Ligatus news

Obituary - Christopher Clarkson

Christopher Clarkson, who died just before midnight on Thursday 30 March at the age of 78, was the pre-eminent conservator of medieval manuscripts and early printed books and a much-respected historian of book-binding and in particular of the structural history of bookbinding, specializing in the period from the birth of the codex to the early Renaissance. From an early training in design and the graphic arts and without a university education, he made himself, by virtue of his manual skills and a single-minded dedication to his craft, the pre-eminent conservator of early books, equipped with a deep knowledge of the materials used to make them and the techniques used in their construction.

He was born in on 19 November, 1938 in Blackheath, the son of Victor and Kathleen Ruth (née Hopgood). He was not a strong child, having been born with a hole in his heart, and only went to school when he was seven. It was at school that one of his teachers suggested that he should go to art classes at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on his Saturday mornings, which led, at the age of thirteen, to his being sent to the Junior Art School at the Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts. There the curriculum was dominated by painting and painting techniques, drawing and all the graphic reproductive methods, with one day a week only given to other subjects. When he was only fifteen, he moved on to the Senior Art School and developed an abiding interest in medieval architecture, heraldry and brass rubbing, touring around southern England on his bicycle, making drawings and taking photographs. At seventeen he gained his National Diploma in Design – and took a part-time position at Camberwell assisting Frank Martin in teaching wood-engraving and lettering and writing and illuminating under Vernon Shearer. He took on various commissions for lettering, on seeing some of which the typographic designer, Berthold Wolpe suggested he apply for a place at the Royal College of Art, as a result of which he studied there from 1960 to 1963.

While there, he one day found an apparently empty room in which to do some work which happened to have some bookbindings in it, and was soon discovered there by Peter Waters, then working with Roger Powell and teaching bookbinding one day a week at the RCA. As result of this encounter, Chris added ‘Fine Binding’ to his studies for his last two years. He was not allowed to give up his other studies and had to complete twelve bindings for his final diploma show in addition to his other work, as well as studying bookbinding history, helping Howard Nixon at the British Museum with his bookbinding rubbings project and going to evening classes with George Frewin at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His encounter with Peter Waters was soon to take him to Florence and then to Washington, but before that, with the help of a Minor Travelling Scholarship from the RCA, he travelled in Europe, getting as far as Crete (he found it too hot in Greece), where his intention of walking around the island was discouraged by a local inhabitant, who provided him with a donkey by way of transport. He graduated from the RCA with an ARCA Diploma in Graphic Art in 1963 and was invited by Jeff Clements to teach graphic design, wood engraving, writing and illuminating, letter cutting and ‘fine’ bookbinding to diploma level at the Plymouth School of Art and Design. After that, in 1964/5, he went on to work under Tony Cains at Douglas Cockerell & Son (run by Sydney (Sandy) M. Cockerell) in Grantchester, outside Cambridge to learn more about the repair of early printed books and manuscripts, and later with Roger Powell in Froxfield, Hampshire. At some point in and amongst these other activities, he developed a keen interest in origami.

Late in 1966 he was invited by Tony Cains to join the English Government team in Florence after the devastating flood of 4 November, to work with him, Peter Waters, Don Etherington and Roger and Rita Powell as they began to work with the international teams assembling to rescue the millions of books that had been damaged by water, mud, sewage and oil. On arrival, Chris was put in charge of the many volunteers at the Florence Railway Power Station, where books were being washed and dried. They subsequently moved into the workshop created in the main reading rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF), where he worked on devising treatment protocols as well as supervising and teaching volunteers and students carrying out basic treatment procedures. His growing awareness of the importance of the bindings, not only as examples of a medieval craft, but also as part of the history of each book began to inform his approach to their repair. As a result, he began to train selected volunteers and binding staff in the application of approaches to book restoration based on those being established in painting conservation. It was therefore in Florence that he began to formulate, along with the other bookbinders with whom he was working, the principles of what became known as ‘book conservation’ (a phrase he coined), as opposed to the simple repair of books without reference to the historical and archaeological significance of their bindings. He also started to note the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of binding structures on the books they were working on and began to question why so many limp binding structures had survived intact when other binding types had suffered badly. He went on to develop methods of limp vellum binding based on late medieval examples that he had seen in Florence.

