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The Morse Department of Special Collections opens Bluemont Hall reading room

Post-fire, the Richard L. D. & Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections faculty and staff have offices scattered across campus, and their rare books, manuscripts and more have been boxed up and moved to secure storage facilities.

“We were really fortunate that our research materials escaped serious damage,” Cliff Hight, university archivist, said. “The collection has been moved offsite for cleaning and storage until we’re ready to move back into Hale Library.”

But in early October, the department opened a reading room in 116 Bluemont Hall. The space features a small fraction of their collection, including a limited amount of frequently used archival materials plus research tables, a scanner and a microfilm reader.

Multiple open books and large photographs in both color and black and white are spread across a long table.
Materials include photos, yearbooks, news clippings and more that cover K-State’s history.

“We realized within a week or so after the fire that in order to continue providing at least one aspect of our services we would need to have access to some of the collection,” Hight said. “We determined that it made the most sense to offer core materials related to university history. After that, we were in a holding pattern until they could move those items out of Hale Library and clean them so they were free of soot and smoke odors.”

Items available for public use include subject clipping files, photo collection files, yearbooks, catalogs, recent budget books, campus directories, Manhattan directories and commencement programs.

“We’re looking forward to seeing students, faculty and the community engage with our collections again, even if it is on a much smaller scale,” Hight said.

A man wearing glasses and a blazer and tie looks at the camera while sorting through manila file folders in an open filing cabinet drawer.
Patrick Dittamo, special collections employee and graduate student in musicology, searches through subject clipping files in the new reading room.

Visitors can also request to view the St. John’s Bible. If you can’t make it to the reading room but would like to bring the St. John’s Bible to your community, our outreach program remains active. The Libraries’ trained docents regularly bring this work of art to organizations throughout the Kansas region.

A close-up of the interior pages of a book covered with abstract drawings, calligraphy, and gold leaf decorations.
The St. John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press. K-State Libraries was gifted a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, which is a fine art reproduction of the original.

Additionally, a selection of digitized materials from the department’s primary collecting areas is available online.

So what kinds of things can you find in the reading room? And who might need them?

Let’s say you are a history or journalism student researching the arc of the civil rights movement on the K-State campus. The reading room staff can pull subject clipping files related to your topic. You’d find articles about events, people and conflicts as reported in regional, local and campus publications dating back over many decades. They can also pull files of related photographs, many of which have never been published or digitized.

Of course, professional journalists, professors from K-State and further afield and members of the community can also access these resources.

A student standing behind a table covered in open books, news clippings and photographs hands a black-and-white photo to a student seated next to her.
Special collections student employees Alex Wulfkuhle and Jarrod Kuckleman examine an array of materials related to the 1968 Nichols Gym fire.

How can I contact the reading room? 

If you have questions about the holdings, policies or more, call 785-532-7456, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday or email libsc@ksu.edu.

What types of materials are boxed up and stored offsite?

Well, for starters, the Morse Department is home to more than 38,000 cookbooks and manuscripts that date back as far as 1487.
It might seem arbitrary for a library to have so much focusing on a single subject.

“Libraries that have a special collections department often narrow their focus and collect most heavily in a few specific subject areas,” Lori Goetsch, Dean of Libraries, said. “That means they can develop a collection with depth and breadth to truly serve researchers in that field. At K-State, we’ve developed a great reputation for our cookery collection. People come from all over the country to access everything from 19th century hand-written manuscripts of recipes to regional cookbooks covering different American cuisine.”

A recent addition to the cookery collection, this untitled two-volume set of Austrian manuscript cookbooks dates from about 1790. It was handwritten in German by an anonymous chef who packed nearly 400 pages with recipes of all kinds.

Two other collection highlights include topics related to Kansas history and the consumer movement.

The Consumer Movement Archives (CMA) was established in 1987 through the initiative of Richard L.D. Morse, a prominent leader in the consumer movement and a Kansas State University professor. Broadly defined, the consumer movement consists of individuals and organizations that advocate for the rights and welfare of consumers, especially when those rights are violated by corporations and governments.

This is just a small sampling of the materials included in the department. We look forward to bringing them back to Hale Library once they have a new, improved space.

Where do the materials come from?

The university’s librarians regularly buy and receive donated materials to grow the collection. Funds come from a range of sources, including private gifts and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities.

