By GUY LAMOLINARA
The exhibition "Scrolls from the Dead Sea" has drawn on the expertise of the Library's conservation staff in collaborative efforts with the Israel Antiquities Authority to satisfy the conservation needs for this major loan exhibition.
"From the time the scroll fragments leave Israel to the time they return, we expect them to stay in the same housing," said Doris A. Hamburg, head of the Paper Conservation Section in the Library's Conservation Office. After the exhibition closes Aug. 1, the scrolls and artifacts will travel for a display at New York Public Library. Early next year, they will be on exhibit at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, and from there go back to Israel.
The housings consist of 10 layers, including ultraviolet-filtering Plexiglass, linen cloth, acid-free board and polypropylene corrugated board. "The materials that were chosen for the housings were prepared here in Conservation, by Annlinn Grossmann," a paper conservator, said Ms. Hamburg.
"Each fragment itself is housed between two layers of very stable, polyester netting, one with the fibers oriented horizontally and one diagonally, to avoid a moire effect. Then, in Israel, conservators pulled out fibers from another piece of the netting and used them to sew around the fragment to hold it in place," Ms. Grossmann explained.
"When I traveled to Israel in preparation for the exhibition, I proposed our idea for the housing system," said Ms. Hamburg. "Then, after we discussed it and came to a final design, we assembled the materials at the Library and brought them to Israel.
"All the materials selected are stable and will hold up very well over time," she added. "They were included in the housing to help buffer changes in conditions such as humidity and temperature, because we are concerned about maintaining a stable environment during the whole exhibit period."
But before the materials for the housings could be discussed, conservation experts had to determine whether the 12 scrolls and other artifacts would be able to withstand the stresses of travel and exhibition. "When something is selected by a curator for display it goes through several reviews, including one by conservators, to determine if it can be safely put on exhibit and if it needs treatment or to be rehoused," Ms. Hamburg said.
"The scroll fragments are in very fragile condition," she continued. "each one was reviewed for its condition, and if there was a need for reinforcement, that was given to the scroll. The ones that were chosen for the display were deemed to be sufficiently stable to be able to travel.
"But they are very fragile, and that is why we have taken such great care in considering how they would be displayed."
Conservators at the Israel Antiquities Authority have also had to deal with the ravages of previous attempts at "restoration," notably the use of cellophane tape on the fragments. "There has been a major effort by the conservation team in Israel to remove those tapes," said Ms. Hamburg. "I think people didn't realize in the 1950s, when probably a lot of the tape was applied, how the material changes over time. We see stains on some of the scrolls, and the [tape] residues can be very difficult to remove."
An 18th century North African Torah scroll is one of the items in the exhibition from LC's collections that required conservation, as did an old map of the region. The Library also will be displaying some memos from 1949, when three Dead Sea Scrolls were shown at LC.
The scroll will receive some reinforcement on its backing and a hole will be repaired in a place that will be on view; only a portion of the scroll will be unrolled for the exhibition. One might think that simply placing an object on display would not put stress on the object, but this is not the case. "It's not just a question of the object's sitting there," explained Ms. Hamburg. "For example, right now, in preparing and planning the exhibit, we're opening it and closing it, and it will be opened and closed to go on display, so that's one area where the problems can come in.
"And sometimes things, like a book, are displayed open and at an angle, so you have to think about how that angle and gravity put stress on the binding or the pages."
Added Margaret R. Brown, senior paper conservator, "So we would advise and make a decision, for example, on what type of cradle should be used to display a book and at what degree it can be safely opened. Sometimes, we advise that an object is so brittle that it should not be exhibited. Or in the case of an item we are loaning to another institution, if they cannot meet our conservation standards, then we will not lend it."
Lighting in the display cases was also an important consideration in the plans of LC's conservators. The illumination level is low, and bulbs are activated by the approach of the viewer via infrared sensors, so that the scrolls will not be exposed to light unnecessarily. Electronic monitors provide continuous monitoring of humidity and temperature conditions inside the cases. An elaborate electronic surveillance security system is being used.
When the scroll fragments are finally returned to Israel next year, after traveling to New York and San Francisco, they will once again take their place among the thousands of other fragments that have fascinated scholars and the public alike since their discovery in 1947.