By 1971, Frazer Poole, who had visited the BNCF, had taken Peter Waters and Don Etherington to Washington to work at the Library of Congress. Chris continued to repair books from Florence in Roger Powell’s workshop in Hampshire, but by January 1972, with his newly-married wife, Oonagh O’Donoghue, (they were married in September 1971), he joined Peter Waters and Don Etherington in Washington, where he was made Head of Rare Book Preservation. He developed a section devoted to the conservation and treatment of the rare book and special collection material within the Library and was closely involved in designing the first library and archive preservation and treatment programmes. This included radical thinking about collection care, which included designing different types of protective enclosures (the now ubiquitous ‘phase box’ temporary wrapper was one of these) and setting up survey programmes within the collections. With Don Etherington’s help, he worked with suppliers and manufacturers to achieve the high standards in materials required for conservation purposes, a concern that remained with him throughout his working life. With the exhibition department, he pioneered the use of Plexiglas to create the first plastic book cradles designed to support and protect books on display in exhibitions. At the same time, he continued his research on binding structures and past repair techniques, and finished a detailed report on Limp Vellum Binding which was sadly never published, though the film made to accompany it does survive, and he published his paper entitled ‘Limp Vellum Binding’ in 1985 (a revised edition was published in 2005).

For the National Gallery of Art, Chris was approached to work on the housing and display of the Rosenwald collection of miniatures cut out of medieval manuscripts. The thread mounting technique that he invented for this purpose utilizes the principle that twisted thread shortens and lengthens in environmental fluctuation in the opposite way to the expansion and contraction of parchment in the same conditions. This work culminated in a small, jewel-like exhibition at the Gallery. He also worked on the Freer Gallery’s collection of Islamic manuscript fragments. In1977, he accepted a position at The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, where he was the first conservator of their manuscript collection. He set up a small workshop and also helped write Lilian Randall write the codicological and binding descriptions in their new manuscript catalogue “Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery”.

In 1979 Chris moved back to England to accept a post as the first Conservation Technical Officer at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. With Michael Turner as Head of Conservation and Judy Segal as the only paper conservator, they set up a Preservation and Conservation Section which combined the General Bindery and later the Stack staff and Photography sections. The section also became responsible for organising, designing and running the Book and Manuscript Programmes for the Oxford University Libraries. Later they were able to organise a more secure and safer exhibition policy. Chris was able to set-up a small area where he could carry out conservation, repair and rebinding projects, as well as one-to-one teaching. Among his innovations while at the Bodleian Library were adjustable book cradles for the more controlled and gentle handling of books during conservation treatments and photography. He also devised, with help from David Cooper, the system of foam-rubber wedges to support books in reading room use; they are now to be found in rare-book collections throughout the world. He was also able to pursue his interest in twelfth-century romanesque bindings, made in what he described, characteristically, as one of the last great periods of creative bookbinding and structural development.

At this time Chris sat on various British Standards Institution (BSI) Committees, looking into archival materials, shelf storage, environmental standards etc., and worked with Stuart Welch initially of the Atlantis Paper Co Ltd., and subsequently (1992) director of Conservation by Design in developing a fully archival board for use in book and archive conservation and in supplying other specialist papers.

Concerned about poor training in the field of the conservation of books and manuscripts, Chris moved in 1987 to The Edward James Foundation at West Dean College know, near Chichester, taking a cut in salary to do so. He worked there on many medieval manuscripts and ran an internship programme which provided an opportunity for selected conservators from around the world to develop a deeper understanding of the conservation and repair of library and archive material. When the West Dean workshop closed in 1998, he returned to Oxford, and set up in private practice, working also as conservation consultant to the Bodleian Library, The Wordsworth Trust and the Hereford Cathedral Mappa Mundi Trust and Chained Library. As a freelance conservator, he worked on the conservation of many important manuscripts and early printed books for well-known Institutions in Europe and America, including most recently, the first two volumes of the twelfth-century Winchester Bible, work on the second of which was interrupted by his failing health.