If all the books were laid end-to-end: Story problems with Hale Library

It’s done! Thanks to hundreds of workers putting in thousands of hours, more than 1.5 million collection items have been packed out of Hale Library. The herculean effort was completed on September 20, a little less than 17 weeks after the fire.

Maybe you work with objects in quantities of 1.5 million on a regular basis and can easily wrap your head around how big this project was. But if that’s not the case, we’ve crafted some comparisons to help everyone visualize the scope of the situation.

If the average storage box filled with books weighs 15 pounds and a large blue whale weighs 300,000 pounds, then 147,400 boxes would weigh more than 1,105.5 tons, which is the equivalent of more than 7 blue whales.

If each item measures 10 inches long and there are 5,280 feet in a mile, then all of Hale Library’s 1.5 million collection items laid end-to-end would stretch from Manhattan to Tulsa, Okla.

If a storage box measures 12 inches and Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet high, then 147,400 boxes stacked on top of each other would stretch higher than 5 Mt. Everests.

The Backstory

So how did this massive pack-out all start? The first things to leave Hale Library after the May 22 fire were the wet materials in Room 117.

A row of political science books in several different colors on a white metal shelf is lit by flashlight.
In addition to the items in Room 117, the books behind the Library Help Desk on the second floor were soaked, too. As water caused them to expand and press against each other, the wet volumes began to arc off of the shelves.
After the wet books were packed out, their outlines were starkly visible in the soot that coated the white metal shelves. May 31, 2018. 

Those 4,000 boxes of wet books were shipped in refrigerated trucks to a Belfor preservation lab in Ft. Worth, Tex. The materials were freeze-dried, cleaned and treated with ozone. More than ninety percent were deemed salvageable.

After the wet books were safely out of the building, volumes from second, third and fourth floors were packed up.

The last items to leave Hale Library came out of the Richard L. D. & Marjorie Morse Department of Special Collections on the fifth floor.

A worker surrounded by boxes wears a headlamp and yellow hard hat and vest while writing in a notebook that rests on a bookshelf next to her.
Belfor workers pack special collections materials out of the Morse Department of Special Collections’ Stack H. August 31, 2018.
Next to a long row of bookshelves, a worker wearing a black hooded jacket and a headlamp over a white construction hat kneels while placing a cookbook in a box with one hand and taking notes with the other.
A crew member packs volumes from the cookery collection, which is one of the top research collections of its kind in the United States. It contains thousands of cookbooks and related volumes that date from 1487 to the present. August 31, 2018.

So from beginning to end, the pack-out started in late May on the hot, humid first floor, and it ended in late September in a chilly, air-conditioned Stack H, just above Hale Library’s fourth floor.

Woman wearing white hard hat, ventilation mask and neon orange emergency vest works by flashlight and pulls a large red book off of a bookshelf.Kathryn Talbot, K-State Libraries’ preservation coordinator, at work in the stacks. July 5, 2018. 

Does that give you a better idea of how big this project was? No?

Here’s another story problem: If 15 books fit in each box, and 40 boxes were stacked on one pallet, and 24 pallets were packed onto every truckload that left Hale Library, then the 1.5 million items required 104 semi trucks.

In an underground building with rough white stone walls, a man in a black t-shirt and shorts stands by the tail-end of an open semi trailer and directs the driver on backing up.
A semi truck backs a load of boxes into the Libraries’ cave space at Underground Vaults & Storage in Kansas City, Mo. August 13, 2018. 

Until Hale Library is renovated, all of the books—approximately 147,400 boxes of them—will be stored in four different air-conditioned warehouses across the region. Because of the soot damage, books will be individually cleaned, re-boxed and stored until they can be returned to campus.

Hundreds of boxes fill an underground cave with white-painted rough rock walls and gray concrete floors.
In the Kansas City caves. August 22, 2018.
Hundreds of boxes fill an underground cave with white-painted rough rock walls and gray concrete floors.
Until then, old friends, be well! (And, yes, I’m talking to the books. We really love our collection.)

It is a huge relief to have the entire collection safely out of the building and know that it will come home to a new, improved Hale Library.

Thank you to everyone who worked on this project. We hope you can take a few days off to catch your breath: You deserve a break before you start planning how we’ll move it all back!

