Thursday, 26 February 2015

Spring Cleaning aka Preventive Conservation Work at Parkwood

Reflections of Mariah:

This week I was given the task, along with my partner in crime/co-worker Alyssa, to give the upper half of the estate a little TLC. As mundane as that may sound, you may be surprised to learn that the ceilings are just as, if not more, intriguing than the grandeur of the main level. Several feet suspended in the air (via scaffolding) I discovered a whole new world. Parkwood Estate is known for its incredible architectural detail, and this week I was able to confirm it extends literally from floor to ceiling. I was amazed by the intricacy of every carving within the crown moldings and ceiling tiles. Little treasures spied at every corner. Did you know, for example, that the pattern decorating the ceilings of the Dining Room is in fact made of delicate little flowers? 

Next time you find yourself at Parkwood Estate, I suggest look up! A new perspective of our adored mansion awaits you.  

Additional Commentary from Samantha (Curator):
When we set out to do some of our ceiling work, and no coincidence that it paralleled reading week, I asked that the staff involved reflect on what their assigned chores were and write about the experience for me.
I am sharing with you their thoughts and notes this week.

The work on the ceilings involved dry dusting, a mechanical process, to rid the ceilings of surface soils, cobwebs and cocoons.  We used several materials, two kinds of brushes with sable bristles; a special conservation sponge for flat surface cleaning (not a magic eraser); Q-tips(TM) for bugs and cocoons. 

A wet cleaning process is possible, but for that work or paint infills/touch ups a licenced conservator would be hired and is currently not needed or in the budget.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Curious Curator: The Nonesuch Dickens

There is a set of Charles Dickens books within the Parkwood Library which are referenced by Dickens fans and book lovers as the "most complete and handsome" set of Dickens works ever printed.
The Parkwood set of the Nonesuch Dickens lives upon one and a half shelves and sits nicely among the rest of the books within the collection, but this series of twenty four books, plus one folio, is a limited edition set of works published in 1937, among a lot of only 877 sets produced.
Physically the set is quite pretty and colourful, perhaps too colourful for the leather bound book lover, with its series of different colour buckram covers, and black morocco spine labels lettered in gilt. However, the hand-made linen pages have their top edges defined in gilt, while inside these colourful covers lives a medley of engraved titled vignettes and plates, illustrations that were selected by Dickens himself to accompany his stories.  According to Grace Barham, "Charles Dickens had been closely involved in the choice of each illustration, and his relationships with his illustrators were crucial to his creativity" and the Nonesuch edition was able to ensure that this aspect was part of their publication in 1937.
What further adds to the historic value of this set of books is that the actual text was printed from the original woodblock and steel plates used by Dickens original publishers, Chapman and Hall, "the very last editions which Dickens had revised himself, and Nonesuch added “every authentic scrap of his writing which has been collected since his death”.
"The Nonesuch Press was one of several deluxe publishers that aspired to the aesthetic standards of the private press movement. Founded in 1922, the Nonesuch Press had a similar aim to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press: to produce artistically designed volumes that demonstrated a care and love for the book, the materials used, and the process of production", although where Nonesuch differed from the arts and crafts presses was that although they hand designed publications they still printed on a trade press.
Chirp The First
The folio volume that I mention in the second paragraph, is not a book at all, but an enclosure designed to mimic the look of a book, but is a clamshell, holding a piece of the very original printing plate of one of the illustrations used in the first publication by Chapman and Hall. When Nonesuch Press acquired the Dickens' Portfolio from Chapman and Hall, they acquired all the plates, etc. Our set boasts the original illustration plate, Chirp the First, from the novella The Cricket on the Hearth, A Fairytale of Home .

Oh if these walls and shelves could talk!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Curious Curator: Holly Leaves

While working in the vault which houses many of the original blueprints and concept drawings for Parkwood, and miscellaneous McLaughlin affiliated paper based (archival) items, etc., I stumbled upon a grouping of large lithographic prints neatly rolled together. I had noticed them previously, but they were not the urgent item of which I was looking for at that specific moment and they have sat there until I turned my attention towards them again a few months ago.

Each of the lithographic prints, on card stock measuring 70cm x 47cm, seem to depict a military inspired images/campaigns, save one, of different time periods, evoking a variety of emotional responses, mostly empathy, when I looked at them. What struck me as odd, initially, was the typed inscription along the top, Holly Leaves, and a date. Guess what happened? I researched.

