Last fall, Special Collections & Archives received a LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) Conservation grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awarded by the State Library of Ohio to fund treatment for items in the high profile Wright Brothers Collection. Four objects were selected for their fragile condition and significant role in teaching and sharing the story of the Wright brothers. As the grant wraps up this month, we are excited to share the results!
Our grant funds were used to hire Conservator and owner of Strange Stock Art Conservation, Laura Moeller, to structurally repair the Wright Brothers artifacts so they can be safely displayed. Laura is a professional associate of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC), and founded her own conservation studio in Covington, KY. We are fortunate to have her so close by, as she did amazing work on these artifacts. (To see more of Laura Moeller’s conservation treatments, visit the Strange Stock Art Conservation website at http://www.strangestockconservation.com/ and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/strangestock/ .)
Below are “before and after” photographs of the four Wright brothers objects that received conservation treatment through the generous grant funding.
Object #1: Orville Wright’s Personal Address Book
The address book contains names of individuals involved in developing aviation and personal acquaintances of Orville Wright. Prior to treatment, the book had only been displayed closed due to adhesive on the pages and back cover.
The address book was dry cleaned overall, the plastic material from the back cover was removed, adhesive residues from the back cover and throughout the text block were removed, the text block was tightened, worn areas along edges and corners were consolidated, local areas were lightly humidified and pressed under weight, and the back cover was lightly toned where the adhesive was removed.
Object #2: Ft. Myer Album, 1908-1909
Prior to treatment, the Ft. Myer album of Orville Wright’s demonstration flights for the U.S. military in 1908‐1909, was extremely fragile and exhibiting a failing spine structure, torn and detached pages, and detaching photographs.
The conservator dry cleaned the support pages and photographs, locally humidified and flattened photographs with creases and bent corners where structurally necessary, repaired larger tears and losses on support pages, reattached separated photographs onto support pages, resewed pages onto linen stubs, consolidated areas of red rot and loss on the leather covers where necessary, and created a new spine structure and casing to repair the original casing with original leather covers.
Object #3: Wright Family Photograph Album, circa 1880
Prior to treatment, the Wright Family Photograph Album, containing rare photographs of Wright family members (including Wilbur and Orville as children), was completely detached from its original leather case, and several split window housings for the photographs were torn, making it increasingly difficult to view or display.
The conservator dry cleaned the photo album covers, spine and board pages; removed all photographs from the album and kept in order; dry cleaned all photographs and their mounts; repaired tears and losses to split window housings in board pages, then humidified and flattened locally; repaired and consolidated leather on covers and spine structure; replaced missing spine material using similar matching leather; repaired and strengthened spine structure using new crash materials; repaired headbands and splitting cloth joints; and cleaned photographic materials and placed back into their pages in original order.
Object #4: Wilbur and Orville Wright’s Personal Copy of Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation by Otto Lilienthal, 1911
Before treatment, the book was no longer able to be displayed or researched safely, due to a detached text block from the case and large tears throughout the text. The Wright brothers credited Lilienthal with influencing their interest in solving the problem of controlled flight. This is the Wright’s personal copy with penciled marginalia by Orville Wright.
The book covers and text block were dry cleaned; broken joints were repaired; broken folios were repaired and reattached to the text block by sewing; worn book cloth was consolidated at corners, edges, and along spine; large tears and losses throughout the text block were repaired; the casing was reattached to the text block; and local areas were lightly humidified and pressed under weights.
These artifacts connect us to the history of the Wright family over a century later. If Wilbur, Orville, and their family saw these items displayed today, I imagine them walking up, pointing to a photograph, and starting to tell a story, smiling with great memories, or growing serious when seeing photos of the crash at Ft. Myer that seriously injured Orville and resulted in the first airplane passenger death. Wilbur and Orville are no longer here to tell the stories in person, but they saved and handed down these treasures that continue letting the stories live on in a poignant way. Our mission in Special Collections and Archives is to preserve and make that history available for the public to experience now and in the future. We thank IMLS and the State Library of Ohio for supporting this mission through the Conservation grant.
This project was supported by federal Institute of Museum and Library Services funds, granted through the State Library of Ohio. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of IMLS or the State Library of Ohio, and no official endorsement by either agency should be inferred. We sincerely thank the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the State Library of Ohio for making this project possible through the LSTA Conservation grant.