June 1, 2016

Guest Post: Behind the Scenes of Restoring the Past

by Tish Brewer, Guest Blogger, The Center for Art Conservation

Tish Brewer & David Page from the Center for Art Conservation
Tish Brewer & David Page from the Center for Art Conservation

I had the pleasure of working on several objects for A Time For Greatness, the upcoming exhibition at The Sixth Floor Museum, providing conservation treatment to structurally stabilize them, as well as improve them aesthetically for display.  Many people don’t realize the intricate work that goes into getting these pieces of the past ready for viewing.

The Challenge

These artifacts–campaign posters and broadsides, newspapers, and other widely dispersed materials–were meant to be somewhat ephemeral when created. Having been produced quickly and cheaply for wide distribution, they are often made with paper fibers of poor quality. These materials do not often age well, due to a combination of inherent vice (the tendency of objects to deteriorate due to instability of components within) and storage/environmental conditions. They are also handled frequently, making physical damage quite common from rolling and unrolling, hanging, and general use.

Typical issues decades later involve heavy wear including overall surface soil, abraded paper and media, complex tearing, losses to support, weakened or broken fold lines, varying degrees of discoloration, permanent creasing or bending of paper fibers, and distortion. Other common issues are a result of prior repair during or after frequent use and handling, such as tape attachments with associated staining, partial backings or mounts, and clumsy inpainting.

Conservation treatment of these objects was varied but generally involved dry surface cleaning, removal of tape attachments and backing materials, reduction of residual adhesives, overall washing when needed, mending of tears, filling of losses to the paper support, and inpainting of fills as well as tears when necessary. Treatment is as non-invasive as possible while also taking into account desired aesthetics. An important part of what we do is making sure that any repairs we make are reversible.

Reversing the Damage

submergedposterIn the photo above, a large election poster is being immersion washed, after surface cleaning and extensive pressure-sensitive tape removal. The poster was then fully dried, and an extensive scarf tear was aligned from the front (seen in the photo below) before mending from within using wheat starch paste, followed by mending from the reverse using strips of Japanese tissue adhered with paste. All mends can be easily reversed in the future using water.

weighted poster

A smaller broadside had significant orange-brown stains in all corners due to tapes applied long ago.  These stains were treated with solvents over a suction platen to reduce them as much as possible.


Filling the Gaps

Localized treatment of staining was followed by washing, mending, and the creation of fills. Mends and fills were done with Japanese tissue, which comes in a range of weights, and is quite strong due to the long paper fibers. Some tissues are thin enough to read through, and others are more appropriate for overall stabilization of paper objects. They can be toned either before or after application, torn in strips for mending, or perforated in specific shapes for fills.


Another large poster had extensive insect damage, which was inappropriately repaired by adhering large swaths of copy paper to the reverse. After removing the repairs using heat, and reducing the adhesives as much as possible, the poster was washed and the reverse was lined overall with Japanese tissue. A detail of the loss after backing removal and prior to lining is seen below.


When part of the art is missing, we often inpaint to fill in what is gone using watercolors, colored pencils, and/or pastels, after applying an isolating layer (again, for reversibility). With the Nixon broadside seen below, I went between inpainting under the microscope with a tiny brush and inpainting with naked eyes using colored pencils. New media was applied in small dots to match the original printing pattern.



This is just a sample of the work done by my team to ensure the amazing pieces that you’ll see in A Time For Greatness are as close as they can be to what they looked like back in 1960. To learn more about the exhibit, visit JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.

Guest blogger Tish Brewer is a paper conservator at The Center for Art Conservation in Dallas, TX.


May 25, 2016

5 Questions with Presidential Historian David Pietrusza

To officially open our new exhibit, A Time For Greatness: The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, this week we brought in noted presidential historian David Pietrusza, author of 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon, along with several other books about notable presidential campaigns.

David Pietrusza (left) with Museum curator Stephen Fagin
David Pietrusza (right) with Museum curator Stephen Fagin

You’ve written several books about presidential electoral history. What intrigued you most about 1960?

You have these three guys that everybody knows, Kennedy, Nixon & Johnson, that were so different from each other & they all mean so much to people today. These guys have shaped our entire lives.

Your book talks about all 3 candidates from the 1960 election. Without getting into the actual politics, do you see any parallels with candidates from this year’s election?

David Pietrusza at "Kennedy Campaign HQ" in the Museum's A Time For Greatness exhibit
David Pietrusza at “Kennedy Campaign HQ” in the Museum’s A Time For Greatness exhibit

Our candidates this year are clearly…unparalleled. She wouldn’t like the comparison, but in a way, Hillary is a little like Nixon. She comes back from adversity. But as for Trump…no, no comparisons. There’s no one like him.

Having researched so many presidents, what makes Kennedy stand out? Why is he so memorable?

He’s martyred, first of all. That certainly cements him in our memory. He’s also incredibly charming and glib and smart and photogenic. His father worked in Hollywood, he’d been to Hollywood, he saw how stars are made. He was our greatest star president in terms of persona.

