The Art of Conservation - Leyla Lau-Lamb

The Art of Conservation – Leyla Lau-Lamb



I'm lalala lemon I'm senior conservator for the University of Michigan for books and preparing specializing in papyrus actually I started when I got this job at the University as a conservator I'm from Germany originally and actually I became at some point a registered nurse and when I came to this country then I got involved in book binding and altering conservation before I was working at the University I had no idea about papyrus or that they have this incredible collection of papyrus at that time Moroccan dignity was the head of conservation and Julia Miller was the conservator and Julia trained me for about three months and the conservation that because then she was leaving for one year and so right away she said you know you're gonna be the one stabilizing the collection and also you ought to make sure that these papyri are stabilized that means that they're an acid-free folders that they're in acid free boxes because all the papyri came to us in the 1930s 2030s and so we had all different kinds of boxes like here we have a carbolic toilet soap box from England then we're having a secret box here from Cairo so they're very in very bad shape actually so you can imagine lots of papyri virgil's crammed together in one tin box just with wrappers little tissue papers the inventory numbers where sometimes torn off so for me I saw that this is not a good environment for such a precious collection and so I got drawn totally right away into a two so to stabilize the collection and to see that they're in a really safe environment and also we have an environmental room where the temperatures control humidity controlled so to keep you know to have all these properly safe all the material safe and we have more than 10 Charles and fragments so you can imagine how many four we had to do more than ten tiles and folders and get a lot of handmade boxes so the shoveling and the rehousing was a long long process over the last 22 years I'm working on this material I think I handled about between two and three thousand papyri and here I'm showing a piece again we're having these PVCs Sparks and these pieces and you see this little roll this is so very special this little roll and a lot many rules like this existing and our popper ologists are very excited about this because this is a Woma text then the papyri came in the thirties sometimes the dealer would cut a papyrus they had a row that would cut it in three four pieces different different universities would send you no money they said okay one piece goes to London one goes to Vienna to Berlin to Michigan and here I'm showing you that this used to be a roll and was cut apart and you can see checks right there with a digitizing project right now what is really cool is that we can bring papyri together they were separated and sometimes texts from the middle part from the end part so we really can make papyrus complete again with images also from other places it's a piece of papyrus and you got these pieces papyrus pieces in the 1920 I'm teaching busy scraps of papyri and that's right kind of to teach my students a little bit about these moments when papyri now get excavated do you have sandstorms you have all these Egyptians in the trenches and 110° suddenly you know they're finding a papyrus it is so exciting everybody's holding their breath but then talking about the each of the papyrus and talking about how the ink was made how the papyrus was made just imagine imagine 2,000 years ago somebody was sitting there and writing these how amazing this is that we have these pieces right here in our hands in our collection and whatever a big responsibility we have working on these treasures my main tools to work on papyri are these two tools this one is a microspatula and one is a very fine a very French pieces from Switzerland so I could travel with these everywhere into papyrus conservation of course I also need some other towards this is my drop lasso where I just put a tiny little drop on the papaya on the ink to test sink is it stable so I'm using an area where I see some ink very carefully place a drop of deionized water and then just very carefully go with my blotting right on top of the ink and see if I can pick anything up so now I know the incus table what I'm doing now is I'm gonna spray my planning's also with deionized water and get them fairly wet so I place my papyrus right on top and then I spray the other side papyrus is made from the Reed fiber and so you're always overlap you have one layer of horizontal fibers and one layer of vertical fibers so you always have to your mid afire both sides if you only you modify one side then you get friction okay after a while I'm checking my papyrus how much this moist and humidified and very carefully I'm rolling my blooding off set set aside so my fibers are soft enough that they are not breaking also the fibers are telling me anyway they like to go which way they belong because just like paper papyrus there's also memory I always say papyrus talks to me because when I dampen the fibers they're moving they'll like to relax they like to get into the original form and it's just such wonderful material I just fell in love with it I became developing a passion for it in general I'm fascinated by recipes of bread and all the made beer and love letters private letters it's just fascinating material so I really got more and more into major conservation and I'm still learning we are all still learning I'm learning from other papyrus conservatives I've met over the years right now I just established the international summer school here and popper ology all the students are filling it with very important papyrus collections so this is going to be very exciting I like to train people and then these people go out into the world train other people so it's like a snowball in fact that's my goal willing but actually also I'm using different brushes I'm using a water brush to moisten the edges of the papyrus when it's folded this small little brush I'm manipulating tiny fibers I'm also using this small brush to work with massive 7oz and then I have some of these these have cut up brush thoughts and I use them to loosen up dirt and clean the surface of the papyri because most I have been you know on the desert sand for two thousand three thousand years etc so I'm using these tiny little brushes also I'm using very small pieces of Japanese paper that's coated with sodium CMC to anchor fragments if there are detached but I also do I'm asking sometimes one area so it stays more moist and also for me it is not so overwhelming when I work on a big piece I've worked on the Houma 2 meter long piece piece by piece so I just covered up a large area and just one tiny area to work on so I'm more concentrated in that area and also I'm working with messy sentinels and just get most often this is also my reservoir my fingernail right here so I'm very close to the piece itself you can just go underneath and just apply a tiny tiny amount just tap it down with my finger the other time I was working on this small papyri from one of these boxes and we had Nico's Latinas working here he's a popper ologist and he just looked at the Texas was ancient Greek and he just discovered it was biblical text so it was very small like 2 centimeter by 2 centimeter and it was really an eye-opener not to just ignore and say all these are just scraps we could have a whom attacks just a scrap of it we can have biblical text or different very important text so it always points us out to my students but also to be very you know patient very careful very you know have a great respect because if I lose a small file of his small trace of ink that's gone and cannot be you know duplicated so all these pieces also are 2,000 years over 3,000 years old and Coppa having I've worked on Egyptian papyrus there were 5000 years old I see you know to conserve this collection thousands of years from now I'm not thinking on ten years or five years from now so again I'm repeating this over and over that stabilization is one of the most important part in conservation because there is so much work for the next centuries to come I cannot cover all this I cannot do all this work so right now they're about I don't know 18,000 plus papyri I mean I say inventory numbers they are about maybe maybe 30 40 tiles and fragments in need of conservation right now I'm working just for researchers because there's just so much work

5 thoughts on “The Art of Conservation – Leyla Lau-Lamb

  1. Beautiful video, beautiful work. It takes a special patience, persistence and vision – not to mention some really high functioning fine motor skills! Great to see you, Leyla, doing what you love — and the world gets to benefit! Amazing work unveiling history of the written word. I feel lucky to be able to visit some of your work at the Grad library and travel back through time. [see you and Sunny around the park!]

  2. So fantastic, a really well done video. Going on my History of the Book syllabus right now as required viewing.

  3. How marvelous! What a gift to have the patience and love and skill to preserve these in the best way possible. Congratulations Leyla!

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