Cataloging and documenting the objects, clothing, and personal effects in the military collection of Max W. Krell feels a bit like getting to know the man himself, which is a pleasure for everyone at MTS. Born on September 13th, 1922, Krell rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant before the end of World War II. He and his wife Phyllis J. Krell raised a family in Kingsport, TN. Following Phyllis' death, he spent his final years in Charlevoix, MI.
1st Lieutenant Krell's collection consists of thirteen uniform pieces and a metal box containing dozens of items belonging to Max and his wife. These include numerous military pins and rank badges, an emergency signaling mirror and time-distance computer, Dutch biscuit tins, and more personal items including a pocket watch, a lady’s watch and a man’s gold ring. The items Krell chose to save give us a personalized history of one man's military service and participation in the amazing events of 'Operation Manna,' also known as the 'Chowhound Mission' during the war.
While Max Krell's collection of clothing and personal effects shows the diligence and orderliness that military men and women are often famous for, MTS is eager to improve the condition and storage of these items up to conservation levels. By doing so we will help preserve them so the coming generations can enjoy getting to know Max Krell and his military and humanitarian efforts in World War II.
By Josephine Johnson
With all of the press about the recent blockbuster movie The Monuments Men, directed, written, and produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, imagine our surprise when we learned that there is a hooked rug in the Museum Textile Services study collection made by a monuments man!
In 2012, Victoria Blair-Smith brought a beautiful green velvet dress belonging to her mother to be conserved at MTS. The blog about the project, called Portrait of a Lady, discusses the dress's owner, Carla Meeks, née Marie Caroline Silvester, and her husband Carroll L. V. Meeks (Yale class of 1928), who taught architectural history at Yale University. The hooked rug above was made for the couple, who married in 1934, by Yale colleague Theodore "Tubby" Sizer.
Thanks to documentation recently sent to us by Blair-Smith, we learned that Theodore Sizer was the first chief of operations for the Monuments Men in Germany in 1944. Back home, Sizer pursued rug hooking as therapy for the head injury he acquired during the war. Carol Meeks' love for trains is clear in this rug, and Sizer included much personal information, including birth and graduation dates, along with the year of the couple's betrothal. If you look closely in the above photo of Sizer, you can see an oval hooked rug of a fish with the date 1951 on it behind him.
That is not the only connection between Museum Textile Services and the Monuments Men. The inspiration for George Clooney's character Frank Stokes was a well-known art conservator from Harvard Art Museums, George Stout. Stout spent many years in Europe and Japan rescuing artwork jeopardized by the war. Back at home, Stout was one of the founding members of the American Institute of Conservation, our primary membership organization. Stout was also a major proponent of creating formalized training programs for art conservation.
by Cara Jordan
This is a follow up to one of the items we discussed in our October 7, 2013 blog, Mold Before & After.
A plastic suitcase filled with uniforms belonging to WWII Marine Veteran John E. Holland, Jr. arrived at Museum Textile Services in spring, 2013. The owners were distraught that the suitcase had inadvertantly been stored in a damp basement, leading to the dramatic condition of the items inside.
Holland's three-piece baseball uniform was vacuumed, fumigated in a chlorine dioxide chamber, and wetcleaned to clean it and kill the mold spores. The jersey and pants are made of grayish wool with red piping along the sleeves, neck, and front closure. All that remains of the team name is a single “I” in the center of the closure, along with a coordinating red button. The owners believed that Holland had played minor league baseball for a New York affiliated team. A quick search on www.baseball-reference.com for New York affiliate teams with the letter “I” in the name was inconclusive.
I noticed that quite a few fragments of red fabric and thread remained on the front of the jersey where the lettering had once been. So I put the jersey on a light table to see if any of the machined stitch holes that once attached the letters remained, but we were thwarted. Next I printed some digital photographs and highlighted the red remnants on the image. When I "connected the dots,” I was able to make out an “E” and “R.” The other letters were less forth-coming and the team name remained a mystery. I put the images aside for a few days later we took another go at it. Soon I was able to decipher a possible “A” and “N,” giving me "_ A? R I N? E _." Then it dawned on me: this wasn’t a minor league jersey at all! It was a MARINES baseball jersey.
According to Wikipedia, US Armed Forces baseball dates back as far as the Civil War. More recently, military baseball was used as a recruiting tool to attract personnel and improve morale among the troups. Military baseball was at it’s apex during John Holland Jr.’s time, with big leaguers like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio playing on service teams. I suspect that Holland played ball for the Marines team during his time with them in WWII and then reused the jersey after his discharge.The mystery of the moldy jersey had been solved!
Although mold isn't a conservator's favorite thing to deal with, this project has been rewarding on many levels.
By Camille Myers Breeze
The response to our last blog, Battling Mold Outbreaks, was so good that we decided to show you more dramatic images of mold before and after conservation.
