This blog concludes our four-part series on the Solon A Perkins flag, cared for by the Greater Lowell Veteran's Council, here in Massachusetts. It took nearly 18 months for the Vets to administer this complicated project, including hiring Museum Textile Services to conserve the flag and MasterWorks Conservation to conserve the frame. The flag will be rededicated on May 31, 2015, in a public ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
A solid-support panel was manufactured by Small Corp. Inc. to fit perfectly into the flag's inner frame. We covered the panel with padding and fabric before laying out the red and white polyester organza
underlays. Camille then placed the striped section of the flag on top of this ghost image and hand stitched them both to the fabric-covered panel. Next, she transferred the canton, already stitched to its blue organza underlay, onto the panel and stitched it into place. The final step prior to framing was to tediously straighten all of the shattered silk and slowly cover the entire flag with silk Crepeline. Camille hand stitched around the perimeter of flag and beneath each white stripe to hold the tattered flag in place and to prevent any fragments from slipping down. This sheer overlay is invisible from even a short distance and provides a extra barrier between the flag and the acrylic above.
The pressure mount was created by placing a sheet of UV-filtering acrylic over the mounted flag and screwing it down into the top of the panel. Because the rabbet of the green inner frame does not fully cover these mounting screws, we used an archival linen-covered mat between the underside of the frame and the top of the acrylic to mask the holes. Although the reinstalled flag looks as if it is a single framing system, this is an illusion; the flag panel, followed by the frames, were installed separately into the marble wall of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and won't be going anywhere for a long time.
Museum Textile Services would like to thank the members of the Greater Lowell Veteran's Council, especially John Mitchell, Bob Casper, and Thayer Eastman; Grant Welker, staff reporter from the Lowell Sun; and Larry Glickman of Traveling Framers. To contribute to the ongoing fundraising efforts for this project, please visit the Lt. Perkins Flag Restoration GoFundMe page.
The Solon Perkins Flag, recently conserved at Museum Textile Services, underwent a long and arduous journey to arrive at our studios. By tracing this path we learn about the history of the flag, the man, the city of Lowell, Massachusetts.
This flag is one of two Cavalry Guidons referred to in a letter written by Major General Benjamin F. Butler of the 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. The soldier's mother, Mrs. Wealthy Perkins, was given the flag by the estate of General Butler. (Butler, who outlived Perkins by 30 years, went on be a congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, and presidential candidate in 1884. He is also the namesake of the B. F. Butler Post 42 of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was established in Lowell in 1868.) A letter from Butler to Wealthy Perkins was published in the Lowell Daily Sun on December 15, 1894, in an article stating that the flag and Butler’s letter were, “to be put in Memorial Hall.”
From a 1919 Lowell Sun article we learn that the Perkins flag was at that time displayed on the wall above Middlesex Bank President F. P. Gilly. After several more years at the bank, it returned to the Knapp home. According to Charles Knapp’s wife Mary Sawyer Knapp, it was they who, “carefully preserved [the flag] by mounting under glass in a beautifully hand-carved frame.” In 1929, Mrs. Knapp invited Trustees of the Lowell Memorial to view the flag with the aim of donating it to the new Lowell Memorial Auditorium, constructed 7 years prior. The flag was installed at the Auditorium on November 12, 1929.
It is not known how long the Solon Perkins Flag was displayed in the Hall of Flags at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium but its condition at the time it was rediscovered holds some clues. It hung across from a set of large doors which let in light and dirt from the busy street. There is also a return vent nearly the width of the frame located directly below where the flag was hanging before its removal. Although the tattered condition of the flag may not have changed much since its early 20th-century framing, the combination of dirt and its ragged appearance likely moved trustees to retire it from display.
Discovery of the Perkins flag must be credited to Steve Purtell and Gus Kanakis, who saw it in the basement propped against a wall behind a piano. They brought it to the attention of the Greater Lowell Veterans Council, who began the search for conservators for both the frame and the flag.
Rarely does a textile arrive at Museum Textile Services with as much history and legend as the Solon Perkins flag. Discovered in the basement of the Lowell Memorial Arena, the key to unlocking its story was found right on its elaborate wood frame. Painted on the green inner frame is an inscription reading, "Under this flag at Clinton, La., on June 3, 1863, Solon A. Perkins was killed." Perkins is one of nearly 500 men from Lowell who died in the Civil War.
of the 19th Corps. Mark Hudziak of Iron Brigader, tells us that on the day of his death, Perkins was part of an expedition under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson that was sent to engage Confederate cavalry near Clinton, LA, during the Port Hudson Campaign.
