Holiday Speaker Night: Book Conservation with Christine McNair

Updated January 13, 2022

Though we were once again unable to gather for a holiday party, this past November 17, we marked our holiday speaker night by deviating from discussing the written word in favour of learning about books as objects.

We were joined by Christine McNair of the Canadian Conservation Institute, who spoke on book conservation and the book as evidence and showed a myriad of photos from projects she’s worked on.

Book conservation is an interdisciplinary field that requires knowledge of materials, archaeology, history, preventative conservation, binding, and even ethics. Protecting the words on the page is as important as protecting the page itself as well as all evidence of a book’s history—from pricks and rulings, editor’s marks, marginalia, and previous conservation efforts.

Christine walked us through these basics of book conservation and then treated us to a case study on the Salzinnes Antiphonal.

An antiphonal is a liturgical book, and the Salzinnes Antiphonal comes from the Abbey of Salzinnes in present-day Belgium. It is one of only a few illuminated manuscripts in a Canadian collection and is unique for its illustrated portraits of nuns. You can imagine, then, why its conservation would be important.

Christine discussed the Canadian Conservation Institute’s work on this project, which included detailed analysis of everything from paper to pigments to binding, consultations about level of intervention, and finally the cleaning, repair, and conservation work itself. Christine’s presentation was accompanied by many photos of the book and its amazing illuminated interior as well as of the conservators at work.

Upon concluding this fascinating presentation, Christine graciously answered questions from our members. Several folks received tips for keeping their own books in good condition (keep those books away from moisture and harsh sunlight!) alongside the discussion of responsible conservation, history, and art.

We concluded the evening with a round of trivia in which our members tested their knowledge on conservation and medieval manuscripts. It was a lovely way to close out our 2021 programming!

For more information on conservation, visit the Canadian Conservation Institute website. To learn about the Salzinnes Antiphonal check out Centuries of Silence: The Discover of the Salzinnes Antiphonal or view images through the Almire Foundation database.


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