Original infographics created by Katherine Kistler, K-State Libraries graphic design student employee.

A Night of Illumination: Creating a bright future for Hale Library

The last several months have been some of the darkest times in K-State Libraries’ history. Now, more than 100 days since the Hale Library fire, we’re at a turning point. On Friday, November 2, 2018, the Friends of the K-State Libraries will mark this moment by presenting A Night of Illumination.

This marks the twenty-eighth annual Friends event. Except for a few celebrations that were held off-site during Hale Library’s construction in the ’90s, they’ve always been held in Hale Library.

A purple candle emblazoned with text that says "Hale of a Time" stands on a table in the Great Room, which is lit up with purple lights.
In 2017, the theme was “Hale of a Time,” and guests traveled to various food and entertainment stations throughout the building.

This year, we’ll gather in beautiful West Stadium Center, Bill Snyder Family Stadium. We hope some of our blog readers can join us to make a toast to resilience, new possibilities and boundless aspiration.

Willie the Wildcat gives high fives to a crowd of gala attendees gathered in the Great Room.
Our celebration in West Stadium Center won’t be the first time we’ve collaborated with K-State Athletics on a gala: In 2014 we teamed up to raise funds for improvements to a classroom used by Academic Learning Center, the athletic tutoring space in Hale Library.

Guests will enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres followed by dinner, dessert and a performance by Dr. Wayne Goins & the Rhythm & Blues Machine. We’ll also be able to share a glimpse of the vision for the new Hale Library from PGAV architects.

Dressed in a black suit, purple shirt, and purple and black tie, Dr. Goins smiles at his band mates while playing his guitar.
Dr. Wayne Goins always delivers music that makes a party feel special.
A table in the Great Room decorated with construction materials like cement blocks holds a large bouquet of yellow forsythia and trays of hors d'oeuvres.
The 2016 theme was “Constructing the Future,” and the event raised funds for the first floor renovation. Once again, the food at this year’s  gala will be impressive and plentiful.

Dress is cocktail suggested but not required. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased online or via phone at 785-532-7417 by Friday, October 19.

Proceeds leveraged by the event will go toward Help for Hale, a fund devoted to making Hale Library the light on campus that it has been for two decades.

The Great Room is filled with tables of gala guests and washed in purple lights. Spotlights highlight the art deco murals along one wall.
Attendees to this year’s gala will help raise the funds we need to return the Great Room and Hale Library to its full glory.

Questions? Contact Darchelle Martin at 785-532-7442 or martin05@k-state.edu.

Catching up with K-State Librarians

As we walk across campus, we’re often stopped by fellow K-Staters and asked, “So how are you all doing?” Truly, we’ve appreciated the expressions of concern for the 100+ displaced Hale Library folks.

On that note, we thought we’d catch up with four of our co-workers who share a combined 80 years of experience with K-State Libraries.

Renee Gates, IT coordinator for Libraries’ Information Services & Technology (LIST), in her new Seaton Hall office. She has worked for K-State Libraries for 27 years.

After all of the computers and printers were lost in the fire, Renee Gates was responsible for getting more than 90 employees set up with new technology. She and her team also travel between a dozen different buildings on campus to make sure everything continues to work smoothly.

Renee, two of the four staff members on your team left Manhattan to pursue new job opportunities this summer. How are you doing?

“Everybody has been really nice and patient with us. They understand we are short-staffed.

In addition to getting everyone set up on new technology, we’re doing a lot of inventory of the tech that was in an area of Hale Library that was declared clean or cleanable. Everything has to be plugged in and tested to make sure it works. Some things don’t because of internal issues like the effects of condensation.

After the fire, I think in many ways our department had it a lot easier than other people. We had the most to do initially, but we were connected, we knew what was going on, and we had purpose. I think there was a lot more anxiety for people who weren’t as busy as we were. So that busyness helped get us through.

I love that we have space in Seaton Hall that is just our LIST staff and we can easily talk to each other without disturbing anyone else. I miss everybody from the library, though.”

Dan Ireton, academic services librarian, is an associate professor who works primarily with faculty and students in philosophy, political science, and theater and dance. He’s been with the Libraries for 13 years.

Dan, what do you remember about the day of the fire? 

