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 Camille Myers Breeze
This beginning of this story may sound familiar to some of you. From a young age, I started absconding with cool things my parents had in their houses, in my case the textiles. When they both downsized after I went off to College, they passed on to me everything I could find space for. By the time I was 35 and Museum Textile Services had moved to its own home, I had a bona fide study collection filling several archival boxes. Since then, family members have sent me everything from wedding gowns to souvenirs and, more recently, we have begun accepting the occasional donation.
I should stop here and make something perfectly clear. We are not a museum. We're not even a non-profit. Museum Textile Services is an independent conservation laboratory with a growing client base and a popular internship-training program. When someone contacts us about making a donation, we make it clear that we can't appraise their items or provide a tax receipt. Nevertheless, donors tell us, they are grateful to have found a place where their clothing and textiles will be cared for and put to good use.
Mike and Midge Burnham were referred to me late in 2012 by my friend Dana, who runs a vintage shop in Newmarket, NH, called Concetta's Closet. Dana had purchased much of their family's 20th-century clothing but knew that the older items were museum quality and not suitable for wearing. Was I interested, the Burnhams asked, in a donation of several boxes of 19th- and early 20th-century clothing? The size of the donation concerned me at first but what eventually convinced that it was destined for MTS was the Oberlin connection.
Some of the oldest donated items belonged to Mike's great-grandmother Cassandra Vernon Washburn Burnham. Cassandra (1849-1935) was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary. She outlived her husband, the Rev. Michael Burnham (1839-1905), by 30 years, and during her widowhood she became innkeeper at Grey Gables in my college town of Oberlin, OH. Exactly how long Cassandra ran Grey Gables in not clear but in 1930 the college acquired it for student housing. In 1952, Grey Gables became just the second of Oberlin’s still-vibrant student co-ops but it was demolished in the 1960s during a wave of large-dormitory construction.The land on which Grey Gables stood became the Grey Gables parking lot.
Cassandra and Michael Burnham had five children, of whom two survived to adulthood. The couple is buried in Spring Street Cemetery in Essex, MA. Their son, the Rev. Edmund Alden Burnham married the highly successful contralto Ruth Thayer in 1895. Ruth Thayer Burnham's spectacular wedding ensemble, along with other outfits of hers, were also donated to the MTS study collection and will be the subject of future MTS blogs.
Museum Textile Services does not actively seek items for the study collection--we don't have the space or staff, for starters. But the stories these objects tell, and the opportunity for learning that they present, are priceless. For more stories from the MTS study collection, select "study collection" from the search bar on the right-hand side of this page.
by Courtney Jason
When this WWI Army jacket came to Museum Textile Services, we did not know too much about it. According to the client, it had belonged to their grandfather, who was an Irish immigrant who enlisted to escape the orphanage he was living in. Beyond that, the rest was unclear. In the intervening weeks, much has come to light about Alexander G. McLean, his uniform, and his service in the Great War for Civilization.
McLean's WWI jacket before conservation.
McLean's army jacket is a 1917 pattern jacket, which is distin- guishable from the earlier 1912 pattern by a single line of stitching around the sleeve cuffs. Details like this can be found on the US Army's website in an extensive PDF by David Cole.
Recently the client returned with more items belonging to their grandfather. The buttons, pins, business cards, and books have inspired us to begin our research anew, and while we still do not know a lot about the life of Alexander McLean, we are developing a more complete picture. We know he joined the Army with the Yankee Division, and that he likely spent the majority of his time abroad fighting in France.
The first step of the project is to mount the jacket for display. It has been carefully vacuumed and an archival support pillow has been constructed. Next it will be mount it to a fabric-covered solid-support panel and covered with a UV filtering acrylic shadow box. When the jacket is complete, additional shadow boxes will be constructed for the other items.
While there are still a lot of unanswered questions, we are looking forward to learning more about the life of Alexander McLean. Be sure to check our Facebook page for updates as we continue to work on this project.
By Camille Myers Breeze
A new year means a new set of exciting projects here at MTS. On the top of our priority list is a contract for our most impressive digital textile printing project to date. We are undertaking the replication of a set of silk bed hangings, which were purchased by Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), son of John Quincy Adams, and his wife Abigail Brooks Adams (1808–1889). In the recent past, these luxurious textiles were deinstalled from the third floor of the Old House at the Adams National Historical Park due to their fragile condition.
In 1999, I was part of a team of textile professionals who published one of the first articles on the use of digitally printed textiles in
museums. Since then, much has changed in the fast-paced world of technology, including in the digital printing of textiles.
In the upcoming months, we will work with a digital printing company in the Boston area to reproduce yardage of a similar fabric using cotton, which can mimic the appearance of silk with much better preservation properties. The digitally printed fabric will then be assembled into a replica set of bed hangings and installed in the third floor bedroom where they were previously displayed.
Stay tuned for more blogs about this project as the work begins in January, 2013.
by Camille Myers Breeze
Our choice for favorite project from 2012 has to be the conservation of a baseball uniform belonging to the great Negro league player William "Cannonball" Jackman. As we learned from Sarah Berlinger's March 12th, 2012, blog Will "Cannonball" Jackman Comes to Life, he was perhaps the greatest player you've never heard of.