There are no fewer than three detailed accounts of Solon Perkins' heroic, but ultimately fatal, final charge. Testimony delivered by Rev. Owen Street of the Lowell High School Chapel, in late June, 1963, was based on details from letters written to Perkins' mother. They read, in part:
By far the most passionate and detailed account of the life and death of Solon Perkins can be read on his grave marker in Lowell Cemetery:
He was killed in battle near Port Hudson. Performed his duty in life, and died bravely in the defense of his country and of liberty. He helped recruit a company of cavalry in the fall of 1861 and receiving the commission of a Lieut. went out with Gen. Butlers expedition to the Gulf. His Captain being lost overboard near Fort Jackson April 62, he commanded the company from that time till he fell. He was a true type of the cavalry officer, dashing, brilliant, brave and highly strategic and for these qualities was often complimented by his superior officers. In a letter urging his promotion to the rank of Major. Gen. Weitzel spoke of him as, “The man who to-day has the finest and most serviceable cavalry company to whom is due the honor of making it what it is. Who is the bravest and ablest of officers, and has accomplished more than any officer in this department. He has deserved promotion (he said) by his ability, his industry, his efficiency, his bravery and his success.” This recommendation was approved by Gen. Banks, and the Majors commission made out but never reached him. During the last year of his service he was constantly skirmishing with the enemy. He led Gen. Banks advance to Red River and Port Hudson was four times wounded and had seven horses killed under him. Very few could bear hardship to the same extent or with less injury. Yet in a letter closed the day before he fell, he said, "I would rather lose an arm than endure what I have aside from my wounds, the last eight months." The changes of war he counted from the start and in that last letter he said, "I often think it more blessed to die on the battlefield for ones country, than to live long years in civil life."
Solon Perkins never married. He was survived by his father, Apollos Perkins (1799–1877,) his mother Wealthy Porter Perkins (1813–1896), and a brother Henry Porter Perkins (1844–1908.)
On a steamy August day last summer, MTS Director Camille Myers Breeze met with representatives of the Greater Lowell Veterans Council inside the cavernous Lowell Memorial Arena. On a table lay a venerable Civil War flag, discovered the previous January in a forgotten corner of the basement. Camille was interviewed by Grant Welker in his January Lowell Sun article, From Ragged Glory, a Piece of Lowell Civil War History Unfurled, and the day had finally arrived to transfer the flag to the hands of a conservator.
Together the team carefully removed the heavy oak frame, followed by a green- and gold-painted inner frame, both hand carved in the early 20th century. Beneath the glass lay a sheet of century-old cardboard to which the flag was glued and sewn. It is tempting to point out how the combination of sunlight and acidity have bleached the silk to shreds, but had the flag never been framed and exhibited for generations of Lowell visitors to see, it could very well have turned to dust by now.
Over the next few weeks, we will outline our conservation strategy, walk you through the creative problem-solving solutions we came up with, discuss the client's preference for a "restoration," and share the amazing history of this historic artifact.
By Courtney Jason
On December 10, 2012, a shipment of 20 flags arrived at the MTS from Fort Knox, KY. These flags have a particularly interesting history, as many hail from the personal collection of General George Patton. They belong to the General George Patton Museum of Leadership, which is undergoing a major renovation and reinterpretation.
The Ft. Knox flags range from a 11.5" x 17" Confederate Calvary guide on to an 80" x 130" Nazi flag. The collection also includes several WWII Army flags, and a North Vietnamese flag that was recovered from a booby-trapped location. The collection is here to be cleaned, stabilized and mounted for display when the Patton Museum reopens later this year.
So far we have vacuumed the flags with a HEPA filtering vacuum to remove any particulate matter. Next we will humidify those with planar distortions using the Gore-Tex system described in a previous blog about the Orra White Hitchcock textiles from Amherst College.
The majority of the flags will be mounted on aluminum solid-support panels manufactured for us by Small Corp, Inc in Greenfield, MA. Each panel will have a layer of 1/4-inch Polyfelt from University Products in Holyoke, MA, covered with khaki-colored cotton poplin from Phillips-Boyne in Farmingdale, NY.
All of the flags except for the Nazi flag will be pressure mounted on a solid-support panel. They will be centered on the panel and hand stitched to the cotton using a curved needle. Only minimal stitching around the perimeter, along several strategic points in the body, and along the fringe, is required.
A sheet of UV-filtering acrylic will provide the rest of the support for the mount. The museum has chosen Small Corp's powder-coated aluminum frames to complete the mount system. The first batch of eight flags will undergo this process through mid to late April, before being shipped back in early May by US Art of Randolph, MA.
