In Part 1 of this blog, Museum Textile Services Director Camille Myers Breeze shared her experience attending the opening of Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863) at the American Folk Art Museum. In this episode, we go into detail about the conservation procedures undertaken to prepare twenty early-19th-century painted textiles for exhibition.
The opportunity to address damage to twenty of the twenty-one most fragile textiles came about in 2018 when the entire collection was requested by the American Folk Art Museum for their comprehensive exhibit of watercolors, pen and ink drawings, prints, and classroom charts that Hitchcock created between 1810 and the 1840s. All were humidified and pressed where needed to reduce folds and wrinkles. Two textiles needed no further treatment and were repacked after humidification.
Five textiles had substantial holes or tears requiring full backings to enable exhibition. The lining material we found most compatible is Holytex, a nonwoven polyester that is light-weight, stable, and resembles the classroom charts in its slightly papery behavior. 1 mil BEVA film was ironed to the Holytex using a Rowenta Steam and Press iron set to 65 degrees Celsius. Higher heat caused the Holytex to curl and pucker, so we used additional pressure with the iron to achieve a good bond. The textile was first placed face down on an ironing surface. The adhesive side of the Holytex was placed over the textile and minimally tacked with a D&K tacking iron set to 50 degrees Celsius. The textile was flipped face up and ironed again from the front side, through a piece of silicone-release film. Excess Holytex was carefully trimmed from the perimeter of the textiles with small scissors.
The final stage of conservation was to advise the American Folk Art Museum on safe methods of display. From the very beginning, they expressed excitement about the potential of neodymium, or rare-earth magnets, the use of which we have been developing at Museum Textile Services over the past few years. After discussing ways of camouflaging magnets with paint or fabric, the museum came up with the perfect solution. Pairs of tiny silver-colored magnets were used in plain sight, blending in with the modern support systems of clear acrylic and black fabric-covered boards.
At the conclusion of this conservation project, Museum Textile Services conservators had spent ninety-four hours assessing, testing, cleaning, humidifying, and stabilizing twenty of the sixty-one known classroom charts made by Orra White Hitchcock. To see them on display, visit the American Folk Art Museum before the exhibit closes on October 14, 2018.