By ANNLINN GROSSMAN
The New York State Certificate of Incorporation for Congregation Rodef Scholem Independent Podhaizer Sick and Benevolent Association is an iconographic artifact of the Jewish community on New York City's Lower East Side. It is one of the items drawn from the Library's collections for the exhibition "From Haven to Home: A Library of Congress Exhibition Marking 350 Years of Jewish Life in America."
Rodef Scholem was one of the many landsmanschaftn, or hometown based self-help associations, which were formed by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. The landsmanschaftn helped people to sustain bonds to their homeland and create connections to their new home in the United States.
The certificate of incorporation was so important to the community that the association created a special setting for it; the small paper certificate was adhered to a large paper board decorated with textual and graphic elements. Texts, in Hebrew and Yiddish, include the name of the association, the names of its members, its hometown region and a biblical quote. The overriding theme is friendship.
The graphic elements on the certificate include Polish floral motives, a Lion of Judah, gates of Jerusalem, the flag of the United States and a fictional flag of Zion. Pride of place is given to an American eagle.
The object came to the Library in 2004, and the patterns of wear on the piece indicate that this composite object was framed and displayed over a long period of time. Examination shows that new printed lists were pasted over the original handwritten list of names. The association was incorporated in 1900, and records exist from meetings as recent as 1979. Recent information indicates that the association continues to facilitate Jewish burials in its cemetery plot.
The condition of this object testifies to its long and eventful existence, and it provides evidence of
the object's composition, manufacture and history. However, some aspects of the condition of an object can compromise its stability and usefulness. It is then the work of the conservator—as in the case of this certificate—to consider interventions that respect historical evidence while restoring stability.
The natural aging of the materials, the construction of the object, its use and its environmental conditions have left their marks. The papers have become embrittled and discolored over time, and moisture and the use of adhesives in the past have resulted in staining and dimensional distortions. Its display in a wooden frame has resulted in discoloration that indicates acid degradation. Exposure to light and moisture has compounded the processes of deterioration. The object was also cracked in two and had been repeatedly mended in that same area. A variety of repairs shows that many hands have been involved in preserving this object for more than a century.
The conservator's first goal was to rejoin the two separated pieces. The secondary goals of treatment were to examine prior repairs; reduce surface dirt, adhesive residues and stains that interfered with visual integrity and legibility; assess the condition of the certificate and improve its attachment to the board; and design a new housing to provide support and protection for the document so that it can be safely exhibited and consulted for years to come.
The conservator's examination of prior repairs revealed that many were attached with adhesives, which could not be reversed without damaging the fragile paper surface. Pressure-sensitive adhesive tape was removed from the verso of the board with a slightly heated metal spatula. Experiments to remove paper mends and attachments on the verso revealed heavy applications of animal glues that had saturated several paper layers. The amount of moisture necessary to remove these adhesives would have threatened the stability of the paper; therefore, these paper attachments and adhesives were removed with a scalpel. The exposed surface was then reinforced with mends of lightweight long-fibered Japanese papers adhered with a very light application of methylcellulose and wheat starch adhesives. These papers and adhesives were used throughout the conservation treatment.
The conservator gently removed surface dirt using eraser crumbs to provide a uniform and effective treatment. Adhesive residues were removed by gently swabbing the item with a mild enzymatic solution. Some stains were reduced by light application of slightly alkaline ammoniated water.
The certificate of incorporation was fully adhered to a piece of deteriorating paper board, which was held in the decorated window board with strips of heavily glued paper. As with other such attachments, the strips and glue were removed with a scalpel. The paper board was split and scraped with a fine blade until only a thin paper layer was left adhered to the verso of the certificate. After testing the inks and other media on the certificate for solubility, this paper and most of the adhesive were removed with light applications of water. The certificate was spray washed on a suction table to remove remaining adhesive residues and byproducts of acid degradation. Finally, two linings of Japanese papers were applied to give it additional stability.
It was then time to rejoin the two pieces of board and reattach the certificate. The board was split along the broken edges, and lightweight pieces of Japanese paper were inserted and adhered between the laminates of one piece of the board to create reinforcement "tabs." The two boards were aligned and the tabs were fitted between the split laminates of the other piece of board. The broken edges of the board and the inner surfaces of the split laminates were coated with adhesive, and the board was joined. Losses along the join were filled with paper pulp. Mends were applied on the verso of the certificate and along the break, and the certificate was replaced in the window.
The last step of conservation treatment was to provide a new housing to hold the object so that it would be protected from shifting and flexing in the future. A backboard of crossgrained sheets of acid-free corrugated paper was sandwiched between sheets of four-ply alkaline buffered mat board to give it rigid support and mitigate acid degradation. Japanese paper hinges were adhered to the back of the object along its top and side borders, and these hinges were attached to the backboard. The object was also supported by a strip of strong Japanese paper folded over its bottom edge and adhered to the backboard.
The conservator constructed a "sink" of mat board strips around the object to support a window mat and to prevent glazing material from coming into contact with the object's surface. The edges of this sink were lined with polyester batting covered with Japanese paper to create "bumpers" to help hold the object in place and protect its brittle edges. For additional protection, the housing was placed between acrylic sheeting and corrugated plastic, sealed and framed.
With the completion of the conservation of this object, the conservator met both the primary and secondary goals of treatment: the object can now safely be displayed in the exhibition "From Haven to Home," and visitors to the exhibition will be able to appreciate the role that the Congregation Rodef Scholem, and the many landsmanschaft like it, played in the lives of Jewish immigrants in the early years of the 20th century as they adjusted to their new homes in the United States.
Annlinn Grossman is a paper conservator in the Library's Conservation Division.