Prior to the completion of this project, Boston globe writer Joel Brown paid Museum Textile Services a visit to learn more about the project. His article, entitled "Preserving the Fabric of History," appeared in the April 19, 2012, issue of the Boston Globe North. Joel's article was a wonderful opportunity for us to let the public know about textile conservation and as a result we have seen a huge increase in the amount of sports memorabilia brought to MTS. In response, we launched a new Sports Memorabilia page in the Conservation section of our web page.
You can see some more images of the conservation of "Cannonball" Jackman's uniform in this short slideshow. Many thanks the Museum of African American History, Boston, and to all who worked on this project, including Cara, Courtney, Katey and Sarah.
By Ryan Cochran
Followers of this blog, as well at the MTS Faceboook page, have become familiar with the sixty-one painted textiles that comprise the Orra White Hitchcock Project. Created as "classroom charts" for her husband, naturalist Edward Hitchcock, they came to us for conservation from the Archives and Special Collections Department at Amherst College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. As an intern learning the ropes of textile conservation, this has been an exciting and enlightening experience which I would like to share with those out there curious about the techniques we used to preserve these amazing works.
The first job I had was to create a spreadsheet to document each stage of conservation. Next, each textile was hung and photographed, which often required a second set of hands. As each textile was photographed, it was recorded in the spreadsheet, which contains fields for condition, treatments performed, and whether additional conservation, such as stabilization, is recommended.
In preparation for accessioning, I assigned a number to each object in the collection. Since most of these classroom charts are already numbered, we decided to keep those numbers in an attempt to avoid confusion. Unnumbered textiles, or those with repeated numbers, were assigned sequential numbers in the series. The new labels were written in Sharpie on smooth Tyvek and hand-stitched to the back of the top-left corner of each textile.
After photographing and labeling, I surface cleaned each textile. This was done with much care using a special conservation vacuum with a low-suction setting so that no tension was put on the fabric. Vacuuming removes dust and debris which is not normally visible to the naked eye, and prepares the textile for further treatment.
After vacuuming, I placed each textile in clean acid-free tissue in a folder away from other objects which had not yet been vacuumed. Next, each textile was humidified to reduce the many wrinkles and creases that have accumulated over nearly two centuries in storage. Since we did not want to apply heat or water directly to these textiles, we decided to use the Gore-Tex method of cold humidification.
To do this, we created our own humidification chamber with acid-free blotter, Gore-Tex, deionized water, and polyethylene sheeting (you can read about this process in Camille Breeze's MA Thesis.) The textile is placed on top of a dry piece of blotting paper, which is sitting on polypropylene. The textile is then covered with Gore-Tex membrane, which is laminated to Hollytex. A blotter moistened with deionized water is carefully placed on top of the Gore-Tex, followed by polypropylene. The edges of the chamber are sealed with weights to keep the moisture in. The pores in the Gore-Tex membrane are smaller than a water droplet but larger than a water vapor molecule, allowing for a gentle and thorough humidifica-tion. Each textile was humidified for approxi-mately two hours, after which is was moved to a pinning board and blocked with pins to dry.
After each textile was humidified, it was condition reported again and suggestions were made for additional conservation, when needed. The textile then was placed either on an archival tube or in a custom-made archival tray. The trays were designed by MTS and built in-house of Coroplast with a twill-tape hinge.
We eagerly await the day when all of the Orra White Hitchcock textiles are back at Amherst College and safely stored in the archive.
Many thanks go out to Michael Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections, Frost Library, Amherst College, and suppliers University Products, Talas, Testfabrics, Masterpak, J Freeman, and Larry Glickman of Traveling Framers for their assistance.
by Ryan Cochran
Rarely in history do we find a couple so astoundingly complementary as Amherst College president and geologist Edward Hitchcock and the artistically gifted Orra White Hitchcock. Edward was active as a professor of geology and botany at Amherst during the middle of the nineteenth century, and was appointed state geologist of Massachusetts in 1830. His lectures were enhanced by the use of several classroom charts which were carefully crafted by Orra. Museum Textile Services has the privilege of working at restoring sixty-one of these classroom charts for the Amherst College Archives.
These charts vary in size, ranging from rather small 20"x 20" pieces to large charts several feet in length. Many are diagrams displaying geological strata and their formations, with special detail often attached to local New England geology. These pieces are in relatively good condition, but occasionally contain damage in the form of holes and stains. An example of this damage can be seen in the section across Massachusetts pictured below.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Orra White Hitchcock is her persistent quality of work in an effort to further the career of her brilliant husband. There is no doubt that in the modern age, Orra herself could have been a scientist and may have worked her way up to be president of a prestigious college or university. This seemingly selfless effort of work makes for an incredibly interesting story.
Orra White Hitchcock's charts took a lot of intellectual research to accomplish. Orra was no doubt quite gifted scientifically as well as her husband. She would have had to know a lot of the science taught by her husband given the extensive detail and content of these painted textiles. Her strongest skills seem to have been in the field of botany, but her geological and biological subjects in the classroom charts are very finely done.
The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College exhibited the art of Orra White Hitchcock in its 2011 exhibit, An Amherst Woman of Art and Science," which can still be viewed online.