“I was in my office, and my 15-year-old son was with me because he was out early that day and doing homework on a computer. We had this history in Hale Library that the fire alarms were sensitive to dust. One summer it seemed like a fire alarm went off every week. So the alarm goes off and it’s like, ‘Eh, okay, well… it’s the end of the day.’ So I scooped up my stuff. And I remember thinking so clearly, ‘Do I need my laptop tonight? Nah, I’ll get it in the morning,’ and I left it and we went home.

An hour later, I’m hearing from people, ‘Did you see the fire?’ And I was like, ‘There was an actual fire?!’ I went back, and people were hanging around outside. Somebody had ordered pizza, and we watched sheets of water cascade down the side of the building and into Mid-Campus Drive.”

What’s different about your job since you aren’t working out of Hale Library?

“A couple of librarians and I have gotten office spaces within our respective disciplines, so I am in in Nichols Hall with the Theater Department. I’ve tried to become more entrenched with their faculty and students, and that’s been great. I see them every day, and it’s very easy for them to find me and for me to be a resource for them because I’m physically there right now.

The thing I miss most are the collections, though. For example, theater is very practice-based. A lot of it is producing creative works based off of scripts and physical materials. While there are some fantastic online resources, it’s left a hole for my students when they go looking for scripts. You really want something physical in your hands for that, even when you’re trying to select scenes.”

Mary Bailey is the continuing resource librarian. Her career in military, public, school, and higher education librarianship has spanned 40 years. She’s currently in the Unger Complex.

How has your job changed?

“Part of our work is to make sure that when a K-Stater is off-campus that they can access all of the databases and online resources that the Libraries pay for by simply signing in with their K-State username and password.

The proxy system that makes that happen seamlessly was lost when the servers had to be taken offline after the fire. Fortunately, the Libraries’ IT department had been preparing to move the system to the cloud, so they were able to have up a new version within just a few days. Once it was rebuilt, our team spent the summer making sure that the new proxy system was working for hundreds of online resources. These materials are especially important now since the physical collection isn’t available. We’ve been very, very busy.”

This isn’t your first time working out of the Unger Complex, is it?

“Three of us were located in this exact same office when Hale Library was being built in the ’90s. Everyone here has been really friendly and helpful, and whatever we need they try to make it happen. It’s just kind of weird déjà vu!”

Carolyn Hodgson has worked for K-State Libraries for 22 years. Currently, she’s in charge of the reserves materials collection and works out of Seaton Hall.

What do you remember from the day of the fire?

“The fire alarm went off at 3:58, and we just thought it was a normal fire alarm, so I picked up my purse and went to my exercise class. When we got out, we could smell smoke and hear the sirens. People were going ‘Yeah, the library is on fire.’ Then I got home and had all these messages on my answering machine, asking if I was okay.

After the fire, I emailed each patron that had anything checked out. What was great was that a lot of people emailed back, and they were so supportive. That was the really nice thing: I had a lot of personal contact with patrons on email.”

How is life different now?

“I miss seeing all of the people that I worked with on a daily basis. I mean, I still go over to the union and see people but it’s different. I miss walking around in the stacks, seeing the actual books and seeing the students. I am excited about seeing the new Hale Library, though! I’m close to retiring, so this gives me a new reason to work long enough to see what the new Hale is going to look like.”

Like Carolyn, we are all excited to see what the future of Hale Library holds. We’re reminded, too, that libraries aren’t just about buildings—they’re about the people who work there, the people who use them and the people who believe in their value.

We know our blog readers fall into one or all of those categories. Thank you!

Interviews were conducted and transcribed by communication student employee Rebekah Branch. Transcriptions were edited for clarity and brevity.

Cleaning house: Week eighteen update

We’ve witnessed a lot of things go down on the fourth floor of Hale Library over the years: students camping under tables with blankets and pillows during finals week; physical anthropology study sessions that featured skeletons and piles of bones; and, well, let’s be honest, we’ve seen some fourth-floor stacks activities we wish we hadn’t.

But we’ve never seen fourth floor as a woodworking shop … until now. A lot of materials — like the entire physical library collection and one of the murals — have been packed out so they can be cleaned and stored until Hale Library renovations are complete.

