The reinstallation of the Mary Baker Eddy Peace Flag went off without a hitch on Monday, March 30th, despite President Obama being in town and the flurries that reminded us of all the snow that fell while the flag was under our care.
Each of the four mitered corners had to be aligned perfectly to meet the corners of the flag, as well as the corners of the fringe. We pinned the seams open, blind stitched with a fine curved needle, and then top stitched in two rows. Sewing through multiple layers of silk was a bit like sewing through Jell-O®! This was only slightly preferable to stitching through the thick trim around the flag and the fringe, which broke several of our larger curved needles.
After we attached all of the original elements, we gently flipped the flag over and trimmed the new ivory silk borders. A dust cover made of cotton plain weave was constructed, to which we machine sewed a strip of Velcro-compatible fabric. We pinned the dust cover to the top edge of the flag and hand stitched through the machine stitching holes using straight needles. Because the ivory silk borders are semi-transparent, we made a deep turnback in the dust cover, which ended just below the top of the central flag. By mitering the turnback to follow the corner border seams, we avoided any distracting shadows.
We carefully rolled the flag up for transport to the Mary Baker Eddy Library, taking special care to keep the fringe tidy and not to crease the central flag. Upon arrival, we unrolled the top edge of the flag in order to press the Velcro slat to the Velcro on the back of the flag. Library staff lifted the roll up to Camille and another staff person, who hung the slat off of the four original hooks inside the case. The flag was unfurled and small adjustments were made. The visible ends of the slat were camouflaged with beige cotton caps. Finally, the original brass rod from which the flag had hung was threaded through the silk bows and placed on the hooks.
In Part II of the Mary Baker Eddy Blog, we discussed several tough decisions we had to make to ensure that this fragile silk flag would be able to hang safely in its original display case along the second floor mezzanine at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. This blog is all about the difficult task of stabilizing, stitching through, and supporting the 100-year-old artifact.
Stay tuned for the final installation of the Mary Baker Eddy Blog series, in which we share the reinstallation of her newly conserved Peace Flag.
Conservation of the Peace Flag from the Mary Baker Eddy Library got off to a quick start, here at Museum Textile Services. As our previous blog mentioned, we were able to transport the flag to our studios just before the string of winter storms. The first treatment, as always, was surface cleaning the flag to remove airborne pollutants. Although the flag was sealed in its case for 80 years, the gasket had deteriorated, allowing soot, dust, and other air pollutants to permeate the flag.
The next difficult decision we faced was whether to exhibit the flag with the same side outward, or to show the original colors preserved on the reverse. We considered two factors went into the decision to continue to show the same side: First is the congressional report entitled, "The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions," updated in 2008. Section 7.i states that, "When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union [star field] should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left." Equally importantly, there was no guarantee that the back of the flag would not fade sometime in the future, and if that were to happen, no evidence would remain of its original vibrancy.
Stay tuned for the next installment to see how dyeing of the new ivory border went, and learn how we plan to make the central flag strong enough for another century of display.
Camille and MBE Library curator Pamela Winstead had been discussing this project for several months, and each arrived with a team to get the flag out of the case and safely rolled for transport to MTS for conservation. With plenty of staff on hand to document and assist, Camille laid out the plan for safely removing the flag, accounting for all the variables and potential issues to look out for to get this large, delicate flag off of the wall. The custom case had done an excellent job over the years, but the gasket had failed, allowing dust to work its way in. The ten individual bows of red, white and blue silk tying the flag to a brass rod were now causing the flag to sag under its own weight. Other issues, such as possible breakdown of the silk, light damage, accretion of other substances, and structural issues would be fully assessed after the flag was removed.
Taking down the flag went off without a hitch as two Library staff slowly lowered the brass rod, allowing the flag to accordion itself on a muslin sling. Camille and Pamela then carried the sling over to where clean muslin was laid out onto the floor and gently unfurled the flag. It became immediately apparent that the flag has retained more of the vibrancy of the original dyes on the reverse, though it is unknown whether this occurred while in the case or in the roughly twenty years between its creation and subsequent installation at the library.