Cake Sprinkles, Cigarettes, Pasta, and Rusty Razor Blades: Preservation Challenges in MARBL

Homage to Seurat

Homage to G. Seurat by Simon Cutts

Followers of The Extraordinary World of MARBL have discovered how much deeper the collection goes than traditional print structures such as the book and document (and their digital afterlives), and familiar materials like paper, ink, cloth, and leather.  MARBL’s holdings include chocolate, puppets, socks, sherry, and more.  Homage to G. Seurat (cake sprinkles on cardstock), Untitled [Basic Lights] (ink on cigarettes), The Onion as it is Cooked (poetry embossed on pasta), and The Poems of Dylan Thomas (altered text with rusty razor blades, matches, and other materials) are works that further demonstrate why MARBL has strict preservation protocols in place. Collections Conservation staff are responsible for environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, protective housing, and conservation treatment for all of MARBL’s holdings from the traditional to the extraordinary.

Multi-colored cake sprinkles are adhered to the front cover of Homage to G. Seurat by Simon Cutts in a pointillist style abstract image. This work comes in its original small, snug-fitting envelope. The piece was inherently unstable—subsequent editions were in the form of a 16 page pamphlet, which included both a cake sprinkle collage and pages of correspondence between the artist and the British Arts Council (which had commissioned the first edition), negotiating the replacement of the original, which had “melted”. Further damage to MARBL’s copy is physical in nature: the original envelope abraded off sprinkles. Once conservation treatment is complete, the work will be housed with—but not in—its envelope, in such a manner that the collage will be protected from abrasion, and the fugitive colors protected from further fading. Regulation of temperature and relative humidity, coupled with a strict no food and drink policy, will prevent any situation which might invite pests to sample the 40-plus-year-old cake sprinkles.

Untitled [Basic Lights

These preservation measures will also keep cigarette beetles, among other pests, away from Berwyn Hung’s Untitled[Basic Lights], an ironic and performative musing on addiction and the difficulty of breaking old habits. The work has been housed in a platform-style clam-shell box, so that the small, soft cigarette pack is not crushed and the box is just large enough to not be lost among other materials on the shelves.

The Onion as it is Cooked by Stephen Jesse Bernstein

Stephen Jesse Bernstein was an underground poet and performance artist often identified with Seattle’s punk and grunge scene. His work on pasta, The Onion as it is Cooked came to Emory resembling a jigsaw puzzle—ask conservator, Kirsten Wehner—she painstakingly reconstructed the poem, matching letter fragment to fragment, and adhering the tiny pieces together with wheat starch paste. The repaired work is now protected by preservation protocols. Additionally, it must be stored flat, and transported carefully to requesting researchers.

The Poems of Dylan Thomas by Mar Goman

Mar Goman’s altered text, The Poems of Dylan Thomas, is bursting with three-dimensional and moveable, interactive elements. She has said that she will incorporate almost any found material into her work, “as long as it doesn’t move.” The maintenance of an appropriate, stable relative humidity in MARBL’s storage areas will keep the rusty, metal elements from further corrosion. A custom-fitted box not only protects the wedge-shaped book from abrasion, but protects adjacent volumes from potential damage by the razor blades and other sharp metal embellishments.

Excerpt from The Poems of Dylan Thomas by Mar Goman


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