Dozens of unvarnished, clean wooden beams of different shapes are arrayed on the floor.
Clean wooden beams from the Great Room ceiling fill Hale Library’s fourth floor. 

The Great Room woodwork is staying, though. Crews are cleaning and stripping the beams. Eventually, they’ll be refinished, and when the roof and ceiling are repaired and the space is ready for renovation, the beams will be reinstalled.

The fourth floor woodworking space is walled off with plastic.

Two workers wearing white t-shirts and hard hats stand next to heavy pieces of wood resting on sawhorses.Crew members from John Canning Co. clean and remove varnish from two decorative arch braces that hung in the Great Room. 

A dark-haired man in a white t-shirt and hardhat uses a cloth to wipe a heavy piece of wood sitting on sawhorses.
A worker from John Canning Co. cleans a piece of Great Room woodwork.
Another worker applies stripper to remove coats of old varnish.

Meanwhile, back in the Great Room, conservators continue to monitor and stabilize the David Hicks Overmyer murals.

At left, a worker in a white hard hat stands elevated on a rough wood floor supported by scaffolding. An allegorical mural depicting the arts is to his right.
John Canning staff members have cleaned the murals, removed the damaged layer of varnish, stabilized areas of paint and applied a new layer of varnish.
In a close-up, shadowy view, a woman in a white hard hat and yellow construction best holds an iPad. The handle of a mallet is visible tucked under her right arm.
Julia Manglitz, an architect from TreanorHL Historic Preservation, stands on one of the ledges supported by scaffolding in the Great Room. She explained to us how she tests the condition of the plaster by “sounding,” or tapping the wall with a mallet and listening for how hollow it seems.
A woman's torso and arms are visible; she holds an iPad with a line drawing of the Great Room wall on it in her left hand and points at it with a stylus in her right hand.
Once she’s tested the plaster through sounding, Manglitz creates a visual map of the condition of the wall on her iPad. She reports that many sections are still very wet. (In fact, on the two floors below the Great Room, the moisture level in some of the plaster and stone walls is as high as 80 percent.)
An art deco style painting of a figure with curling brown hair
A figure from the “Arts” mural is covered in white spots of thermoplastic adhesive, which is used to stabilize flaking paint. 

Additional mural restoration is on hold until two things happen: First, the plaster walls need to be more thoroughly dried out, and second, the rest of the Great Room restoration needs to be more advanced so that the murals aren’t re-damaged during that process.

In a room filled with scaffolding, large rectangles of gray fabric cover the murals on the wall. To prevent the murals from getting damaged while the rest of the Great Room is renovated, conservators have covered them with a felt-like fabric that’s attached to a tack strip that runs around the perimeter of each painting.

In the temporary “dance floor” space above the murals (which are barely visible at right), the roof joists are exposed. 

Up above the murals, the Great Room’s decorative woodwork has been removed, and the ceiling has been completely torn out. Crews from Hutton Construction are moving in to start replacing the roof and ceiling in the 1927 building.

Elsewhere in Hale Library, most of the recent action has centered on cleaning toxic soot from all surfaces and scraping up the carpet glue. Since that process is nearly complete, the size of the Belfor Property Restoration crew has been scaled down.

Metal scaffolding extends down a four-story stairwell.
Your daily dose of vertigo is brought to you by the scaffolding in Hale Library’s southeast stairwell, where they recently cleaned walls, railings, light fixtures and the ceilings.
Eight workers in hard hats and yellow construction vests are stationed across the entire length of the floor wielding long-handled scraping tools.
The process of scraping carpet glue on Hale Library’s third floor was a lot labor intensive and a little gross and sticky.  
Library or roller rink? After the glue was scraped off, the concrete and tile floors were cleaned and polished.

Even though the Belfor folks are starting to leave Manhattan, they aren’t taking a break: As organizations across the Carolinas assess the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence, Belfor will be on the ground with their massive semi-truck command center and their amazing people. We wish them a safe assignment as they begin recovery efforts there.

It’s been eighteen weeks of damage assessment and drying out, packing collections and planning. The space is a clean slate, and in forthcoming posts we’ll be able share a lot more about the Hale Library of the future.

The future of the “We Are the Dream” mural

A full view of the mural, which features symbols of Native American culture, including a bison; images representing black American struggle such as Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the Washington mall; and leading Hispanic activists such as Cesar Chavez. Stars and stripes from the U.S. flag form the backdrop.

