An award this year from the Friends of the Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters, a National Historic Site, meant that the staff at Museum Textile Services have gotten intimately acquainted with a dress so central to this Cambridge, Massachusetts, mansion that it was worn by several generations of occupants over the span of a century. Made of bright yellow silk in pristine condition, the dress is adorned with black velvet and fragile lace trim over deteriorating layers of cotton bobbinet. During the textile conservation treatment, we took the opportunity to learn more about this dress in the Spanish style.
Certain elements of Spanish dress were well known enough to be co-opted for formal dress in France, England, and America. An 1855 Godey's story describes a hostess choosing a "fancy costume...of a Spanish lady"--the same description that Fanny herself uses. Ardern Holt's 1887 book Fancy dresses described; or, What to wear at fancy balls gives a number of Spanish-styled outfits, and a common theme--besides the high comb and the mantilla—is the use of black trim and lace, paired with a bold color. That Fanny favored this aesthetic is suggested by an 1834 portrait of her with a black lace mantilla against a red figured velvet.
The over-arching category of "Spanish Lady" costume, according to Holt, featured a "short satin skirt (white, red, yellow, or rose) with black lace flounces headed by bands of velvet or gold; low bodice of the same...high comb; lace mantilla fastened over it with red and yellow roses." An 1895 glass plate photograph of Fanny's youngest daughter Anne Allegra Longfellow (1855–1934) shows Anne wearing the dress we are conserving and matching this description almost perfectly, down to the mantilla and comb.
Further confusing the dating of this dress are additional images from the 20th century, one a painting and another a set of photographs. Around 1940, a portrait was made by American painter Marguerite Stuber Pearson of a young woman in the Longfellow parlor. Her hairstyle and face are strikingly similar to pictures of Fanny Appleton, who died nearly a century earlier in 1861, at the young age of 44. The Spanish dress has undergone some alterations since the glass plate image from the 1890s. Three tiers of black Chantilly lace can clearly be seen covering the stark white bobbinet on the skirt, as well as on the sleeves. Other additions we found, such as a pair of Naiad Dress Shields in the underarms, suggest the dress was also worn in the 1910s or 20s when that company was at the height of its popularity. Perhaps for a celebration of the centennial of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birth in 1907?
So could this be the same dress Fanny writes about in her 1839 letter? The evidence points to no. Judging from its silhouette and construction, this dress dates to the middle of the 19th century, probably between 1855 and 60. It has a three-tiered skirt, characteristic of the mid 1850s, and box-pleats, which experienced a renaissance around 1860. The deep bodice point and wider sleeves also grew more popular at the end of the 1850s. The 120” diameter hem was stiffened with a ring of plaited wood, possibly hickory, implying that it was made before the hoop crinoline came into popular use in the 1860s. Could Fanny have worn the dress before her untimely death in 1861? The answer is yes. In all likelihood, she admired the Spanish style enough to have more than one sumptuous dress of black and yellow in her lifetime.
Stay tuned for additional MTS Blogs about the dress's most striking feature—its bright yellow silk.
It's that time of year again! Fall is here and we are looking back on all of the exciting and amazing things that took place at Museum Textile Services over the course of the last year. This issue of our annual magazine is 50 pages long and has more features than ever, including tips and links.
Thank you for making this year the most diverse and fulfilling in our 19-year history!
Camille, Morgan, and Leah
The Coptic Period in Egypt refers to the centuries between the time of the Pharaohs and the Muslim rulers (roughly the 3rd through 7th centuries C.E.). Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E. bringing new technologies to Egypt including tapestry weaving, new types of looms, better breeds of sheep, and classical iconography. There was not only a shift in leadership in this period, but also a shift in religion. Egypt was converted to Christianity in the first century A.C.E. All of these developments influenced the imagery woven into their textiles.
Based on the iconography of the Bates College Coptic collection, scholars have suggested that they are among the large numbers of artifacts excavated by Albert Gayet (1856-1916). Gayet began excavating at the Coptic necropolis in Antinoé (modern day Antinopolis) beginning in 1896. He brought his discoveries to France where he sold them to collectors. The Bates College Coptic textile collection was acquired by Hartley through Dikran Kelekian, a well known collector and dealer. Kelekian and his son Charles sold batches of Coptic textiles to museums, colleges, and artists around the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wheaton College. (The Wheaton College collection of Coptic textiles was conserved by Museum Textile Services in 2006.) Many of Kelekian's Coptic textiles were reassembled with adhesive and sandwiched between small pieces of glass taped at the edges before being sold.
