This article originally appeared on the LAIP in October 2015.

The Corning Museum Of Glass is a special place where librarians, curators, artists, and educators all work together to share the history and craft of glass making. Rebecca Hopman’s series on her work at the CMOG’s Rakow Research Library is an excellent template for creating and sustaining the library-as-incubator. Enjoy! ~Erinn

Discovering the Whitefriars collection at the Rakow Research Library

by Rebecca Hopman

A team at the Rakow Research Library has taken on a project of, let us say, towering proportions. The Discovering the Whitefriars Collection project’s goal is to develop a cost-effective method to conserve, digitize, and offer public access to oversized artwork and documents. Our large-format collection of choice, the Whitefriars stained glass cartoon collection, contains an estimated 10,000 design drawings and stained glass cartoons (working drawings) created by James Powell & Sons (a.k.a. Whitefriars Glass). The cartoons were used to created stained glass windows, and most of them were drawn to full scale – up to 20 feet in length. 20-foot drawings are generally hard to miss, but this was a hidden collection. How could we bring these drawings to light?

20-foot drawings are generally hard to miss, but this was a hidden collection. How could we bring these drawings to light?

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Whitefriars cartoons come in all sizes, but mostly XXL!

Our challenge began back in 2008, when the collection made its way through our doors. But first, a quick detour. Whitefriars, a London glass company whose origins date to the 17th century, was founded on the site of a former monastery south of Fleet Street. The monastery was occupied by a Carmelite order of monks popularly known as the White Friars, due to the snowy mantels they donned on formal occasions. Long after the monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII, a small glasshouse opened for business. Years later, in 1834, James Powell purchased the company and expanded its operations. Whitefriars made many types of glass including tableware, ornamental glass, and scientific glass, but they were best known for their stained glass windows. Called “the most enduring and successful glasshouse in Britain” by the Museum of London, Whitefriars completed hundreds of stained glass installations in thirty-eight countries around the world.

So how did the cartoons from this notable British company end up in upstate New York? When the company closed in 1980, their archives were split between the Museum of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Several decades later, the Museum of London generously gifted part of its collection – 1,800 rolls of cartoons and drawings – to the Rakow Library. As an archivist, I’m generally a fan of collections sticking together, but it seems fitting that this company’s records live on in museums dedicated to London, the decorative arts, and glass. Each provides a home (and a different perspective) to the remarkable work done by Whitefriars.

As an archivist, I’m generally a fan of collections sticking together, but it seems fitting that this company’s records live on in museums dedicated to London, the decorative arts, and glass. Each provides a home (and a different perspective) to the remarkable work done by Whitefriars.

Back to our project. The collection came to us in thick, tight rolls, dirty from use on the factory floor and decades of storage. The cartoons, too brittle to unroll safely, were inaccessible to staff and researchers. To care for this collection, we needed a major plan of action. We couldn’t afford to have each of the 10,000 items conserved individually, so we needed to develop an economical solution that could be carried out onsite. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded our library a National Leadership planning grant to create and test such a method. We partnered with the Museum of London and West Lake Conservators, each of whom brought necessary expertise to the table. And so, in December 2014, we set out to discover our collection.

We selected 15 rolls representing local and international connections, with work by a number of Whitefriars’ top designers. We set up a conservation lab with a humidification chamber, and hired two conservation interns, Nicole and Natasa, to humidify, clean, and flatten the cartoons, mending tears where necessary. They worked hard from late May through early August, and left us with 100 conserved cartoons. Late September brought our digitization team, Boston Photo Imaging, to town; they set their cameras up in the same lab that had recently held conservation equipment (and Beyoncé). Many of the cartoons were so large they required multiple photographs, which will be stitched together to create images of the full cartoons.

In the meantime, the project team is finishing the final phase of the grant and tying up loose ends. Our plan, moving forward, is to continue conserving and digitizing the collection. With the help of our Digital Department, we will create an interactive website featuring our digitized cartoons and drawings, the Museum of London’s Whitefriars presentation drawings, and crowdsourced images of the executed windows. We want to bring the stained glass design process to life, and connect communities with Whitefriars windows around the world. So keep an eye out for a little White Friar in your local stained glass windows – his cartoon might just be in our stacks.

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Whitefriars often signed their windows with little white monks – look for this and other artist and company signatures in the corners of stained glass windows.

More More!

See photos and posts from the project so far, and follow our #WhitefriarsWednesday updates (also on Twitter and tumblr).

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#LG-55-14-0110-14).

 

profilepic_hopmanRebecca Hopman is the Outreach Librarian at The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass. She has worked in a number of libraries and archives since 2005 and received her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. When she’s not at the library, you might find her embroidering, writing snail mail, or cheering on the Chicago Cubs. Follow her on tumblrextabulis.tumblr.com.

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