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Recto v. verso Pt. II

I am somewhat alarmed that I have not written anything for the blog since early January. I was, in fact, frantically trying to figure out where entries (surely at least one post!) had disappeared but alas, there has not been any. So, to ease into the blog writing routine – or the attempt at one – I thought I would start with an entry about what you can find at the backs of objects in an archive and how delightful these can be. I have written about another discovery I made a few years ago on the verso of a Macdonald Gill poster, so do have a look at that post too if the subject interests you!

Our Archives Cataloguer Ellen Taylor has been busy working her way through the documents in the Icograda Archive. She stumbled upon some rather surprising divider boards used in-between the documents. On one side they look like ‘your regular archival pieces’ with hand-written notes in pen…



… but on the other they are pieces of advertisement boards for Clayton’s Orange Squash!



We thought we might find some more puzzle pieces to try and put together the original advertisements, but so far the only one resembling a whole is the image below: although these two pieces do not fit together perfectly, I was very happy about this discovery. I suppose one man/woman’s verso is another one’s recto and vice versa!


Out of interest I carried out a quick internet search with the phrase ‘Clayton’s Orange Squash’ to attempt to find out specific dates for these particular adverts. The first (and only relevant) hit to the search term was a link to one of our black and white photographs on Jisc Media Hub. The above pieces of Clayton’s colour advertisements were used in the 1960s as dividers inside the documentation held in the Icograda Archive, one of the 20 holdings we look after. Willy de Majo, whose archive we also hold, was the founding president of Icograda. He designed packaging for Clayton’s and a collection of black and white photographs of his designs exist in the Design Council Archive… It’s these neat connections between our holdings that make working in the Design Archives so brilliant!

End of an era

The Max Gill exhibition at the University Gallery has now finished. It is a somewhat sad feeling seeing all the artworks wrapped up and the walls of the gallery empty (if only for a few moments). From reading the comments book in the Gallery, it appears that the public very much enjoyed the experience of the exhibition too. Here’s hoping the works will get a new lease of life at another venue as soon as possible! The MacDonald Gill digital resource created to compliment the exhibition has now been officially published. As an extra part of the resource, I have created a section within it inviting you, the ‘general public’, to share your stories and experiences with the works of Max Gill and becoming a ‘living’ part of the resource. Should you wish to contribute, there is a simple form for you to fill within the resource.

University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
The rolling shelving being disassembled in the ‘old’ storage area

The building works here at the Design Archives are moving swiftly on despite a few hiccups along the way. We are now at day 20 of the move and during this time the collections within our ‘old’ storage area have been carefully packed by the movers and are stored temporarily elsewhere in the building. We are currently at a stage where almost all of the major building works have been finished and the removal and reassembling of the rolling shelves is taking place. The builders have done a great job in re-inventing our new storage area and the Link51 archival shelving team have, for the past two days, been busy taking down the rolling shelving from the old storage area and moving it to the new space, bit by bit. Once this has been completed, all of the shelving surfaces will need to be thoroughly cleaned before the collections get put back in. We are hopeful that the move will be finished on schedule before the new term starts.

University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
The new storage area before rolling shelves are installed

While all of this has been going on, myself and Suzy Horada have been making the most of the students’ summer holidays and have spent considerable time in the photographic studio continuing the digitisation of the ICOGRADA poster collection as mentioned in my last blog post. To date, we have managed to digitise around 200 posters in total. This is a great asset added to our internal database and eventually another great addition for our area on the Archives Hub. We are going to continue this major digitisation effort at least well into next week, which also sees colleagues returning from maternity leave and longer holidays – The Design Archives will be operating a full house again.

Icograda poster (detail), University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Poster for the Jolie Madame Boutique (Swiss), from the ICOGRADA collection. (Detail). Catalogue number GB-1837-DES-ICO-3-30-68.

