Museum Textile Services recently conserved a valance made by author, artist, and lay preacher Sarah Elizabeth (Harper) Monmouth (1829-1887), whose name is synonymous among Canterbury, New Hampshire, historians with the phenomenon of the “Worsted Church.” One of literally dozens of decorative textiles made by Monmouth between 1871 and 1879, this eight-foot-long valence is composed of brushed cotton twill flannel and paper cut outs from printed wallpaper. The effect from just one of these textiles is a bit dizzying and confusing to the eye, so an entire church full of Monmouth's textiles must have been a true Victorian work of art.
The valance was lightly pressed with a warm iron through muslin on the front, and through damp muslin on the back, in an attempt to correct planar distortions and paper folds. The lightest creases released easily, while deep creases around the worst tide-lines had a strong memory. It was while pressing the valance that we detected an odor of urine, so we decided to fumigated the valance with Chlorine Dioxide to reduce the smell.
After fumigation, the worst areas of lifting paper were readhered back to the canvas using BEVA 371 film. A strip of BEVA was placed behind the area that needed to be readhered, and the shape of the wallpaper cutout was carefully traced onto the paper backing of the adhesive film. The custom-cut adhesive shape was then tacked to the underside of the wallpaper, and finally adhered to the cotton fabric using a tacking iron at low heat. The final treatment was to repair several holes in the white fabric with cotton underlays and nylon net overlays. After conservation, the valance was rolled on an archival storage tube.
We were very excited to have the opportunity to conserve this truly unique object. It was a joy to learn more about Sarah E. Monmouth, who is an inspiration to anyone who has ever found solace and healing in the art of handicrafts.