By Josephine Johnson, Technician
Most of our time at Museum Textile Services is spent in the studio, but occasionally clients ask us to work on site. In January, we had the opportunity to revisit Amherst College's thankga collection, housed at the Mead Art Museum. These are the same 18 thangkas that we conserved in advance of the Mead's 2011-12 exhibit, Picturing Enlightenment. The thangkas are scheduled to travel to Middlebury College and need custom storage and transportation boxes.
On January 7th, 2014, Caamille, Cara and I trekked out to Amherst, MA, for a three-day, intensive box-building session. We worked in the high-security storage room surrounded by shelves packed with beautiful objects, and sliding panels covered in hundreds of rare paintings. It is an exciting place that few people have the pleasure of visiting.
All of our materials were waiting for us when we arrived in Amherst. Camille had already designed a system coroplast boxes, custom-made in three sizes by University Products in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts. We purchased Volara and Photo-tex archival tissue from Masterpak, and rayon paper from Talas. The museum supplied a pallet of Ethafoam.
Our task was simple, but lengthy: to create a custom chamber inside one of the three sizes of box to precisely fit each thangka. First, Cara and I traced each thangka onto brown craft paper so that we would not have to handle the thangkas again until the boxes were ready. Next Camille and I spent several hours cutting two-inch Ethafoam strips to the height of the boxes. After Cara had lined each box with Volara, Camille adhered the strips of Ethafoam with archival hot-melt glue into the exact shape of the thangka. This "bumper" system prevents the thangkas from shifting within the box and allows the boxes to be safely stacked.
Once the bumpers were in place, each box was lined with soft rayon tissue paper. Cara and I then worked on custom cutting sheets of Photo-tex archival tissue paper to wrap the thangkas. Each thangka has two sheets of Photo-tex, one that wraps horizontally and one that wraps vertically. Before being wrapped in Photo-tex, rayon paper was placed over the delicate painted field on the thangka.
Cara and Josephine wrapping a thangka in Photo-tex paper.
During the last day at the Mead Art Museum, Cara and I packed all sixteen thangkas in their boxes. After being carefully wrapped, the thangkas were placed in their boxes inside the Ethafoam bumpers. The boxes, as well as the sheets of Photo-tex, were labeled with the accession number of the thangka. Now the thangkas wait peacefully in their boxes for the next professor, curator, or monk that might want to see them.
Stay tuned for a future blog on building the two custom boxes for the Mead's two oversized thangkas!
by Josephine Johnson
Some images in the art world are made and forgotten, while others are repeated over and over again in many different mediums. A popular image of Fame Decorating Shakespeare's Tomb recently found its way into Museum Textile Services' studio in the form of embroidered and painted silk.
The embroidery depicts Fame as a woman decorating the tomb of the great William Shakespeare. The image was originally created by English painter Angelica Kauffmann in 1772. Kauffmann ranks among the first successful female European artists. The painting is a small metal roundel that may have been part of a large decorative scheme in a room. Her decorative images can be found all over furniture, porcelain, ceilings, walls, and as we've seen, embroideries.
Kaufman's painting was made into an etching a decade later by the English printmaker Francesco Bartolozzi. Converting a painting into an etching was a common way to reproduce an image before photography was invented. The etching of the painting is probably what inspired the embroideries because an etching can circulate to a much bigger audience. Notice how the tomb in the embroidery matches the shape of the tomb in the etching, not the painting!
The embroideries follow the tradition in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of needlepoint created by school girls, who would have had much easier access to the etching than to Kaufman's painting. With inspiration coming from the black and white etching, the embroiderer had more freedom for creativity when choosing colors.
In the slide show above you can see several other embroideries of Fame at Shakespeare's tomb. We love to see the work of a female painter celebrated over and over again throughout history!
by Tegan Kehoe and Camille Myers Breeze
A surprising number of historic clothing and textile items we’ve treated at Museum Textile Services in 2013 have been made of rayon -- and we've added some rayon pieces to our study collection, such as the "reliable" rayon yarn we blogged about in April. This has prompted us to refresh our knowledge of this important fiber and take note of its special conservation needs.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made of regenerated cellulose. Like naturally occurring cellulosic textile fibers—including cotton, kapok, linen, hemp, jute, and ramie—rayon is used for a wide range of fabrics for household textiles as well as fine and utilitarian fashions. Unlike its cellulose cousins, rayon has also been widely used to mimic fabrics normally made of fibers as wide ranging as silk and wool. It can therefore be difficult to identify rayon when it is found in museum collections.
Rayon exploded in the 1920s as a popular fashion fiber, beginning with socks, lingerie and clothing. The variety of available fabrics and finishes meant that any women could now wear garment types once affordable only to women who could buy silk. By the end of the 1930s, rayon was six times as plentiful as silk in American clothing.
World War II again caused a bump in the production of rayon, both for fabrics and for tire cord--a replacement for rubber, which was scarce. After WWII, rayon saw competition from other synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic and polyester.
Rayon is prone to stretching, sagging, and pilling. Despite these problems, trade brands such as Modal rayon became increasingly popular for use alone, or blended with cotton or spandex, for household textiles such as towels and sheets. Early viscose rayon was found to lose strength when wet, but high-wet-modulus (HWM) rayon was released in 1960 as an answer to this problem.
Part II of "Rayon Through the Years" will focus on the technological changes in rayon production... which help account for the many names the fiber goes by.
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 Camille Myers Breeze
For nearly a week, the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, was the scene of great collaboration and ingenuity as students of ARTH 335 Exhibition Design installed their Fall 2012 show, "100 Years 100 Objects." The exhibit showcases an object for each of the 100 years since Wheaton Female Seminary became Wheaton College.
Camille Breeze was hired to participate in two days of teaching and exhibit prep thanks to funding from the Art/Art History Department and the Evelyn Danzig Haas '39 Visiting Artist Program. After a short presentation about careers in conservation, Camille broke students into teams according to what remained to be done to install a pair of priceless textiles conserved by MTS.
The first team underwent the final framing of a silk embroidery depicting "Hagar and Ishmael are Cast Out by Abraham" (Genesis Chapter XXI), by Eliza Wheaton Strong (1795-1834). This exquisite textile is very fragile but together the team cleaned the framing materials, placed the embroidery behind the custom mat, and backed the new frame with Marvelseal before hanging it in the gallery.
The remaining student teams addressed tasks related to the mounting of the c 1780 costume of the Duchesse de Choiseul, which had been conserved at Museum Textile Services in 2012. You can read about this project in intern Gabrielle Ferreira's first and second blogs.
Josephine Johnson '13.
The bust of the custom manikin was covered with show fabric by senior Josephine Johnson, who is planning for a career in conservation. The base for the manikin was assembled by a team including senior Morgan Bakerman, who is writing her thesis about the dress.
A third team addresses the skirt support, which originally was accomplished with rigid paniers. Students started with a replica of the skirt made by Cara Jordan from cotton muslin. Next, they machine sewed 3-inch twill tape in two rows across the skirt and threaded flexible polypropylene tubing through the channel. The tubing provided the shape of the paniers, and additional pieces of twill tape tied across the underside created the correct, flat silhouette.
During the final push on Saturday afternoon, the base was attached to the exhibit platform, the manikin bust was installed, the paniers were tied to the manikin, and finally the costume was dressed.
Working with an academic institution like Wheaton College is one our favorite jobs at Museum Textile Services. Many thanks go out to Leah Niederstadt, Museum Studies Professor and Curator of the Permanent Collection, and Zeph Stickney, Archivist and Special Collections Curator, for asking Camille to help in this intense and rewarding project.
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.