An Archival Sandwich — Transporting the Connected Map of Austin’s Colony

The new map exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State, includes some of the most important maps in the collection of the Texas General Land Office. When determining which maps to showcase, Archives staff couldn’t ignore one of the largest maps from the GLO’s map collection — the Connected Map of Austin’s Colony, a stunning work of utilitarian art that measures an astounding 7.5 x 6.75 feet.

[The Connected Map of Austin’s Colony, 1833–1837. Photo courtesy Texas General Land Office]

So how did this important, priceless, fragile map make the 80 mile journey to San Antonio?

The first consideration was whether to transport the map rolled or flat. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. A rolled map is considerably smaller, and enclosures made to transport rolled maps can be as strong as anything designed for flat transportation. However, since returning from intense and expensive conservation treatment in 2002, the map has been stored flat in a custom-built “Jumbo” map cabinet, fixed between two fine — but stiff — layers of cotton. Rolling a document, even when done properly, requires more handling than staff was willing to perform on a map as large and fragile as the Connected Map. It was decided that the map would be transported flat.

But would the space in the transport vehicle be wide enough? It was estimated that the flat enclosure would need to be at least 85 inches wide. The width of the transport truck was 88 inches, just wide enough to fit the map and its enclosure, which was made up of an archival “sandwich.”

Archival Sandwich Ingredients:
4 sheets of foam board (48 x 96 in. each)
Gaffers tape (heavy cotton cloth pressure-sensitive tape)
Acid-free tissue paper
Archival quality polyester film
4 large custom-made photo corners
10 large binder clips

Foam board sheets were chosen because of their sturdiness, and there was already a large quantity on-hand. At one-quarter inch thick, the boards were acceptable for a professional, licensed and insured art moving company. The Connected Map is wider than the widest available foam board, so two sheets had to be joined with gaffers tape, making sure that the adhesive parts of the tape would never come in contact with the map itself. Two sheets measuring 96 in. x 85 in. were created to enclose the map.

Foam board is not acid-free, so each piece had to be layered with acid-free tissue paper. Four staff members carefully moved the Connected Map onto the tissue layer. The top was then covered with archival quality polyester film followed by another layer of tissue paper. Four custom made photo corners were inserted onto each corner of the map and taped to the bottom piece of foam board to hold the map in place. Once again, great care was taken to ensure that none of the adhesive could come in contact with the map itself.

Finally, the top foam board sheet was placed on top of the map and its protective layers. Ten large binder clips were placed evenly along the perimeter of the enclosure creating enough pressure to fix the map in place and prevent shifting in transit.

When the map arrived at the Witte Museum, it was placed into a beautiful custom made stained wood and acrylic glass stand that had been created specifically for this exhibit.

[The Connected Map at the Witte Museum. Credit: Kim Man Hui / San Antonio Express-News]

Since its completion in 1837, the Connected Map has endured years of use as an official document and then nearly a century of rolled storage. After considerable expense to rehabilitate and conserve it, the Connected Map of Austin’s Colony is finally being seen by the public as a work of art through the lens of history.

If you can’t make the trip to San Antonio to the see the Connected Map on display, you can view it, along with nearly forty thousand other historical maps, on the GLO’s website. And if you have a really large wall to cover, you can order your own copy for only $40! (scaled down to 72% of the original size since we don’t have a printer large enough to print it full size.)

The conservation of the Connected Map of Austin’s Colony was funded in 2002 with a donation from Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. Digitization was funded in 2012 with a donation from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Thousands of documents in our collection are in dire need of costly conservation. We are attempting to raise funds for the Save Texas History program during the month of May by offering a commemorative Save Texas History t-shirt for a $30 donation, which supports the mission of the Save Texas History program. To donate and claim your t-shirt, click here!

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