Thanks to the foresight of Marsden Hartley, these twenty-three textiles are cherished by the Bates College Museum of Art, who is proud to continue exhibiting them in their newly conserved state.
One of the most anticipated projects to take place at Museum Textile Services in 2018 was the conservation of twenty-three archaeological Coptic textile fragments from the collection of the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine. Originating from Antinoé, Egypt, these 1500-year-old textiles once belonged to the artist Marsden Hartley, who was inspired by their design and colors. MTS director Camille Myers Breeze first assessed the collection in 2006 and treatment was finally realized thanks to the persistence of museum curator Bill Lowe and a generous grant from the Coby Foundation.
Nine of the textiles were categorized as medium intervention. They were characterized by a large amount of adhesive reside on the reverse and moderate soiling. Seven of these textiles needed to be moistened with deionized water to soften the adhesive and allow it to be reduced mechanically with a micro spatula and tweezers. All of the textiles were then flushed with deionized water on the suction table.
Four textiles were categorized as high intervention, three of which were adhered to linen backings. After adhesive reduction and suction cleaning, all four fragments needed to be hand stitched down to a new backing fabric to preserve their structural integrity. One of the textiles was reunited with its earlier wool backing fabric, stitched to new cotton fabric, and also overlaid with net. Three textiles were found to be weak enough that we opted to overlay them with sheer nylon net to prevent against fiber loss and minimize the amount of stitching we needed to take through the remaining adhesive deposits.
An inherent part of the stabilization plan are the individual mounting boards Museum Textile Services constructed for each textile. Made of acid-free eight-ply mat board, each board was covered in grey cotton poplin adhered on the reverse with BEVA film. The ten low-intervention textiles sit passively on their boards with no mounting stitching, leaving both sides available for future study. The nine medium intervention textiles were sufficiently weak that they needed to be hand stitched to their fabric-covered mounting boards. After the four high intervention textiles were lined with new cotton, they were also hand sewn to individual fabric-covered mounting boards.
In the next installment of this blog we will go into the history of Coptic textiles, the controversial archaeologist who excavated tens of thousands of fragments, and how they came to be disseminated across the United States, particularly in college and university collections. Until then, enjoy this slide show of the entire Bates College Coptic collection after we completed conservation and mounting.
In Part 1 of this blog, Museum Textile Services Director Camille Myers Breeze shared her experience attending the opening of Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863) at the American Folk Art Museum. In this episode, we go into detail about the conservation procedures undertaken to prepare twenty early-19th-century painted textiles for exhibition.
The opportunity to address damage to twenty of the twenty-one most fragile textiles came about in 2018 when the entire collection was requested by the American Folk Art Museum for their comprehensive exhibit of watercolors, pen and ink drawings, prints, and classroom charts that Hitchcock created between 1810 and the 1840s. All were humidified and pressed where needed to reduce folds and wrinkles. Two textiles needed no further treatment and were repacked after humidification.
Five textiles had substantial holes or tears requiring full backings to enable exhibition. The lining material we found most compatible is Holytex, a nonwoven polyester that is light-weight, stable, and resembles the classroom charts in its slightly papery behavior. 1 mil BEVA film was ironed to the Holytex using a Rowenta Steam and Press iron set to 65 degrees Celsius. Higher heat caused the Holytex to curl and pucker, so we used additional pressure with the iron to achieve a good bond. The textile was first placed face down on an ironing surface. The adhesive side of the Holytex was placed over the textile and minimally tacked with a D&K tacking iron set to 50 degrees Celsius. The textile was flipped face up and ironed again from the front side, through a piece of silicone-release film. Excess Holytex was carefully trimmed from the perimeter of the textiles with small scissors.
The final stage of conservation was to advise the American Folk Art Museum on safe methods of display. From the very beginning, they expressed excitement about the potential of neodymium, or rare-earth magnets, the use of which we have been developing at Museum Textile Services over the past few years. After discussing ways of camouflaging magnets with paint or fabric, the museum came up with the perfect solution. Pairs of tiny silver-colored magnets were used in plain sight, blending in with the modern support systems of clear acrylic and black fabric-covered boards.
