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 Camille Myers Breeze
Our 18-month-long project to conserve the Abraham Sacrificing Isaac tapestry culminated in its reinstallation last week at St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island.
With the help of school staff, the tapestry was easily installed in under 30 minutes. This left plenty of time for a trip to the archives, where a historic garment awaited assessment. Worn by the school's founder, Father John Hugh Diman,
this fur-lined wool overcoat is part of school legend. Father Diman would take the train from Providence to Newport, Rhode Island, every week year round, and wrote that he could not have made the walk to St. George's School in winter without his trusty fur coat. Inside the coat is a large breast pocket ample enough to accommodate a bible.
The St George's School archives also has a collection of sports memorabilia, including jerseys, football pants, sweaters, jackets, cleats, footballs, soccer balls, and baseballs. Painted on many of the balls are the dates of victories and the opponent's name. It turns out that the arch rival of St George's School is Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts. Just this year an Olympic hockey uniform belonging to Middlesex School was conserved at MTS.
At the end of the day, I gave a public presentation about the conservation of the Abraham Sacrificing Isaac tapestry. In attendance was Chad Loebs, the grandson of the tapestry's donor, and benefactor of the tapestry conservation project. Mr. Loebs descends from the Safe family, who owned the mansion where the tapestry hung, Ocean Lawn, until 1946.
Also among the crowd who came to celebrate the unveiling of the newly conserved tapestry was the son of the chapel's benefactor, also named John Nicholas Brown. The grand- daughter of Elizabeth Parke Firestone, wife of the Harvey Firestone, Jr. and owner of Ocean Lawn from the 1950's to 1990, also introduced herself to me. Evidence of the hard work of the development department can be seen throughout the furnishings, buildings, and landscape at St. George's School, as well as in the strong relationship between the school and its generous alumni.
You can also see more photos from this project on the Museum Textile Services Facebook page. While you're there, please "Like" us!
by Courtney Jason
2012 has brought an unusual increase in religious artifacts arriving at Museum Textile Services, in particular Jewish textiles. These revered objects are used and preserved by families and many have traveled thousands of miles over the course of their life span.
A tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl, made almost exclusively of white or cream-colored silk with purple stripes. At the four corners are fringes, or tzitzit, the purpose of which is to remind the wearer of the laws of God. The tallit we recently treated also bears an embroidered panel on the atara, or collar, containing the prayer that is to be recited before putting on the shawl: “Blessed are you, God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves with the fringed garment.”
This tallit is in good condition with the exception of the purple stripes, which are shattering due to the combination of poor dye chemistry and UV-light exposure. We vacuumed it to remove any particulate matter, then humidified the folds that had set in from storage. Once treatment was complete, we hand-stitched the tallit to a muslin-covered mount, sewing around the perimeter and along the fringe line. We then pressure mounted the tallit in an UV-filtering acrylic box. Pressure mounting is the ideal treatment for this textile because it provides overall support to the fragile, shattered silk and eliminates the need for an adhesive lining or extensive repair stitching.
The family what owns this tallit also brought two tefillin when they emigrated from Russia around the turn of the 20th century. Consisting of two small leather boxes on leather straps, one tefillin is attached to the head and the other to the arm. The leather boxes each contain the same four passages from the Torah, with all four passages written on one scroll and placed in a box with a single compartment on the armpiece, and each passage getting its own scroll and compartment in the head piece.
The leather boxes are painted black, as is one side of the leather straps that connect the boxes. In treating the tefillin, we consolidated the black lacquer on the boxes, which had started to come up in places, as well as the paint on the straps. The tefillin was then mounted on a padded board covered in cotton, and secured into an UV filtering acrylic box. Both the tallit and tefillin were given to the owner's son, who has just been appointed Rabbi of a large synagogue in New York.
Upon the client's request, we enlarged the chuppah by adding silk fabric to all four sides so that it now measures 6 feet square. After the wedding, the chuppah will be returned for additional treatment. We will remove the silk additions and return them to the family for a future craft project. A new Velcro hanging system will then be attached to allow the original chuppah to hang safely in the owner's home once again.
Chuppah after conservation.
It has been a pleasure working with these families to ensure their textile heritage remains for generations to come