Maybe you’ve never seen it. The “We Are the Dream” mural on the fourth floor of Hale Library is not heavily trafficked, but it’s an important record of the struggle of K-State’s underrepresented students to be seen and heard.

“We Are the Dream,” which was sponsored by the Black Student Union, Movimiento Estudiantil de Chicanos de Aztlan (MEChA, a Hispanic student group), and the Native American Indian Student Body, was painted and dedicated in 1980. At that time, it was a striking focal point in the Minorities Resources/Research Center. In recent years, the space has served as the Academic Learning Center, a daytime study location for student athletes. 

A man stands on a ladder at right with his hand outstretched to work on portraits of a Hispanic family that are featured in the mural.
Harold Carter started the “We are the Dream” painting in May 1980. He was a senior in landscape architecture when the mural was dedicated that fall.

This summer, the “We Are the Dream” mural was damaged in the May 22 fire, along with the rest of the building. In fact, the Academic Learning Center staff, led by Liane Fowler, assistant director of Student Academic Services, was the first to smell the smoke in their space directly in front of the painting.

Their area is located on the opposite side of the wall from the Great Room Murals, so the two works of art have undergone some of the same challenges. Both suffered from significant water damage and soiling, and it is imperative that the the wall between them dries out. The “We Are the Dream” mural had mold trapped behind it: While the images are beautiful, the paint created a barrier that inhibited the moisture from escaping.

An interior scene of the Academic Learning Center with the mural on the wall at left. The carpet, half a dozen round wooden tables, and black office chairs are covered in plaster debris.
The Academic Learning Center was very near the site where the fire started on the roof and suffered extensive water damage. May 24, 2018.

Rachel Gilberti, the chief conservator at John Canning Company, has been working with the damaged mural since June 22, after her company was contacted by Julia Mathias Manglitz, the preservation architect with TreanorHL. 

“The ‘We Are the Dream’ mural is painted on burlap that was incorporated in the original 1927 building construction, so that’s been there for a long time,” Gilberti said. “When they made the mural in the early ’80s, they came in and painted over everything that was existing. So, in reality, that surface was never really prepared for a painting.”

Two women in yellow construction vests sit on metal scaffolding as they remove a section of the mural from the wooden planks behind it that run horizontally across the length of the wall.
Conservationists carefully remove the mural in sections. The squares on the painting are facing paper, which is made of mulberry fibers and helps protect the surface as the painting is handled and moved. August 6, 2018. 

“Another challenge is that we have multiple types of adhesives going on behind the burlap. There’s the original adhesive used when the burlap was installed, and over the years, as the seams started coming apart, they started injecting other adhesives on the seams. There are 15 pieces of burlap, so a lot of the seams have a different type of adhesive, and each type reacts differently.”

Gilberti and her conservation associates have removed each section of burlap from the wall, which will allow air to reach the wall behind the painting and dry it out.

The “We are the Dream” mural has been moved in pieces to another floor in the library and spread on tables so the conservationists can clean them.

Two women wearing white hard hats and yellow construction vests lean over large brown rectangular panels of the murals spread on library tables so they can carefully remove debris.
After deinstallation, the painting was laid out face-down on tables in the library so conservationists Grace Moran and Juliana Roy could clean the burlap on the reverse side. August 10, 2018. 

However, the Libraries administration’s hope that the mural won’t remain in pieces. It will be safely stored by John Canning Company in a climate-controlled space until it can be reinstalled in a clean, renovated Hale Library. 

“They are salvageable,” Gilberti said. “Every piece of art is salvageable. It’s not one of those things. Conservators are here for exactly that reason, to salvage the artwork and preserve what the original artist’s intent is. So they will be saved.”

When asked about the “We Are the Dream” mural, Dean of Libraries Lori Goetsch noted that it’s an important part of K-State’s cultural history.

“We love having it as part of Hale Library and look forward to its restoration,” she said. “The fact that this mural celebrates diversity and progress at K-State makes it an important piece of work to be treated with respect and preserved as well as it can be.”

A woman sits on yellow scaffolding several feet off of the ground in front of a section of the mural featuring large red and white stripes and portraits of an Hispanic man, woman, and infant.
August 6, 2018. 

