Among the many collections in ZSR’s Special Collections and Archives is Sophie Stevens Lanneau’s papers. The papers and artifacts in this collection tell the story of Sophie Lanneau’s extensive travels throughout Eastern Asia. Lanneau, daughter of Wake Forest professor John Francis Lanneau, was a teacher and Southern Baptist Convention educational missionary to China from 1907 to 1951. During her time abroad, she founded the Wei Ling Girls’ Academy in Soochow (1911) and interned in Japan (1941). In 1943, she returned to the United States before returning to China in 1946, where she remained until 1950.

Sophie Lanneau’s Pathein Htee

Like most who travel, Lanneau accumulated a large assortment of artifacts and materials while travelling in Eastern Asia. One particularly interesting artifact is a large handmade umbrella. When the umbrella was acquired by Special Collections little was known about it beyond its connection to Lanneau and that it would need some conservation work. However, with closer inspection and some research, Special Collections was able to trace its origins, thanks to a small stamp saying “Bassien.” Bassien, now known as Pathein, is the Burmese Capital of Ayeyarwady Division of Myanmar’s delta region. One of Pathein’s most famous trades is its umbrella making, known locally as Pathein Htee. Lanneau’s umbrella and other Pathein Htee are known for their beautiful and durable qualities resulting from the strong materials used in their construction. The handle and branches of the umbrella are traditionally made from bamboo and prepared by sinking the wood in mud for one year before being used to build the umbrella. The surface of the umbrella is made from cotton cloth set with a special glue made from the seeds of tae fruit. While Pathein Htee umbrellas have very traditional roots, originally used for royal and religious ceremonial purposes, it has since become a popular local souvenir and beach necessity.

Inside Sophie Lanneau’s Pathein Htee.

Seal inside umbrella. Written: “Bassein”

Preserving Unique Artifacts from Craig

Special Collections and Archives has a number of artifacts in the collection that are unusual in size, shape or material. The umbrella, which is part of the Sophie Lanneau Collection, is one of these unusual items. The umbrella is over 75 years old and without some protection, would be subject to damage from accidental contact and from light.

Box with Sophie Lanneau umbrella
Box constructed for Sophie Lanneau umbrella

I decided to construct a box for the umbrella. I have an assortment of archival boards to use for box making, but this umbrella is large: approximately 56″ in length. I decided to see a corrugated archival board known as corrugated e-flute archival board. This archival board is constructed to be stronger than ordinary corrugated board and is also helpful in resisting temperature and humidity. Inside the box, I used an archival foam called ethafoam, which is chemically inert and not abrasive.

Ethafoam is easy to cut and shape and perfect for this application. The ethafoam pieces I cut and placed inside the box serve to cushion the top, bottom and sides of the umbrella inside the box.


This blog post was co-written by Craig Fansler and Brittnee Worthy