A Registrar’s Perspective

Tawny Nelb Workshop

Framed Ralph Rapson drawing, The Ralph Rapson Collection, 1935-1954. Photographer, Gretchen Sawatski.

This past Monday I had the great fortune of taking part in an archival workshop lead by forty-year archives veteran Tawny Ryan Nelb of Nelb Archival Consulting, Inc. As a Registrar, I primarily work with three-dimensional objects (furniture, paintings, gates, etc.), so I was eager to learn that this workshop focused on architectural records, the sub-genres within that medium, and how to properly care for and store these records.

I reference architectural records quite frequently when I am trying to learn more about, or troubleshoot, a problem related to an object. In all honesty, I thought I knew the proper handling, usage, and storage of these records as this knowledge is vital to my job; but it was obvious that I really needed the refresher course in “Paper Management 101.”

Archives workshop at Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Tawny Ryan Nelb (third from left). Photographer, Justine Tobiasz.

Tawny’s discussion covered all areas of architectural records including paper mediums, drawing types, and then some. I have to admit though that I cringed when the conversation moved towards the exhibition processes for architectural records! Often, we loan architectural sketches, floorplans, and section drawings to other institutions that require us to frame the documents using a hinge system. A hinge, simply put, is a tab that is glued to a document using a reversible wheat paste that is then adhered to an acid-free backer board. To my dismay, this approach was used historically on tissue and tracing type papers records in our collections, which are likely to tear and off-gas inside their expensive frames, creating a microclimate of havoc. In a moment of panic my hand shot up in the middle of the lecture and I uttered, “But we have documents framed in our collection like this! What should we do?”

Thank goodness for archival specialists, because Tawny truly eased my conscience. She, in very kind words simply replied, “It’s ok. We can remove the tissue and tracing paper from their frames, disrupting the microclimate, and use archival paper and matting to resolve the issue.” My response, “what about those hinges?” And, again she calmed my nerves, “Leave the hinges, and store the objects in flat files, so there is no need to use the frames. Then, if these documents go on exhibition again, they are already hinged and ready to go.” In one word: genius. That is what I experienced at this workshop, shear genius. In all of the workshops I have been a part of, I have never been so glad to have attended an archives workshop in all of my life.

Gretchen Sawatski, Associate Registrar

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