On December 4th, 2017, Camille, Morgan, Courtney and Gretta traveled to Annapolis, MD, to spend the week at the United State Naval Academy Museum. Our work took place in Mahan Hall, which is home to 41 cases of trophy flags captured by the US Navy dating from as early as the War of 1812. The collection was restored in its entirety in 1912-1913 by Amelia Fowler and her team of 50 women, which is the only reason it was stable enough to withstand more than 100 years of continuous display in less-than-ideal conditions. The big question prior to beginning work was the number of flags in the five cases we were there to work on. Sixteen flags were visible in the front of the cases, however we suspected there might be an additional forty-five flags from a 1913 exhibit still hanging behind the visible flags.
As soon as the arch was tipped forward, we could see that there was indeed a second layer of flags hanging on the back of the case. As expected, we found ten Spanish flags put on display in 1913, which had been hidden from public view since around 1920. Our scope of work for the week immediately switched to Plan B: deinstall only as many flags as we could safely document, surface clean, pack, and transport to the museum's storage facility during the course of the week.
It took 8 people, including two midshipmen and a professor, to lift the flag on its wooden arch out of the case and over the brass railing to clean plastic on the floor. The tacks were removed from the perimeter and the wood lifted off of the flag. Even without the wood frame, the flag weighed approximately 200 pounds with all of the linen support fabric and ropes attached by Mrs. Fowler in 1913. Measuring 24 by 29 feet, it is also by far the largest flag ever treated by Museum Textile Services. The picture below shows only one third of the flag, with the crest in its center. Camille, Gretta and Courtney finished vacuuming and rolling of the Royal Standard Friday afternoon, which was a timely pinnacle to our trip.
By the end of the week, the combined team had deinstalled and relocated a total of 35 trophy flags from Mahan Hall to the adjacent museum building. We will be headed back to the Naval Academy in early 2018 to work on the final two cases in this phase of the project. We will also begin more in-depth conservation of certain flags chosen by the museum for future exhibition. Stay tuned for more blogs about the 1913 restoration of the trophy flag collection, as well as our research and treatments.
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