Blog - Kyffin Blog
Preventive conservation is an important part of collection care, and I have been periodically involved with the Kyffin Williams bequest since it arrived at the Library. Working on this collection of artwork has been an interesting and enjoyable challenge.
Art works are sensitive to environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, light and ultraviolet light. They require good storage environments that protect them from such damaging processes. The Kyffin bequest is no different, in that it requires such a protective environment, as well as a considerable amount of storage space.
Finding a storage area that met all environmental and security criteria was a priority. With a large collection of books being relocated within the Library it became possible to modify the storage area, adapting a number of the mobile shelving units (on a limited budget).
This was done with the help of colleagues from the building facilities department. The mobile shelving units being modified by adding metal mesh panels, onto which the collection could be hung. This process is reversible and if required could be returned to being used as a book store in future years.
One of the Preventive Unit‘s specialized activities is the conservation mounting of works of art for display and protection. This year, Ruth Evans has the privilege of mounting works of art from the Kyffin Williams legacy. This is nearly the last process in the acquisition of these items into the Library as they have already been cleaned, catalogued and digitised.
Ruth uses our wall-mounted Speed-Mat machine to cut the cream coloured acid-free mounting boards. Good quality paper is used for hinging the works to the mount, with an archival quality paste used as an adhesive. Materials of a lower standard can contain impurities that will yellow and embrittle paper or a work of art. If necessary, the items can be removed from their mounts without causing any damage to the artwork. This ability to reverse our activities is important, as conservation work should be as less intrusive as possible. Over 1,000 Kyffin drawings (on paper) will be protected in this manner.
On completion of the mounts, they will be stored by the dozen in purpose built acid free boxes produced by this unit on one of our specialist machines. Such a box will offer protection against physical damage and the destructive effects of light and airborne pollutants. It will also create a microclimate that will offer a more stable environment in respect of temperature and humidity, and will therefore substantially extend the life of this important collection.
Iwan Bryn James
Preventive Conservation Unit Manager
The summer holidays are well and truly over and children across the country have returned to school, some full of excitement and others with trepidation. Kyffin attended Tre-arddur House School on Anglesey before joining his elder brother Dick as a pupil at Shrewsbury School in 1931. In this undated letter, signed John, the closesness between both brothers is evident. Kyffin reassures his parents that all his well and even includes a plan of his study and bedroom at the new school. Thanks to Will for finding this photo of Kyffin writing at his desk.
Dear Mummy & Daddy
I think I have settled down all right, thank you so much for the fruit.
I have not spent a 1d, as I have got all I want, & there is nothing much in the shop.
Nearly everyone wears tails, Gale, Shimwell, & Burt another new boy.
We went for a run yesterday, & it was about 5 miles.
Dick is awfully decent, he does every thing for me, & Storey is jolly decent.
Please thank Mrs Ingrams!! for the toffe
Mitford has got all my money except 2/6, I think it is best.
I am in the same form as Butter, & we don’t half rag.
I have written to Aunt Mamie, & to Jameson
Some of the boys here seem, awfully small, & look about 10 or 11.
I sleep between Dick & Gale & opposite Boddinton, who does a lot for me, in the way of giving me books for class.
My top hat is jolly decent.
Gale wears tails & a three year old collar.
Dick has just been heating some beans for me.
Royds is quite a decent fellow, except when he shouts “Dowls”!!
I hope you are keeping quite well, I am very happy.
With lots of love
Since 2007 all unframed works have been assessed and 190 items selected for conservation treatment.
Many of these are on cartridge paper torn from sketchbooks. There are handmade papers, ‘Ingres’ laid and ‘Fabriano’ wove papers. Whatman papers and boards were used for some of the earlier works. There are also lower grade papers, for example tracing and school exercise book pages. The wide variety of materials used by Kyffin include (often thickly applied) soft pencil, chalk, charcoal, pen or brush and Indian ink, watercolour pigment, gouache, fixatives and more recently felt pens.
Damage consists of surface dirt, pest debris, tears, losses and creasing; deterioration from self adhesive tapes and blu-tack. Many objects have oil paint splashes, liquid staining and finger marks; though these characteristics are regarded as part of the original art work. Evidence of poor storage and handling is predominant. Some of the thickest inks and gouache have cracked and lifted, and certain papers have mould, foxing and acidity.
The aim is to implement minimal preservation treatment to stabilise: surface cleaning, tape and glue removal, lifting from extraneous papers and boards, Japanese tissue repair of damage and removal of disfiguring creases. The use of 2200mic museum board for mounting will give protection to thicker papers, inks and pigments.
Recently the most challenging and unique items to be digitised were the lino-cuts! If, like me, you are unsure what a lino-cut is; well, it’s a carved piece of the artist’s work, Kyffin Williams in this example, that was used to make prints!
Some of these were rather large and heavy, and they were a problem when it came to scanning them, because at one point, we were worried that they were not only a bit too big for the scanner, but also too heavy!
This is what Simon Evans, one of the imaging staff, has to say on the matter –
“Due to the nature of the Kyffin Williams lino-cuts we had to use a different process than we would for flat, printed materials. The large scanners we normally use have very flat, even lighting and the tests we did didn’t really show the depth of the cuts very well. We used a medium format camera fitted with a 22 megapixel digital back attached to a copy-stand. This set-up allowed us to use just one source of light, from one side, which brought out the detail and depth of the tooling in the lino”.
Here is a sneak preview of one of them for you, there is also an image of Simon scanning one of the items.