What advice would you give young historians?

Read, read a lot. Go to YouTube and go watch old documentaries. Go past the cat videos and all that and go for the good stuff. There’s so many old documentaries that are so fantastic, like Project XX or Robert Ryan’s CBS documentary on World War I. Keep reading and watching and you’ll start connecting the dots for yourself, and that’s where the fun really begins.

Your favorite president ever?

I think it’s Calvin Coolidge. I like his style and his accomplishments. I was always very shy as a child and even now. You get me going on history and I’ll talk your ear off, but aside from that, I understand what Coolidge had to go through to get elected. When I started knocking on doors to get elected to City Council, I learned it’s very hard to do that and to offer yourself up without selling out your values. I think he did that. He presented himself in a way that generated trust. There’s something to be said about integrity.


A Time For Greatness is open through November 13. Learn more at JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.

May 23, 2016

The Path to Greatness

By Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

As we open our new exhibit, A Time For Greatness: The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, at The Sixth Floor Museum, our curator shares some insight into Senator Kennedy’s road to the Democratic nomination.

Credit: Frank Muto, photographer, Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum
Credit: Frank Muto, photographer, Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum

John F. Kennedy was too young, too inexperienced to be elected president of the United States. So said critics of the Massachusetts senator, specifically those supporting Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1960 general election. However, that sentiment was echoed early on by key elders of the Democratic Party, including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and former President Harry Truman. Today it seems inevitable that the charismatic Kennedy, with his broad vision and soaring rhetoric, would usher in the bold new decade of the 1960s. It feels historically appropriate that he would succeed Dwight Eisenhower, the oldest president in American history at the time, as the youngest ever elected—indeed the first president born in the 20th century.

Yet in reality, John F. Kennedy’s victory in November, even his position as the 1960 Democratic nominee, was not a foregone conclusion when he announced his candidacy on January 2, 1960, in the Caucus Room of the U.S. Senate office building.  True, he was a World War II hero and Pulitzer Prize winner for his book, Profiles in Courage. However, his political record seemed lackluster, and he had failed in his campaign for the vice-presidential spot at the 1956 Democratic National Convention. For many, including some Democratic leaders, the real drawback was Kennedy’s Catholicism—at a time when anti-Catholic prejudice was still a part of mainstream American thought.

Proving his viability as a candidate, Senator Kennedy defeated Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey in the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries. In the latter, a predominantly Protestant state, Kennedy took 60% of the vote, prompting Humphrey to pull out of the race. Unlike in today’s political world, presidential candidates in 1960 would not run in every primary. While Kennedy opted to participate in nine of the primaries, his main opponents for the Democratic nomination – Missouri Senator Stuart Symington (Harry Truman’s choice), former Illinois Governor and two-time presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson (Eleanor Roosevelt’s choice), and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas – all declined to participate. There was a “wait and see” attitude, and some party leaders hoped that Kennedy might settle for the vice-presidential spot in 1960. But Kennedy boldly declared that he was running for president, not vice president, and he traveled around the country to meet with state delegations. When he arrived in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention in July, the contest was not over but it was really his to lose. Far in the lead, he was a few dozen short of the delegate total needed to secure the nomination.  And a couple last-minute surprises were in store.

Though long considered potential candidates, just before the L.A. convention, both Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson officially announced their candidacies. Johnson engaged Kennedy in a lively televised debate, demonstrating to many that Johnson had little viability as a candidate outside of the South. Meanwhile, Adlai Stevenson’s supporters were quite vocal.  A crowd of thousands welcomed his plane as it landed in Los Angeles, and dedicated followers shouted and chanted for the two-time Democratic nominee outside the convention hall. Kennedy’s younger brother, Bobby, proved a fierce and untiring campaign manager as he and his team secured and counted votes one by one. It was tense, frantic, and down to the wire.

Courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Sven Walnum Photograph Collection
Courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Sven Walnum Photograph Collection

Ultimately, twelve Democrats received votes on the first ballot. John F. Kennedy emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote, followed by Lyndon Johnson with 27%. Kennedy asked the Senate Majority Leader to join him on the ticket, and Johnson accepted. On stage at the Democratic National Convention on July 15, 1960, Kennedy thanked his fellow Democrats, including Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and Stuart Symington (who came in third on the ballot with just over 5%). “I feel a lot safer now that they are on my side again,” Kennedy joked.  In this significant speech, Kennedy laid forth his vision for the 1960s: “I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.”

Democrats rallied around the Kennedy/Johnson ticket as they faced Vice President Richard Nixon and his running-mate, U.N. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., in the general election.  Although the two-term vice president was considered the heir apparent to the popular President Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon took his own winding path to the Republican nomination. That, however, is a story to save for another time.

A Time For Greatness is now open! View it free at our exhibit-opening lecture TONIGHT with presidential historian David Pietrusza. RSVP to reserve your seat. To learn more about our new exhibit, visit JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.


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