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
The conservation of a Bicentennial felt flag from the Hanover Historical Society of Hanover, Massachusetts, presented MTS with a unique quandary: what is the best way to patch the pest-damaged felt flag while maintaining a color and texture consistent with the original object? The answer: Needle felting!
After several tries of making the patch with various shades of blue cotton fabric, it was determined that not only were the colors not a match, but the tight weave of the cotton did not possess the same loft of the felt flag. Using wool roving in shades of blue, gray, white, and brown, small amounts of fibers from each color were blended together by hand until a color match was found, including allowances for color damage through soil deposits, light, and age. After the flag was humidified to reduce wrinkling and spot cleaned to reduce localized soil deposits, a map of the missing areas of the flag was traced onto a lightweight, non-woven polyester substrate (Reemay®).
Using a needle felting tool and mat, the blended wool roving was felted into the template traced on the substrate. The patch was placed under the object and the roving was lined up with the losses in the flag. A small amount of felting was done where the patch edge met the object edge, to achieve a seamless transition. After the patch was securely fastened to the flag, a cotton backing fabric was attached, adding a layer of stability to the entire object.
From the photograph at the beginning of this post, it's clear to see that needle felting was the best choice for making an effective repair to the Bicentennial flag. In addition to conserving the flag, we added a new skill to the MTS repertoire, and one that will serve us well in the years to come.
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.
In recent months, stories of America’s WWII heroes have come to the forefront at Museum Textile Services. Our work often reminds us that few things can convey the horror and bravery of warfare more intimately than historic clothing and textiles.
In August, 2009, Museum Textile Services received for examination an extraordinary Japanese flag. The small white square of cotton is emblazoned with a red rising sun encircled with inscriptions in ink. The flag also has a variety of stains and remnants of paper at two corners from which it once hung.
From the Pacific to Andover, the flag endured unknown travails to arrive at this point in time. Accompanying letters tell us of a young U.S. Merchant Marine, Captain W. H. Senior, who discovered the soiled and torn flag on a battlefield at Guadalcanal. His widow donated the flag to the Boston Marine Society, which promised that the flag and its story would be preserved. MTS staff cleaned, mounted, and framed the flag, fulfilling that promise.
Commonly known as a Kamikaze Flag, inscribed rising sun images were known to have been carried into combat by a Japanese pilots. The inscriptions are said to be spiritual words relating to Shinto beliefs. Shinto teachings were used to reinforce nationalist beliefs and encourage the pilots in their suicide attacks. Official Kamikaze bombing raids began in October 1944 after traditional warfare was proving ineffective against Allied forces. However the use of inscribed flags as good-luck charms to bolster a soldier’s spirits is a time-honored tradition. Sometimes scarves or simple lengths of silk were printed with the rising sun motif and inscribed.
The Canton Historical Society, in suburban Boston, has an impressive collection including at least ten military uniforms dating to the WWII era. A pristine US Navy uniform bears a patch identifying it as belonging to a sailor on the USS Finback, which was commissioned in January, 1942, and just four months later patrolled the seas during the American victory in the Battle of Midway. The Finback sailed twelve Pacific patrols during WWII before being decommissioned in 1950. What makes this uniform most curious is the colorful machine embroidery and silk dragon patch. The bright stitching doesn’t appear to be a later addition because it is incorporated into the seams of the uniform. Likewise, the dragon patch is sewn beneath a label reading “Tailored Expressly for Esquire Uniform Co Norfolk, VA.” The owner of the uniform, as well as the nature of the decorative stitching, will be the subjects of future research.
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest” (figure 5). Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest”. Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
The European theatre of operations during World War II was a vast offensive that began with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. In Italy, Army Air Force Technical Sergeant Rocco Boscaglia flew bombing raids with his fellow air men. He wore a standard-issue brown leather “bomber” jacket bearing his name, wings and the American flag. After the end of the war, Sergeant Boscaglia embellished the back of his jacket with an impressive emblem commemorating the dozens of raids he flew and survived. The tooled leather image depicts US planes in action flying past the names of ten European nations: Germany, Hungary, Albania, Jugoslavia (sic), France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Greece and Italy. Both the patch and US flag on the sleeve retain trace evidence of paint, leaving us to image the jacket in its full color.
Sergeant Boscaglia’s jacket arrived at MTS with other minor condition issues. Covered in a mildew bloom, the leather had hardened and the knit cuffs were frayed. After fumigation, the jacket was meticulously cleaned by hand in small sections and the frayed cuffs were stabilized. With the mildew removed the jacket once again has the sheen of a well-worn leather replete with wrinkled sleeves and homemade patches that marked the time of one man’s service in war.
Our connection to World War II continues later this year with the preservation of a forty-eight star American Coast Guard flag that was flown over Guadalcanal. Made of wool bunting with cotton stars, the faded and wind-whipped flag bears witness to the seven months of fighting necessary for the Allies to take the small island from the Japanese. Conservation will stabilize the flag’s various components and provide a safe display mount so that the flag can be put on public display.
The Coast Guard Museum flag was completed in July, 2011.
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