If you recall, the collection of John E. Holland Jr's WWII-era Military and baseball uniforms was stored in a plastic suitcase and had been exposed to moisture for a prolongued period of time. Consequently, a wide variety of mold species of different colors and textures had fluorished within the confined space.
The cotton items fared worse than the wool. The acidic conditions caused more rips and general deterioration in the naturally basic cotton. Stains, like those remaining on this hat, remained even after fumigation, vcuuming, and wetcleaning.
The baseball uniformhad both wool flannel and cotton catcher's pads. After fumigation and vacuuming, the wool uniform was conservation drycleaned, which greatly improved its appearance. We are now challenged with trying to decifer what team name was once stitched to the front of the jersey (it was not uncommon for the minor leagues to recycle older uniforms.) Only the "I" was left on the button placket, which is clearly visible in the above photo.
The catcher's pads were fumigated and vacuumed prior to wetcleaning. When dry, the pads were sandwiched in off-white nylon net to allow them to be safely handled without losing stuffing out of the many small holes caused by acidic degradation.
Arguably the most important single piece in the collection was Staff Sargeant Holland's dress uniform jacket in which he is pictured in his WWII photograph. Parts of the jacket, such as the badges on his left sleeve, were in pristine condition apart from the mold. Other areas, including the buttons and collar studs, had suffered moisture damage as well.
After fumigation, vacuuming, and conservation drycleaning, the jacket once again reflects the bravery and dignity of a WWII US Marine. Some of the collar studs and other bars and insignia on the uniforms had to be removed prior to drycleaning, and are now in archival bags.
The twelve items once stored in the plastic suitcase are now rehoused in four archival storage boxes. The family of Staff Sergeant Holland can now expect these intimate reminders of their recently-deceased WWII Marine to live on for generations to come.
By Josephine Johnson
It's that time of year again when we start seeing a lot of moldy textiles around Museum Textiles Services. Mold spores are everywhere, all of the time, but it takes specific conditions for mold to bloom and become a problem. In 90% relative humidity and 90°F, it only takes three days for mold spores to flourish and bloom. As the humidity and temperature decrease, the time it takes for mold to bloom increases, so at 80% relative humidity and 80°F, it takes three weeks. At 70% relative humidity and 70°F, it may take up to three months for a mold problem to become apparent.
We get the most calls from clients with mold problems in September, because 70%/70°F conditions may persist for three months and still feel quite comfortable. Mold also favors areas with low air circulation, so textiles in attics, basements, and backs of closets are at high risk for bloom. Needless to say, mold outbreaks are also very common following disaster events, such as hurricanes, floods, and fires.
Most recently at Museum Textile Services, the culprit was a plastic suitcase that was discovered in a wet basement. The suitcase contained the World War II-era military and baseball uniforms of John Edward Holland, Jr., whose daughter recently inherited the suitcase. The collection consists of three hats, three jackets, two pairs of pants, and a baseball uniform. All of the objects were covered with a thick layer of multi-colored, furry mold. The patches and medals on Holland's uniforms tell us that he was a Staff Sergeant in the 3rd Marine Amphibious Battalion.
The first step to battling the mold was to vacuum the textiles. It was very important to protect ourselves from inhaling mold spores, so we suited up with gloves, aprons, and masks, and worked outside. The next step was to kill the mold spores to minimize the chance of future outbreaks and to remove the human health hazard. To do this, we created a sealed fumigation chamber and exposed the items overnight to chlorine dioxide vapor. This treatment kills the mold spores and has also been shown to discourage future mold growth. When circumstances prevent vacuuming items first, we begin with the fumigation process.
Mold can be destructive: eating holes in fabric, weakening fibers, and leaving behind permanent stains. The wet and pestilent conditions in which this uniform collection was stored were so severe that the cotton threads holding the seams of one of the jackets together disintegrated, leaving the panels of the wool jacket largely intact. Cotton textiles in general are less likely than wool to survive conditions in which mold flourishes. This is because dirty, wet, and decaying conditions are usually acidic, and naturally acidic protein fibers such as wool will tolerate acid better than naturally basic plant fibers like cotton.
If you believe your historical or artistic collections have a mold problem, contact a conservator immediately. Do not use Lysol or other disinfecting chemicals on the items, or place old and fragile textiles in the sun to kill the mold. These actions may cause more harm than good. A conservator will walk you through the steps to safely dry and pack your items. You may be instructed how to carefully vacuum the textiles and surrounding areas to remove mold spores only if you are certain you can do so without damaging anything. If your items are already dry, you should quarantine them in zip-top or garbage bags before bringing them to a conservator.
For moldy modern clothing and textiles that are in good condition, you can take them to a dry cleaners for their professional opinion.
By Camille Myers Breeze
One of the most challenging flags that we conserved for the General George Patton Museum of Leadership is Patton's Western Task Force flag. The hoist binding is covered with signatures of the General and his men, whose victorious attack against Nazi forces in North Africa Allies concluded on November 18th, 1942. (Read Captured in Casablanca.)
