Housing 220 Drawings from a Black Mountain College Student

[This post was written by Kate Vukovich, conservation technician for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Don Page, a young man wearing glasses, sits at a vertical loom, weaving. The picture is taken through the warp threads of the loom.

Figure 1. Don Page, a young man wearing glasses, sits at a vertical loom, weaving. The picture is taken through the warp threads of the loom.

Black Mountain College was an experimental liberal arts college in Western North Carolina, active from 1933-1957. One of its students was Don Page, who went on to become an architect, graphic and interior designer, and artist. The Western Regional Archives (WRA) has a collection (PC.1924) of his drawing studies and textile designs from his time at Black Mountain College, 1936-1942. These drawings are done in mixed media, mostly on paper (with a couple on wood) and were stored in folders organized by genre, but needed new housing to stabilize them. Because many of the materials used to make the drawings are friable—pencil, ink, charcoal, pastels, and other similar media—placing many drawings together without interleaving had led to smudging and media wearing off onto adjacent drawings.

A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Ultimately, we decided on making sink mats to accommodate groups of 5-10 drawings, which remained sorted by genre as they had originally been. Sink mats are a type of mat

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

Figure 2. A collage of six images of varying sizes and genres from the collection. Three are studies of violins, two are flowers, and one is an abstract color study on wood.

that allows for the pressure of the cover of the mat, and anything that might rest on top of the mat, to rest on the material of the mat and rather than on the items themselves. It also allows for storing multiple items or thicker works than a traditional window mat.   Because many of these drawings were made with friable media like charcoal and pencil, it was important to make sure that they wouldn’t wear on each other any more than they already had. We chose to use PhotoTex paper as interleaving between each drawing. PhotoTex is designed to be ultra-smooth to not abrade photographic materials, textiles, and works on paper. Its smoothness means there’s little friction for it to pick up friable media.

We constructed the mats out of archival quality corrugated cardboard, making hinges on two sides so the drawings could be removed easily, and making a cover out of heavyweight cardstock. This was hinged to the mat with linen tape. While the mat base and cover were cut to a standard size, each mat is custom-fit to the drawings within (you can see the differences in the sizes of the drawings in the images below!).

Figure 4. Two completed sink mats of the same size are placed next to each other. One holds a small set of drawings (about 9 inches by 12 inches) and the other a large set (about 19 by 23 inches), demonstrating how mats are custom built to different drawings.

Figure 4. Two completed sink mats of the same size are placed next to each other. One holds a small set of drawings (about 9 inches by 12 inches) and the other a large set (about 19 by 23 inches), demonstrating how mats are custom built to different drawings.

The completed mats—with interleaved drawings inside—are put in boxes for convenience and additional protection. Forty-eight sink mats were made for about 220 items.

Figure 5. Five boxes are stacked on a table. The top box’s lid is removed, so the contents (the completed sink mats) are visible. A ruler is included for scale: the boxes are 25 inches by 32 inches.

Figure 5. Five boxes are stacked on a table. The top box’s lid is removed, so the contents (the completed sink mats) are visible. A ruler is included for scale: the boxes are 25 inches by 32 inches.

The WRA finding aid for the Don Page Collection is here. If you want to learn more about Black Mountain College, check out the NCPedia article, the NC Archives Digital Black Mountain College Collection, and the WRA finding aids of the Black Mountain College collections.

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