Guest Post by Folger conservator Austin Plann Curley
“You can’t always get what you want.” So said the Rolling Stones in 1969. Such was the case for the Folger Shakespeare Library in our recent request to borrow the Diary of John Wilkes Booth for our current exhibition America’s Shakespeare, which runs through July 24, 2016.
Ford’s Theater keeps the diary on permanent display alongside other artifacts from the assassination. Within its pages, Booth ruminates on his slaying of President Abraham Lincoln and laments his own plight as an injured and hunted fugitive, loathed by his countrymen. The assassination of Lincoln occurred on April 14, 1865, and the document captures Booth’s final recorded thoughts, penned during his 12 days on the run before he was tracked down and killed by Union soldiers on April 26.
Though the diary, which is owned by the National Park Service, is not available for loan, Folger conservators were graciously invited to Ford’s Theater for an early-morning peek at the artifact with Laura Anderson, Museum Curator for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. We photographed and measured the binding, taking notes in order to build our own copy of the diary.
Our replica began with a high-resolution image of the diary printed to the scale of the original. The image shows the diary open to a printed title page and the red leather interior of a wrapper that covers the textblock. Our goal was to transform the flat print to a three dimensional replica suitable for display.
First we prepared a mock-up of the textblock and trimmed it to the size of the original diary. Images of the title page and the adjacent leaf were cut out and pasted atop the mock-up. The edges were colored to simulate the accumulated grime on the original pocket journal.
The next step was to build a structural replica of the leather wrapper resting in the open position. For this, we used a thin card trimmed to the contour of the cover in our image. Heavier boards were used to build up thicker areas of the binding, and the structure was then wrapped in a heavy maroon paper, which roughly matched the color of the leather wrapper. Our image of the diary’s interior was pasted atop the structural replica.
After overpainting a few areas with watercolors, the textblock was placed on the wrapper and the replica was ready for display!
Come see America’s Shakespeare April 7 through July 24 at the Folger Shakespeare Library OR November 10 through February 26, 2017 at Los Angeles Public Library.
Thanks to Curator, Laura Anderson, Museum Curator for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, for allowing access to the original diary. Thanks to Julie Ainsworth, Head of Photography and Digital Imaging at the Folger, for scaling and printing images for the facsimile.