Weeks families of Oyster Bay brought loose-leaf binders that held acetate sleeves in which she had placed memorabilia she wanted to preserve from her ancestors.

Ms. Menchise in talking about preservation, said that deterioration cannot be stopped, it can only be slowed down to extend the life of the cultural property.

Mr. Blocklyn and Ms. Menchise had great information on the potential damage valuables are subject to as well as great ways to protect items. A good idea, they suggested was to call the OBHS and get specific advice on preserving your items. They did mention two commercial companies that supply archival material, Hollinger and Gaylord, the two most renowned, and said using the best products ensures success in preservation.

At the first preservation workshop, Mr. Blocklyn said, “Never store books by an outside wall. That is the best way to ensure water damage.” Books should be kept in the interior of a house; don’t pull them out from the top of the spine. but ease them out of the bookcase slowly by holding the back and front covers and pulling them out gently.

The Sunday, Oct. 9 preservation seminar on textiles will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Koenig Center, behind the Earle-Wightman House at 20 Summit St. The workshop is $10 per person and free to members of the OBHS. Light refreshments will be served. Attendees are encouraged to bring items to discuss. No appraisals. Contact the Oyster Bay Historical Society at 922-5032 for details or to make a reservation.