For eight years, he ran a two-week Staff Training Programme for The National Archives and National Library of Slovenia and also ran regular staff training programmes for the Bodleian Library and the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in the Lake District. He gave lectures, workshops and conducted condition & treatment surveys in many countries, including Japan and South America, and taught for many years at the Rare Book School established by Terry Belanger, first at Columbia University in New York and afterwards at the University of Virginia. As an authority on the history of bookbinding structure, he worked with the staff of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York on their early Coptic Binding collections. He also acted as a government representative advising Danish and Icelandic libraries on early manuscripts and reported on the condition of the Book of Kells for Trinity College Dublin. His latest report was for the National Museum of Ireland concerning the stabilization of the eighth-century psalter discovered in a peat bog in July 2006. The report contained historical comparisons and suggestions as to possible treatments. He wrote reports on the early fifth-century Ms. Syriac 30 and the fragments of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1973.

In 2004 he was awarded the Plowden Gold Medal of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in recognition of his significant contribution to the advancement of the conservation profession. An extract of the citation reads, “… Chris’s contribution to training and educating young conservators around the world has led to the invaluable dissemination of his approach to conservation and the paradigm of minimal intervention. As an archaeologist of the book, his teachings have fostered a deep historical awareness of the object, requiring profound knowledge of a wide variety of materials and a broad repertoire of techniques…”. Chris published on various aspects of the materials and techniques of book conservation and on medieval book production and binding techniques, taking enormous trouble over the language used to describe historical books and their condition and treatment. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of the Arts London (which incorporates the Camberwell School of Art) in 2012.

For those of us who have followed in Chris’s wake over the years, the loss of what had seemed to be a fixed star in the firmament of conservation is a terrible shock. For years, he made himself available to teach and discuss questions of treatment and the history of bookbinding, sharing with colleagues and students alike his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and his burning sense of the importance of historical books and how they should be treated. Fired by a single-minded determination to know everything that was necessary for his work, he sometimes seemed disappointed that he hadn’t been able to do more to get his message across, but, in reality, there is scarcely a book conservator working today who has not been influenced, directly or indirectly, by his approach to his work and by his technical skills, and many of us owe him a great debt of gratitude for what we have learned from him and for his help. That he achieved all of this without a formal training in conservation (there was no such training when he started out) and little conventional schooling is a testament to his determination to do the best that he could for the material to which his life’s work was dedicated. What is now taught as book conservation is to a large extent the result of the pioneering work that he and others carried out in the years after the floods in Florence in 1966. His true legacy will be the example that he set, which those now working in the field and those yet to enter it will do well to follow.

He is survived by his wife Oonagh and their two children, Eoghan and Siobhan, and grand-daughter Seren and sister, Josie Smart.

Nicholas Pickwoad
Ligatus Research Centre, University of the Arts London
12 April, 2017

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Christopher Clarkson

I am writing to give you the sad news that Christopher Clarkson died in hospital shortly before midnight on Thursday, 30 March. I had seen him at home the previous Monday and although weak, he seemed stable and much as he had been for some weeks, but his condition suddenly deteroriated on Thursday morning and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital, by which time apparently he was all but unconscious.

This is a terrible shock for us all, but particularly for his wife, Oonagh, and their children, Eoghan and Siobhan and grand-daughter Seren. No arrangements have yet been made about his funeral, but there is sure to be an event in the coming months to commemorate his life and work, and I will make sure that you know what may be planned as soon I know it myself. There will be a fuller obituary in a few days.

For those of you who know his wife Oonagh, and would like to write to her, please contact Ligatus for the address.

With best wishes

Nicholas Pickwoad

From Codex to Code - Ten years of research by graduates of the Ligatus Research Centre

We invite you to celebrate with us the 10th Anniversary of the Ligatus Research Centre at the CCW Graduate School with a conference at which our first seven PhD and M.Phil graduates will present papers about their current research interests.

The conference will take place on Friday, 24th February, from 10am to 6pm, in Banqueting Hall of the Chelsea College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts London, John Islip Street, SW1P 4JU
and it will be followed by a reception.

