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WATCH: UC Libraries Donation Becomes a Sizeable Challenge in Preservation


The gift not only reflects an amazing world history, but also holds its own tales about its world travels. Now, it has found a permanent home, complementing UC’s rare collection of 18th century British literature.

Date: 4/17/2013 7:57:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823

UC ingot  
At first glance, you’d know this is not a map that could be folded and stored in your car’s glove compartment. Taking a closer look, it’s not only the size of the map that is stunning, but also the artwork, its history and its journey to its new, permanent home in the Reading Room of the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library. “It is a valuable research tool as well as an outstanding work of the printing arts,” says Kevin Grace, head of the Archives & Rare Books (ARB) Library.

The 6-foot-10-inch by 13-foot linen map of 18th century London – all 84-and-a-half square feet of it – is a gift from Keith Stewart, professor emeritus of English, and his wife, Elizabeth. The couple first discovered the map while browsing in an Oxford, England, bookshop in the late 1950s, when Keith was on sabbatical for a year in England.

The surveyor of the map, John Rocque, began publishing in the 1730s. “From 1751, he styled himself topographer to the Prince of Wales, and from 1760 to the King,” says Stewart.

“A geographer colleague has told me that it suggests a good deal about urban land use – the locations and number of churches, for instance, the identification of spaces with other contemporary activities such as rope making, ship building, bowling, gardening and so on. For someone interested in 18th century literature, it is a Garden of Delights,” Stewart wrote, in an essay about the map.

The Stewarts described the highly detailed map of contemporary 18th century London as handsomely engraved, with a classically designed border around the edges, when they fell in love with it in that Oxford bookshop.

“It was a bit like falling in love in love with an elephant, which with the reassertion of practical realities became rather quickly transformed into an albatross which was to hang about our closets for nearly 40 years,” Stewart shared in the essay about their find.

How were they going to haul it back to London, let alone the United States? They decided to carefully cut it in half in the bookstore. It survived, in good shape, the trip to London, the trip to Cincinnati, a move to two houses in Clifton, where there wasn’t a wall large enough to show their beautiful treasure, and a move in the mid 1990s to a condominium, where they could finally showcase it on a wall.

Keith Stewart
J. Keith Stewart

But first, the map needed some restoration. Stewart first fueled his interest in preservation when he took a course on book conservation that was offered by the Library Guild (now called the Friends of the University of Cincinnati Libraries) under UC Libraries’ book conservator Virginia Wisniewski (now deceased). The workshop resulted in Stewart working more than 10 years of volunteer service at UC’s Conservation, Binding and Processing Department.

As they planned the restoration of the map, armed with encouragement and advice from that department as well as the paper conservator at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the couple built a team that could mend, restore and repair the map to its former glory, first mounting it on two stretchers that painters would use to mount their canvasses.

After the couple moved out of East Walnut Hills more recently, they decided their beloved “elephant” needed a permanent home and a permanent display area. That’s when the map made one more journey to its permanent home in the reading room of the ARB Library.

Once again, the “elephant” was divided in half to get to the ARB Library and to undergo more repairs that were supervised by the Preservation Lab. Located in Langsam Library, the Preservation Lab is a collaboration between UC Libraries and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The formation of the lab was supported by a one-year, Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant awarded to the Public Library and the State Library of Ohio. The grant supported the purchase of equipment and supplies that have been used in the map’s restoration.

Preservation of the map was overseen by Holly Prochaska, head of the lab and preservation services and head of the UC Geology-Mathematics-Physics Library, and Kathy Lechuga, conservator for the Preservation Lab. Prochaska says that advice and guidance on framing the massive map was also provided by experts at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The canvas was once again removed from the stretchers, and then surface-cleaned and repaired. To further preserve its condition, a massive piece of Plexiglass now covers the linen. The map is now enclosed in a massive, oak frame. The framed piece is estimated to weigh around 250 pounds. Climate control and lighting in the library will further protect the map so that it can be researched and admired by library visitors.

UC’s 18th century British literature collection is described as one of the finest in the country, and Grace says that Stewart, who passed away on April 3, was instrumental in building the collection before his retirement. “The collection includes everything from poetry and plays to biographies, fiction and homiletics – sermons in 18th century British literature – and he built a great deal of our rare book collection in that area,” says Grace. “We had this wonderful literature collection and now with this map, we can see exactly where it came from.” Stewart made an additional donation of 18th century books about London when he donated the map to the library.

“This is also an incredible urban artifact, which is why it is such a complement to our urban campus,” says Grace. “Now, it can be on display forever.”

UC Archives & Rare Books Library

UC Preservation lab

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