"Holly Leaves" was an annual special publication that was issued at Christmas each year by the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The ISDN was a weekly magazine similar to that of the Illustrated London News, the world's first news magazine, but the ISDN concentrated predominantly on sport and drama, "it answered the demand for a paper devoted to sport at a time when the British middle classes were sharing an increasing enthusiasm in all forms of sporting pursuits."
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News shared its offices and writers with the London Illustrated News, but was able to position itself as the "country gentleman's illustrated paper, focusing initially on equine sports (horse racing, polo, equestrian, hunting), attributing its success in finding favour with the sporting elite that was fostered through a public school* and university system. Shortly adding other public school sports; rugby, cricket, rowing, tennis and billiards.  (*note to NA reader English public school system = fee paying private schools)

These news magazines through the 1930s, held a tradition of using graphic illustrations and often referenced popular subjects of the time for the Empire, especially colonial or foreign military campaigns. The Great War effected the ISDN in an interesting way, and although the magazine continued to focus on issues that the sporting fan would find interesting, it was war, and gone were the actors that graced its front cover, "replaced with stories that reflected hunting in wartime, the commandeering of horses, breaking in mules or the work of the Royal Veterinary Corps.  The Officers’ Training Corps of the country’s public schools and universities were featured as were battalions made up from sportsmen.
The ISDN also took an interest in how women were helping the war effort and reflects their changing roles, with a particular focus on jobs in the countryside, such as the Women’s Land Army or the work of the Army Remount Service."

Discovering this information about the weekly news magazines, and that the lithographs that I was holding in my hands came from a member of the Great Eight, the name given to the most popular news magazines of the day. I still needed more information about the imagery I was looking at.
Faithful Unto Death

Where He Fell
Photographs and sketches of war-themed imagery plays proliferate in the Illustrated Sports and Dramatic News and its annual Christmas issue entitled, ‘Holly Leaves’ was always a festive feast of illustration, with contributions from many era specific artists  

The naval image, Faithful Unto Death is an image used by Holly Leaves in the 1916 edition. Faithful Unto Death is a painting done by W. Hatherell R.I. (1855 to 1928). An illustration artist, Hatherell's work appears in several editions of Holly Leaves. Where He Fell, is another example of Hatherell's work (1919 edition of Holly Leaves), providing the imagery that the ISDN was most famed for publishing, using the work of an artist, who is also exhibited at the Tate, but is often referenced to as an artist of the literary and sentimental genre, in capturing the minds and hearts of the Empire during the First World War.
Le Reve

Throughout the 1920s, ISDN continued to use lithographs of war-themed imagery in its Holly Leaves publications, but as the 1920s moved on, photographs began to replace the lithograph. The 1925 Holly Leaves featured Edouard Detaille's (1848 to 1912) Le Reve, or since the Illustrated Sports and Dramatic News is a British publication, retitled The Dream. The imagery depicts soldiers asleep dreaming of glory, the past glories dressed in republic and empire uniforms, that haunt their sleep found in the imagery of the clouds.  Detaille was a French academic painter, medal of honour recipient and military artist. He is often regarded as the semi official artist of the French Army, and he was entrusted with this title, because of the detail he captured in his work. In this piece, reference the line of rifle beams, parallel to the sleeping soldiers.
 To the left are some of the other examples that are found among the rolled up lithographs, also artworks created by leading artists and used in Holly Leaves.
As I have looked at these images over and over again associating them with the era and atmosphere of the carnage and loss of a generation with the first world war, it almost seems fitting that military inspired art work is used to convey emotion in a pop culture piece, especially when it was contrasted with whatever society sport it was illustrating. Unfortunately, I do not have the written portion of Holly Leaves available at Parkwood to compare and contrast what specifically the images are being used to illustrate and illuminate, but it is a curious collection to come upon.

Last of the Garrison
Why did the McLaughlins save these lithographs? I do not think I shall ever have the answer, but this journey into the social history of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, its use of art to inspire and evoke thought, along with polo scores, and its fundamental position as a source of entertainment, news and patriotic pride has proven an interesting journey this week. A fitting find when the world is begin to reflect and commemorate significant anniversaries of international conflicts.