THE BOOKING IS NOW CLOSED - if you have any queries please contact e.warner@arts.ac.uk

SPEAKERS:

Georgios Boudalis
(Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki)
The birth of the codex and the crafts of Late Antiquity

Alberto Campagnolo
(Library of Congress, Washington)
The digital representation of books as objects: from cultural objects to digital cultural objects

Anna Gialdini
(University of the Arts London)
Luxury, Hybridism, and the Strange Greekness of Some Florentine Bindings

Theresa Zammit Lupi
(The Notarial Archives, Valletta, Malta)
On the parchment trail: following music manuscripts from Malta

Heather Ravenberg
(Saint Catherine Foundation)
Documentation schemas for recording conservation activity

Martha Romero
(Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
From research to practice

Nikolas Sarris
(National Library of Greece, Athens, Thesaurus-Islamicus project, Cairo)
The Ligatus Condition Assessment Form: a tool for training, studio workflows and surveys: Experiences from Iraq, Ethiopia and Egypt

Gino Ballantyne in Bookmarks XIV

Project: 

Gino Ballantyne is the artist who perhaps has worked with Artivity for the longest period of time. Gino tested Artivity since phases one and two, working with Inkscape and Linux. He produced a significant body of work for these phases including work developed inside the fine art studios of Chelsea College of Arts. A further development to his work led to his contribution to Bookmarks XIV. He mentions Artivity in the extended pdf on that page.
Gino has endorsed the ideas of Artivity and made them part of his practice. An extensive blog entry with his views on the benefits, use and future of Artivity will be published soon.

Summary of work during phase 3 (so far)

Project: 

Artivity on MacOSX

Going forward from phase 2 our main target has been to release Artivity for the MacOSX platform supporting Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop as two popular creative applications used by artists and designers. We have not abandoned Linux and we certainly have Windows support in the pipeline but given the popularity of MacOSX in the design community, we felt it was the right platform to focus at this stage, to have good chances of the community adopting Artivity. Artivity is now available for MacOSX thanks to a lot of work by Sebastian Faubel and Moritz Eberl. It is built using a range of tools. These have been considered carefully to ensure that we can then compile Artivity for all three platforms. A lot of time has also been spent on packaging Artivity for the MacOSX. While on Linux the distribution and updating of applications is done by maintaining a central repository, applications on the MacOSX are typically distributed through a package file and updating them is done through the application itself. This is now all in place for Artivity and installation of the main application will also install plugins for Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop as well as Google Chrome.
Other important tasks have been integrating Artivity with E-Prints and ORCHID as well as distributing it in the UAL network. Much of the work for these is complete and we will report on these tasks soon.

New website for Artivity

Following feedback received from phase 2, a new Artivity website has been launched. artivity.io is the main avenue for downloading and installing Artivity and it serves as a product website for the software. The original project website on www.ligatus.org.uk/project/artivity will remain active, as well as this blog and the Bitbucket repository which is still the home for our source code. We would welcome feedback about the new website.

Testing for phase 3

We have selected two artists to test Artivity for a period of at least one month. Gino Ballantyne and Peter Gander are working on a range of projects on their computers with Artivity installed. This will be the first time that we will have a large body of Artivity data. Using this data we are hoping to see how easy it will be to run queries in order to build useful narratives about the context within which creative work has been undertaken by the artists.

New Artivity website

Project: 

Given that the Alpha release of Artivity for MacOSX is now ready to download, this was a good chance to create a new online presence where the most recent Artivity versions can be found. Check out:

http://artivity.io/

This is a more outward looking website highlighting some important features of Artivity as well as featuring links to the research project page (this page) and the partner pages.

Future Artivity releases for all platforms will be made available through that website.

For now: happy browsing!

Artivity for MacOSX

Project: 

Sebastian Faubel and Moritz Eberl from Semiodesk have been working hard on the first version of Artivity for the MacOSX which supports Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator and Google Chrome.
Artivity keeps track of work undertaken on the popular Adobe software alongside the records collected from browsing history. By combining the data collected from these applications we are hoping to build a picture of the context in which art practice develops and capture important steps in the methods used by artists.
Artivity's underlying architecture remains based on the Virtuoso triple store which collects the Artivity data. The PROV ontology is used to structure that data.
Artivity for MacOSX has been packaged as a single downloadable file which can be installed easily. It handles all dependencies and also installs the required plugins for the three supported applications.
Work on integrating Artivity with ORCID is underway and we have already started work on integration with e-Prints. Although these are online services which require access to the Internet, by default Artivity functions solely within the local desktop, i.e. all data is stored locally like any other data on your computer. Exporting options are available, but we have scheduled more work on this in the coming months.
We will soon be announcing a new website for Artivity with a download link for the new version as well as the two artists who will be testing it.