The story of Kyffin and the Curwen Press is an example of fruitful work organised through friendship. Most of Kyffin’s business was done on a very personal level, he knew his galleries well and even knew who had purchased his originals.
Prints were another aspect of his artwork; they represented his attempt to bridge the gap between expensive art and a public audience who wanted something by him but did not wish to invest large sums of money. The solution was to produce limited editions of his works, maybe between 150 to 250 prints per run, to have the artist sign each one, then offer them for sale at reasonable prices. Kyffin himself was always given a certain number for his own use and many of these were gifted to visitors; although several hundreds remained in his home at his death and some of the unsigned copies are on sale in the Library shop. The rest form part of his Bequest to Wales.
The first print undertaken by the Press for Kyffin was Farmer at Pontllyfni in 1974. There was a gap of nearly thirty years before Hendre Waelodwas published in 2004. For the next four years, twenty eight prints were produced, an example of the late flowering of this aspect of Kyffin’s output. The increase can probably be explained as the influence and friendship of the Curwen, who encouraged Kyffin to choose and produce a great deal of work. These prints are consistently excellent quality, on heavy paper with no publication heading to interrupt the image.
Autumn road, Nanmor
It is quite fitting that as part of the Curwen exhibition at the Library, a new print was produced from Kyffin’s Bequest (See post Kyffin prints for sale). This both suggests a continuity of practice and a sense that his work continues to be enjoyed and valued.
Perched on a mountain overlooking the port of Holyhead, Pentre Pella is a small, irregularly shaped village with clusters of solid, squat cottages, stone walls, small fields and chapels. Sometimes the sky above is blue, but mostly it is grey. From here you can watch the ferries to and froing from Ireland. In fact there is probably not much else to do, unless you are an artist.
1968 was the year in which the Beatles sang ‘Hey Jude’ and the Rolling Stones ‘Jumping Jack Flash.’ It was the year Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated; it was the year of the Prague Spring and student riots on the streets of Paris. Life was quiet in Pentre Pella though. Consequently the arrival of a tall, distinguished looking gentleman with a neatly trimmed moustache, a tweed jacket, a new Polish camera and an easel was their most exciting event.
The tall gentleman was of course no other than Kyffin Williams. He was inspired by Pentre Pella. He sketched energetically and later painted many oils simply titled ‘Pentre Pella.’ He also photographed extensively, perhaps in part to practise for his forthcoming Patagonian Odyssey.
I am very pleased to be able to contribute to Sir Kyffin Williams’s blog. The artist had been very generous towards the Library during his lifetime and, of greater relevance to me as the Library’s Shop Manager, through his generous legacy. I was fortunate enough to meet him but at the time I did not have a vast experience in this field of work. I have since had the opportunity to learn a great deal more about him, although very sadly after his death. It has been a great pleasure to be able to discuss his work with colleagues who are specialists, here at The National Library and further afield.
As we all know the economic climate has been very difficult and therefore Sir Kyffin’s legacy has helped us enormously. We have been able to sell numerous prints at affordable prices to the public, through the Library shop. Many of these prints came directly from his home and we are truly privileged.
We have also recently been working jointly with The Curwen Press to produce the print ‘Nanmor’ (below) to accompany their exhibition here at the Library (10 July-11 September), which focuses on the work of the Press and Studio and celebrates their contribution to Welsh music and art. It is possible to purchase this or other prints by contacting the Library shop.
Sir Kyffin’s Bequest is an important milestone in the history of collecting for the National Library and for Wales as a whole. He had already donated many hundreds of art works to us by the time of his death, and it was felt that the special nature of the Bequest should be preserved and celebrated with a collection label, fitting for an artist of international standing.
We chose a little lino-print of a man with a dog looking out at the viewer, completely at peace with life: a sort of vision of the artist in a happy mood enjoying his beloved Welsh landscape.
The labels have been specially designed by Sir Kyffin’s own printer: David Vickers, Contoller of the Gwasg Gregynog, printed on the Gregynog Press in 2009 to the excellent standards which Kyffin so admired. They are printed in the grey ‘Kyffin grey’ which Kyffin himself chose for the Kate Roberts book Two Old Men.
Each object in the bequest will bear the label, so that it will be possible to tell instantly which pictures formed part of his gift to the nation.
On 23 January 2009 David Vickers visited the Library to present the labels to the President and Librarian, thus completing a circle of creativity and printing history.
The patrons of the Library, Penodau, kindly donated the labels, paying for their production and design. Their generosity reflected the spirit of the label and Kyffin’s love of place and people.
About a year after commencing the digital capture stage of this project, we are approaching its completion. This is then, an opportune moment to look back over the past year and reflect on some of the challenges we have faced over the course of digitising this sizeable and somewhat varied collection of works.
As with all projects undertaken in the digitisation unit, a benchmarking process was carried out before digitisation work began. This is essentially a discussion and subsequently documented agreement of workflow arrangements, handling requirements and imaging specifications to be followed. This ensures that original materials are handled appropriately and are digitised using the most suitable capture method, and provides all those involved in the digitisation process with a point of reference from which to carry out their task.
With such a diverse range of items to digitise, it was necessary to benchmark each set of items individually, as they became ready for digitisation. One of the major considerations was the equipment that we would use to capture a particular type of original, and while this was primarily dictated by the type of material we also had to consider time constraints, and balance this with ensuring that the best possible result was achieved.
This has been a very interesting project to work on, and it has been exciting to be able to handle these original works. We still have a little way to go before the digital capture process is complete, but already I am looking forward to seeing the digitised works displayed online.
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