The Nazi flag will receive a different treatment due to its large size. A future blog will highlight this highly-technical process. We hope you're looking forward to seeing more of these flags as much as we're looking forward to working on them.
by Sarah Berlinger, Technician
As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Museum Textile Services is proud to have had a part in conserving a bit of history very important to Massachusetts’s involvement in the fight. Over the summer, the National Colors of the 55th Massachusetts, one of two all-black regiments in the state, went on display at the Concord Museum. MTS completed the conservation of the flag, which belongs to the Middlesex School in Fall of 2010. A state-of-the-art climate-controlled case was built by Will Twombly of Spokeshave Design in Watertown, Massachusetts, using a Small Corp, Inc. inner core.
The flag was donated to Middlesex School by a relative of Norwood Penrose Hallowell, the colonel of the regiment, in 1972. Hallowell, a native of Philadelphia and a Harvard graduate, struck up and maintained a close relationship with Middlesex School of Concord, MA, eventually becoming President of the Board of Trustees for twelve years.
Colonel Hallowell and his brothers all served the Union Army; he, William and Edward all served as soldiers while another brother, Richard, worked at the Stearns house in Medford as an assistant to slaves on the Underground Railroad. The Hallowells, a Quaker family, struggled with their pacifistic religious ideology and the injustice they believed was being done by slavery. After thoughtful consideration by the Hallowells and the rest of the Meeting, the decision was made to fight, giving birth to the term “Fighting Quakers.”
Photo courtesy of Middlesex School
After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued New Year’s Day 1863, recruiting began for the creation of the first all-black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. Hallowell was commissioned the Lieutenant Colonel of the 54th by Governor John A. Andrew. Lt. Colonel Hallowell aided in the training of these men, and then led them to the ships that would take them South and into battle. Governor Andrew then ordered Hallowell to return and form the 55th Massachusetts. He took over as Colonel, and his brother Edward replaced him as Lt. Colonel of the 54th.
Colonel N. P. Hallowell’s daughter found the flag of the 55th Massachusetts wrapped in tissue in a trunk of her father's belongings. Another relative, Hannah Bigelow, conserved the flag with the assistance of the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston and donated it to Middlesex School in 1972. Middlesex School, after conservation by MTS was completed, loaned the flag to the Concord Museum for their exhibit When Duty Whispers: Concord and the Civil War. An overview of the flag and exhibit from the Metro West Daily News can be found here. It was also featured on the cover of the May 27th, 2011, issue of Antiques and the Arts Weekly.
It was wonderful for us at MTS to not only conserve a bit of Massachusetts and Civil War history, but also to learn the provenance of this wonderful object. Understanding the flag’s place in history is truly a treat for us, and we are happy to share such a great story with everyone.
With the arrival of spring in Massachusetts came a flurry of activity surrounding the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Several regional museum exhibits will feature textiles conserved by Museum Textile Services. You can read about three projects here, but nothing takes the place of visiting a museum and seeing the actual artifacts for yourself!
One Foot Square, Quilted & Bound at the New England Quit Museum includes rare and never-before-displayed Civil War artifacts and fabrics. One of the highlights is a rare glazed-cotton "potholder" quilt from Portland, Maine, on loan from the Brick Store Museum. Prior to exhibition, this quilt required stabilization to the splitting silks and reinforcement of the stitches that hold together the twenty individual blocks. This quilt is on display through July 10 at the Lowell museum, 18 Shattuck Street. Read more in the Eagle Tribune.
When Duty Whispers: Concord and the Civil War features an extremely important flag on loan to the Concord Museum from the near-by Middlesex School. The First National colors of the Massachusetts 55 Volunteer Regiment was issues in July 1863 but was not used on campaign. It was given to Middlesex School by Col. N. P. Hallowell, who a trustee there from 1902 until his death in 1914. The flag was restored by Hallowell's daughter in 1972 and was on permanent exhibit at the Warburgh Library for almost 40 years. A successful fund-raising campaign allowed Museum Textile Services to conserve and remount the flag, which will now live in a custom display case built by Spokeshave Design. The Flag can be viewed at the Concord Museum through September 18, 2011, before it is returned to Middlesex School. Read more in the April 3, 2011, Boston Globe.
Commemorating Our Role in the Civil War 150 Years Later is the title of this summer's exhibit from the Framingham History Center. Among the historic artifacts on display will be the "Citizen's Flag," a Civil war-era garrison-sized American flag made of wool bunting with cotton stars. The flag was donated to the town of Framingham in 1892 according to vintage printed labels on either side of the hoist binding. Before entering the museum's collection, the flag was exposed to extreme soot which left it discolored and brittle. Museum Textile Services was able to remove the sooty deposits with gentle wetcleaning and then stabilize the flag and install a Velcro hanging system. The visual impact of this large flag hanging overhead is not to be missed! It is on view from June 11, 2011, at the Edgell Memorial Library, 3 Oak Street, from 10:00am4:00 pm. A full calendar of Civil War events in Framingham is available here.
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