CORES Symposium: 'A multi-faceted look at limp bindings'

Friday 17 June 2016 (Theaterzaal Biekorf, Sint-Jakobsstraat 8, 8000 Brugge)

Concept

How to keep quires together in an envelope or binding? The question sounds simple; whereas the answer is not.
This symposium does justice to the fascinating world of simple bindings. The different perspectives that are covered are: terminology, techniques and structures in bindings, conservation and restoration, history, contemporary binding creations.
International experts give lectures, restorers share their experiences on specific restorations, and archives and libraries in Bruges show their bindings in house.

With this symposium, CORES Brugge aims to create a biennial platform for knowledge exchange among restorers of books and archives, in close collaboration with collection managers and experts in paper heritage.

Practical information

You can find a short explanation of all the lectures and more information about the speakers: www.coressymposium.be

There you can also subscribe:
Registration fee: 70 euros
Former Syntra West students and members of Belgisch-Nederlands bandboekgenootschap: 50 euros

Organisation

The CORES symposium is an organisation of Syntra West in association with CORES and FARO.

Libre Graphics Meeting 2016

Project: 

Last month, Sebastian, Moritz and I attended the Libre Graphics Meeting and gave a paper about Artivity. The paper was received very well and we did have a short discussion about the project following the presentation. Two issues were raised:

  • Privacy: there were concerns about the fact the Artivity captures private data. In fact, this is the most frequent concern raised when I describe the software to colleagues. The answer is simple: Nothing leaves the computer without the user's explicit request. Artivity collects private data. This is the point of the software: it collects data automatically so that the user does not have to do it manually. But nothing is stored online. This is no different to many other applications storing personal data on the user's computer account. Transmitting this data to a server on the Internet will be possible once the development cycle finishes, but this will have to be setup by the user, if the user wishes to share their data. There is a growing community of artists who share their work openly (for example the group photo from the LGM shown here was shot by Peter Westenberg and shared under the Free Art License) and therefore having the option to share Artivity data does make sense. It also makes sense in a large institution context when collective reporting of creative work is required.
  • Interpretation: another interesting point was raised which has to do with the interpretation of artistic process by a researcher looking back at the data captured by Artivity about an artist's work. The point being that this interpretation is too subjective. Indeed, the data collected by Artivity does not tell a story. A researcher looking at the data in relation to the finished artwork and trying to make sense of it all builds a narrative of an interpretation. But this is how art historians work when working with conventional archives. They typically identify a starting point with a suggestion and then look at archives to support this. Subjectivity and interpretation is present in art history anyway. What Artivity tries to do it to bring this practice to digital art and make sure that when art historians in the future require evidence to support their narratives, Artivity can provide these.

Sebastian and Moritz also joined the Inkscape hackathon before the LGM and got some critical work done which would allow a pluggable interface for Inkscape. This means that Artivity will be able to support Inkscape in the form of a plugin and without having to alter the Inkscape core files (which means much faster compiling times).

Next LGM is in Rio.

Artivity goes on to phase 3

Project: 

With a bit of a delay, I am updating the project blog to announce that Artivity has been awarded funding for the third phase of the project. See Daniela's blog entry about it. Since the end of phase 2 Artivity could run on Windows and MacOSX but with limited support for creative applications. There are lots of exciting developments for the third phase:

  • Sebastian and Moritz are working on the plugins for Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. This will mean that we will be able to support popular creative tools and make Artivity accessible to a much larger number of users. Of course, support for Inkscape and Krita remains.
  • We are also looking to integrate Artivity with orchID to allow artist researchers to identify their data for institutional and academic reporting purposes.
  • Depositing of data to institutional repositories is also a priority and we are looking at the best solutions to integrate Artivity with popular protocols.
  • Finally we are hoping to be able to offer easy installers and packaged versions of Artivity and deploy the software in UAL network.

Further updates will follow soon.

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