Taking shape

Highways of Empire (detail), Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
A text detail from ‘Highways of Empire’ (1927) poster that caught my eye and made me smile

Last Tuesday marked the finishing point for all of the conservation work that myself and Melissa Williams have been busy with for the forthcoming Macdonald Gill exhibition. The last piece we worked on was the alternative ‘Highways of Empire’ item I wrote about in an earlier entry – the mounted on plywood version of it will be making its way back to its owner.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Laying out the case items before glass panels get placed on top

The project has now slowed down from my part, but the gallery is busy with the activity of hanging up the work and filling the cases. As this week draws to an end, I have had a chance to reflect back on the past seven or so months that I have had the privilege to be a part of the exhibition team. By being involved with this project, I have taken on many new conservation and digitisation challenges that will all continue to feed into my work and forthcoming projects here at the Design Archives. It has also been an eye-opening experience to be involved with the ‘behind the scenes’ side of putting together a major exhibition of archival objects. Other challenges within the team have varied from the logistics of coming up with a narrative and deciding which objects to include in the exhibition to ‘smaller’ tasks such as picking up paint colours for the entrance wall and cases. I have luckily also had the chance to indulge in my love of maps by working literally very closely with some of the pieces to be shown at the exhibition.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Detail of some of the case items in the exhibition

The case items are being put in their rightful homes by Andrew Haslam and Philippa Lyons as I type this, and the gallery is taking shape. For the case items that have needed weighing down, a nice detail has been added. Instead of using glass weights or photo corners where needed, Andrew Haslam came up with an idea to use typographic spacing material for letter press printing to weigh corners down. These objects are little lead squares also referred to as ‘4x4s’ and they seemed a very natural choice to use.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Typographic spacing material for letter press printing used as weights to make sure all objects are flat within the cases. They are also used to number the items.

This of course then proposed a conservation issue – using a lead weight directly on top of archival materials is not ideal. To avoid the lead touching the paper directly, we have created little squares from archival paper. These have been placed on the lead and work as a ‘guard’ between the weight and the works, protecting the originals. The works in the cases are also numbered in this manner.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Still wrapped up and waiting to be hung. This particular piece is one of the very few facsimiles used in the exhibition. The original piece: Painted wind gauge map panel, Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, 1913.

The gallery technicians David Cooper and Steve Mace are very busy putting the works on the walls. I have been in and out of the gallery today watching it all slowly taking shape and I can not help but walk around the space with a smile on my face – I am so pleased and feel very lucky to have been a part of it all.

With technical help from Michael Wilson, I am also in the process of building a digital resource to go alongside the exhibition. As a part of this, I am aiming to launch an area within it built solely on people’s personal experiences of or with Macdonald Gill’s work. If you feel like you have a story you would like to share and therefore become a part of this project, I would love to hear from you!

The exhibition opens next Friday 22nd of July and will be launched by Peter Barber, Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials at the British Library. It continues at the University Gallery until the 31st of August, excluding the August Bank Holiday Monday.

Westhampnett Church War Memorial

Westhampnett Church War Memorial, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Westhampnett Church WW1/WW2 memorial lettering designs. The artwork is for the First World War and the addition for the Second World War.

The Macdonald Gill exhibition team have been busy going through all of the items that are to be displayed in the cases within the exhibition. There will be ten display cases in total to be placed within the gallery as well as one outside in the main foyer of the University’s Faculty of Arts entrance. These cases will hold a total of around 180 items from flat paper-based pieces to a selection of Max’s tools and his beautiful large format camera.

Westhampnett Church War Memorial, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
The bottom left corner area of the piece with the archival tape attaching the original artwork onto the mount board and the original piece of black tape holding together the two separate pieces of paper along the edge

One of the pieces that has caused a bit of a last minute change was due to go into case number seven within the gallery. This is an original piece of artwork for the Westhampnett Church First and Second World War memorial lettering designs. The top half section of the artwork is for the First World War memorial with an addition for the Second World War attached to the bottom. The dimensions of this piece are 305x365mm and it has been window-mounted on archival board sized 510x625mm. Due to the large size of the mount board, it was decided the object was too large to go into the case as it is.

Westhampnett Church War Memorial, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Lifting the WW2 section of the piece

The private owner of this particular piece has informed me that detaching the original sketch from its mount board would be OK with her. This prompted me to have a closer look at the object – it has been mounted onto the archival mount board with the use of archival tape in all four corners. As you can see from the image above, the original item itself is created from two separate pieces of paper. These are only attached together by a small (non-archival) piece of black tape running along the left side edge near the middle of the piece where the two sides meet.