From the front, the flag looks like all the others we have conserved. If you look at the back, however, you can also see all of the signatures on that side of the hoist. Here's how we accomplished the challenging task of making sure all of the men's names can be studied.
First, the flag was positioned on the panel and the location of the cut out was determined. A solid line was drawn on the aluminum in Sharpie marker. Holes were then drilled at the corners to allow the jig saw to pass through. Once the section was cut out, we the irregular and sharp edge were sanded with fine sand paper on a block.
The cut out was sealed with aluminum tape, which provided a solid wall inside the cut out. Thin archival padding was then double-stick taped to the inside wall. A finished edge to the cutout essential, so we ironed 3-mil BEVA film to strips of mounting fabric to make them heat sensitive. The strips were then ironed on to the panel.
Like all flag mounts, this one was covered with 1/4-inch archival polyfelt. The padding was then voided to match the cut out. The panel was covered as usual with khaki cotton fabric, which also needed to be voided. When this was complete, the flag was positioned on the mount and pinned in place. The flag was hand stitched to the panel along the hoist binding first to insure perfect alignment. The cut out was eventually covered with Melinex, attached with double-stick tape, to prevent the flag from being touched.
The signatures on the underside of the flag hoist are now visible, however the security guards in the Patton Museum will probably get upset if everyone squats on the floor and tries to crawl behind the brackets that hold each flag at a 45-degree angle. If you are a VIP scholar, however, all of the signatures are now accessible for study.
by Jen Nason
Museum Textile Services had the honor of working on a large WWII flag with a magnificent history. Hanging in our studio for several months was the first Nazi flag ever captured by US forces. It was captured in Axis-occupied Casablanca, Morocco, on November 11th, 1942, and given to American General George Patton for his birthday on the same date.
Apart from the movie Casablanca we had never before heard reference to the Nazi presence in North Africa, so we decided to take a history lesson. On November 8th, 1942, an attack, named Operation Torch, was initiated in French northern Africa. It was the first time that American and British forces jointly planned an invasion together.
There were three proposed points of attack: Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. Each location was allocated its own task force. Casablanca was under the Western Task Force, commanded by General George Patton; Oran was under the Central Task Force, and Algiers was under the Eastern Task Force. Each task force was met by Axis resistance, however, all succeeded in capturing the important cities of French northern Africa within a few days time. The Allies claimed victory on November 18th, 1942.
The Allied victory gave them the strength and confidence to stage other invasions in Axis Sicily and Italy in 1943. It was through these campaigns that gained the Allies even more confidence and strength. With their new and improved assets, the Allies went in on to defeat the Axis powers in 1945.
It has been amazing to have such an important and daunting piece of history here at Museum Textile Services. Numerous clients, and even our UPS delivery man, received the verbal warning before entering the studio that we were working on a potentially disturbing artifact. Some were conflicted and others downright awed, but all gained a new appreciation for the complicated role a conservator plays in protecting history.
Stay tuned for the next blog about the conservation techniques we developed especially for this flag.
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 Tegan Kehoe
This lovely sample of wartime-era yarn was recently donated to the Museum Textile Services study collection by Mig Ticehurst of Keswick, Cumbria, England. Ms Ticehurst emailed us about her old yarn, saying "It seems wrong to throw it away. Is it possible that it would be of interest to you?"
We love the slogan on the label of this yarn – “Reliable rayon for dainty garments.” Mig quipped that she had this on hand and unused because she’s:
“...not that keen on making ‘dainty garments'. As children, knitting was taught in school and we were all obliged to knit as part of the war effort. Our family thing was scarves for merchant seamen which were garter stitch and at the time seemed absolutely huge but probably were about two feet wide and about six feet long. I learned to knit and read by the time I was eight as it was the only way to do any reading. There was also a great deal of inventive making of things."
This pastel yarn is not just for baby clothes--any women who wanted to make “dainty garments” for themselves could afford rayon. The pattern below is probably from the 1940s or 50s-–note the milkshake glass in the woman’s hand! The pattern specifies Robin Perle, which is what’s in our little yarn stash. “Perle” describes any high-sheen, two-ply twisted yarn like this or mercerized cotton.
The company logo on our donated yarn indicates that it was manufactured in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Bradford has been a textile hub for centuries but became a boom town early on in the Industrial Revolution, achieving prominence as the “wool capital of the world” by the mid-nineteenth century. Products included mohair, alpaca, cotton, and silk textiles. By the early twentieth century, however, Bradford’s hold on the industry had begun to slip, so some companies stayed current by producing the new synthetics.
Rayon is still being modified and produced today, and it shows up more places than you might think. Stay tuned for the next two weeks for more blogs about rayon and some other remarkable 20th-century fibers that MTS has been conserving.
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.