The mural has been an important symbol to many K-Staters over the years. In May 1993, students gathered around the mural to mourn the death of Hispanic activist and leader Cesar Chavez, who is pictured in the painting.

The Kansas State Collegian reported that members of HALO, (Hispanic American Leadership Organization), sang, listened to music and talked about Chavez’s impact on their lives in front of the “We Are the Dream” mural.

Elsa Diaz, the president of HALO at that time, said the mural is significant to minorities on campus because it is the only thing on campus that can give them a sense of belonging. “The mural means a lot to a number of people,” Diaz said. “It is important to people who want to come and worship their heroes.”

A panoramic shot of the room without the mural: Wooden planks run lengthwise along the top two-thirds of the wall while the bottom third is exposed stone.
The fourth floor space after the “We Are the Dream” mural was deinstalled. August 21, 2018.

 

Saving the Great Room murals

The Great Room murals, painted in 1934 by David Hicks Overmyer, are the most iconic works of art on the K-State campus

During the fire, some of the most serious damage occurred in the Great Room ceiling immediately above the murals. Water from both the sprinkler system and from the firefighting efforts on the roof saturated the wall and dripped over the surface of the paintings. Then, in the following days, the plaster and masonry wall behind the mural absorbed a large amount of water that was still flowing through the building.

Hale Library Great Room – 07/20/2018 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Early June

Since early June, the future of the Great Room and its murals have been in the hands of Julia Mathias Manglitz, preservation architect with TreanorHL.

Manglitz examined the murals post-fire. At that time, she worked from a lift to document soiling and streaking on the paintings that resulted from sap running from wood trim directly above. The murals were also stained by dirty water that came from the attic. Additionally, Manglitz discovered areas where paint was cracking and areas that were already exhibiting very small areas of paint loss.

A woman with one hand resting on red metal scaffolding wears a white construction hat and a yellow safety vest. She stands in the foreground of the Great Room while workers in the background examine the murals on the walls.
Manglitz, a preservation architect with two decades of experience, majored in aeronautical engineering in undergrad. “My bosses at TreanorHL like to joke with people: ‘And this is Julia, our resident rocket scientist.’” July 20, 2018. 

When public information officer Darchelle Martin spoke with Manglitz in late July, Manglitz explained that the murals are painted directly on plaster that is attached directly to the masonry walls. In other words, the paint needs to adhere to the plaster, and the plaster needs to adhere to the walls.

“If we lose the plaster, we’ve lost the paintings as well,” Manglitz said. “So I inspected the murals as closely as I could by doing what’s called ‘sounding.’ When we work with materials like plaster and stone, we tap on them with a rubber mallet, and depending on what sound comes back to us, we can tell if something is well-bonded. Hollow sounding plaster is an indication that layers of plaster are starting to delaminate from each other or from the masonry. On my initial evaluation, even though I wasn’t seeing plaster coming away from the walls except in small areas, what I found were large areas that sounded hollow.”

A line drawing of cross sections of the library building indicates where the fire occurred on the roof, the directions from which water entered the building, and how water flow impacted the murals.
“That hollow area was worse once I got near and below the fourth floor line,” she said. “The Great Room is a two-story space, and the fourth floor meets on the back side of this wall. So the water that hit the fourth floor was then funneled back into the plaster and masonry. The entire thickness got wet; it’s not just where it ran down the face of the wall.” 

Late June

Between concerns for paint loss and the potential for plaster loss, Manglitz decided to contact a conservation contractor as quickly as possible. Based on her experience working with John Canning Company on the extensive renovation and restoration of the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, she recommended they be brought onto the project.

Rachel Gilberti, chief conservator at John Canning, has been working in Hale Library since June 22.

Once Gilberti joined the project, more intensive mapping of the mural damage began. By this time, scaffolding had been erected so they could finally make a thorough, up-close examination. They discovered small areas of plaster deformation where it was starting to delaminate from the wall. Other areas of the paint were marked by a fine pattern of dense cracking called craquelure.

At right, a woman wearing a white hard hat scans the surface of a mural with a hand-held black light device.
A black light allows Gilberti to see damage not visible under normal lighting conditions. July 20, 2018. 

“Water escapes through the cracks, which is a good thing, but sometimes the paint can come off, too,” Manglitz said.