The paper is not only very soft, but also torn and damaged. This is especially evident along the edges of the black tape attaching the two sides of the artwork. Because this is the only adhering element between the two pieces, I questioned how safe or sensible it would be to remove the original from its backing board to be placed in the display case for exhibiting purposes. The archival tape pieces holding the original to the backing board are very solid and tacky, so the removal of these would have also required some careful conservation work. It seemed to me unnecessary to remove this object from its professionally and safely finished window mount.

Westhampnett Church War Memorial, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
The original tape attaching the WW1 and WW2 sections together

After some deliberation, we have decided that we will replace the original by using a facsimile of it in the exhibition case. This of course meant I was to digitise the original piece. Due to its large size of the mount board however, the digitising needed to be done in two sections – our scanner here in the Design Archives was not big enough to enable a ‘continuos scan’. I carefully attached the two digitised halves together in Photoshop, making sure not to lose any of the information within the piece in the process. The file has been taken to the printers and this facsimile will be sitting in case number seven in due course!

Westhampnett Church War Memorial, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Digitised Westhampnett Church WW1/WW2 memorial lettering designs. Here you can clearly see the difference in the shade of the paper between the two halves.

Mechanical surface cleaning

While I am waiting on the exhibition planning team to make final decisions about which pieces from the Max Gill collection will be exhibited I thought I would write a little bit about the reasons for mechanical surface cleaning. All of the Gill objects might not necessarily need a lot of work doing to them, but they will all need to be surface cleaned prior to framing.

Surface cleaning materials is a very important first step in the chain of events that stabilise an item being conserved. Dirt on objects can be a source of deterioration and in worse cases can contain mould spores that flourish on nutrients found within the paper and any debris left on it. Water has a strong capillary ability and when paper gets wet, the fibres expand. They contract again when drying, and if surface cleaning hasn’t been done, this action traps in any dirt or dust particles left on the paper.

Considering the safety of an object needs to be taken into account. The strength of the paper will determine how and if surface cleaning can be carried out. It is important to remember and know that pencil marks, cataloguing marks and random smudges on objects can play a historic part in the object’s life and removing these marks will change the object drastically. I should also note that both recto and verso of the item need to be cleaned.

For the most fragile pieces, surface cleaning might take place by using only a brush – the size of the brush will be dependent on how fragile the paper in question is. Mechanical cleaning can also be done with the aid of chemical sponges, which are widely used in conservation. They are composed of rubber and are heavily filled with calcium carbonate and do not leave any residue on the paper’s surface, but are very effective in picking up dirt.

Mechanical surface cleaning, Max Gill, Sirpa Kutilainen, University of Brighton Design Archives
An example of how much dirt can be lifted off the surface of a print with a chemical sponge. This is from working on a Macdonald Gill print.

Rubbers are also commonly used, and the most widely used, to my understanding, are Staedler Mars rubbers. This particular make is used for the same reason as the chemical sponges – research has shown that this rubber does not leave any residue on the paper’s surface. On sturdier archival pieces, the rubber can be used as a block. For more delicate pieces and items with pencil marks, the rubber is grated and a piece of cotton wool is parcelled inside a piece of anti-static cloth and this is used to gently roll over the grated rubber, removing surface dirt as you go along.

Groomstick is another tacky substance that can be used when wanting to pick up larger bits of debris on an item – for example pieces of glass from a broken frame. Groomstick has a very tacky nature and is not recommended to be used directly on the paper as it can damage the fibres. Using a museum vacuum is also an option and is generally used with archives that are very dirty, for example objects that have not previously been stored correctly. Vacuums should have a filter at the tip to enable picking up any loose pieces that may come off in the process.

Cleaning tears and around holes and other damaged areas can also propose a problem, as it is important to take care not to damage the object any further. For tears along edges of a piece, a piece of melinex can be used to slide into the tear  – this way both sides of the tear can be gently cleaned with less risk of extending the tear.

Surface cleaning objects takes a considerable amount of time – especially cleaning larger pieces such as a lot of the proposed exhibition items from the Gill collection.