Gilberti also noted that it’s important that the wall needs to dry at a stable rate. “If it starts to dry too quickly, the layers begin to separate from one another,” she said. “It’s also important to have the wall dry from both sides and meet in the middle. If it dries just from the back, all of the salts in the stone get pulled into the front and the material on the surface of the stone will come out.”

It could be a long time before the walls are thoroughly dry.

“The walls are fourteen inches thick, and the general rule of thumb for drying mass masonry is one inch per month,” Manglitz said. “That said, it doesn’t have to be perfectly dry before we start the conservation process to visually restore the appearance, but we needed to get it to the point where we feel like it’s safe.”

A woman with one hand resting on red metal scaffolding wears a white construction hat and a yellow safety vest. She stands in the foreground of the Great Room while workers in the background examine the murals on the walls.
We work with sculpture, murals, paintings, anything that’s in the architectural art realm all over the United States. I’ve been doing this almost 14 years in Europe and the United States. It’s a lot of travel, but you go where the art is, and it’s a great pleasure to see all of this beauty that’s spread throughout the country.

Late July

When the wall started to dry, additional small areas of paint began to flake off. Gilberti and her team began a triage campaign to repair small areas of damage and prevent others from worsening.

They used syringes to insert thermoplastic adhesive where they found paint cracking and peeling. Once the adhesive seeped in, they placed a clear piece of mylar over it and heated it with a small iron to get it to set. The process helped them keep the paint layer in place and on the wall.

In the foreground at right, a woman wearing a white hard hat and yellow safety vest applies a white substance onto the wall at left, while in the background, another woman observes the process.
Gilberti oversees conservation specialist Grace Moran administering the thermoplastic adhesive. July 20, 2018. 

As they monitored the drying-out process and addressed the paint delamination, they noted that different colors of paint reacted differently.

“Each color, each pigment in itself has unique traits,” Gilberti said. “Some pigments have less binding in them. All the reds in general are more sensitive pigments, so they react differently, especially to water. Greens are also very sensitive. White is a very stable pigment, so paints mixed with white did very well. The ones that don’t have that extra binding power are what we tried to stop from flaking with the thermoplastic adhesive.”

August

Since the beginning of their efforts to preserve the murals, Manglitz and her team have been collecting data regarding how wet the walls are. Initially, they could only take measurements at the surface, but since then, they’ve inserted probes seven inches or eight inches into the masonry to determine the moisture levels inside the walls.

In a detail from the art deco style "Arts" mural, an actor in flowing maroon robes extends one arm while the other hand is wrapped around his torso in a dramatic gesture.
Metered moisture readings indicate that the surface of the art mural is around 30%, but the in-wall moisture content at the floor level is at 90%, which is very wet for masonry. “This is the most fragile mural, the one we’re most concerned about,” Manglitz said. “We can’t remove the varnish until we’re more confident that it’s stable.” July 20, 2018. 

“Once we determined that the easternmost mural, Industry, was dry and stable enough, we were able to do a surface cleaning to remove the drips from the wood trim above without having paint actively flake off,” Gilberti said. “After that we began removing the varnish coating.”

The protective varnish was applied the last time the murals were cleaned and restored in 2011. Stripping that layer will increase the breathability of the wall.

As the process of stabilizing, drying, cleaning and stripping the murals of varnish continues, Manglitz and her team have several important questions to weigh regarding next steps.

Close-up of the streaking on the surface of the "Arts" Great Room mural which features a female violinist with shoulder-length brown hair.
Detail of the Arts mural. July 20, 2018.

“We need to decide when it’s appropriate to do the conservation work on the murals given amount of repair that has to be completed in the rest of the space and above this space,” she said. “Roof repairs come with the risk of water infiltration, so we’ll be asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to protect the murals? When do we think it’s appropriate to move forward with conservation? What should the sequence be?’”

Even though those questions haven’t been fully answered yet, Gilberti is confident that they will find a way forward to ensure the future of the Great Room murals.

“Every piece of art is salvageable,” she said. “Conservators are here for exactly that reason, to salvage the artwork and preserve what the original artist’s intent is. It’s not one of those situations where they’re going to disappear: They will be saved. We’ve just got to assess as we go. The murals will have damage, but we are here to mitigate that.”