At the conclusion of this conservation project, Museum Textile Services conservators had spent ninety-four hours assessing, testing, cleaning, humidifying, and stabilizing twenty of the sixty-one known classroom charts made by Orra White Hitchcock. To see them on display, visit the American Folk Art Museum before the exhibit closes on October 14, 2018.
On Monday, June 11th, 2018, Museum Textile Services director and chief conservator Camille Myers Breeze attended the opening of the long-awaited new exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum called Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863). Curated by the museum's acting executive director as well as deputy director for curatorial affairs and chief curator Stacy Hollander, the exhibit unites nearly all of Orra White Hitchcock's cotton classroom charts along with manuscripts, botanical and zoological samples, and fossils.
Edward was not afraid to engage his students in geological controversies, such as the origin of the great sand and gravel deposits found throughout New England. While some believed they were caused by a Biblical-style flood, others argued they resulted from the movement of glacier ice. Likewise, Orra’s depictions of megafauna like mastodon and ichtheosaurus clearly acknowledge that prehistoric animals differed from those known in her time. The couple were openly supporting a belief that the earth is dynamic and changing years before the 1839 publication of Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and On the Origin of Species (1859).
Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863) will be at the American Folk Art Museum through October 14, 2018. In Part II of this blog, we will go into the conservation treatments undertaken by Museum Textile Services to prepare the classroom charts for display.
According to author Carl L. Bankston III, "Social scientists estimate that there are between six and seven million Hmong in the world. Until recently, almost all Hmong lived in the mountains of southern China, Laos, Thailand, and northern Vietnam. Chinese oppression during the nineteenth century and the rise of communism in Vietnam following World War II pushed many Hmong into Laos, where about 300,000 Hmong lived peacefully during the 1960s. After the royal Laotian government was overthrown by Communist forces in 1975, about one-third of the Laotian Hmong were killed, another third fled to Thailand, and the remaining third stayed in Laos. Many of those who took refuge in Thailand found homes in France, Australia, or the United States. Overall, about 95,000 Hmong have settled in the United States.
In addition to researching the fascinating history of Hmong culture, I also spot tested the textile for soiling and bleeding of colors, luckily with few results. I then made a custom fabric covered board, and archivally mounted the textile by sewing it to the board using a blind stitch. I then framed it behind glass, using spacers to prevent the textile from touching the glass.
The Hmong textiles that I researched and worked on from the Museum Textile Services study collection are only the tip of the iceberg in an amazing array of things that I am learning as an MTS intern. I’m grateful for the chance to research and conserve something that spoke to me, and to be able to share this knowledge with others through the MTS Blog.
On May 11th, 2018, Museum Textile Services conservators attended the long-anticipated opening of the exhibit "Leisure Pursuits" at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts. Part of the 100-plus special places in Massachusetts overseen by the Trustees of Reservations, Fruitlands hosted this display of clothing and textiles from several Trustees locations. This show is one of eight MassFashion exhibits in 2018, all of which showcase the different facets of fashion and how it connects to the modern day individual and history.
The largest group of dresses worn by a single woman belonged to Helen Stevens Coolidge, descendant of one of the founding families of Andover. The country house she lived in with her husband John, the Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, is one of the finest Colonial Revival estates in the northeast, with many acres of farmland and gardens to explore around the mansion. John Coolidge was the great, great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and a nephew of Isabella Stewart Gardner. This status is reflected in Helen's wardrobe, which contained both day-to-day essentials like lawn dresses, and elegant evening gowns by Paris fashion house Worth. Senior Curator Christie Jackson spent over two years researching the vast collections found throughout the Trustees 16 historic houses. After researching Worth gowns, Christie dated Helen's two dresses to c 1895. She later discovered that Helen and John Coolidge met in Paris in 1895, which begs the question whether it was one of these dresses that caught John's eye.
The Trustees commissioned Museum Textile Services to build custom archival manikins for their two Worth gowns. This provided yet another opportunity for our Andover Figures® system to be an affordable solution to safely display even ornate, heavy costume. Starting with our basic Ethafoam core, we used additional Ethafoam, polyester batting, and nylon tulle to create individual silhouettes for the two slightly different dresses seen above.
Take a trip out to beautiful Harvard, Massachusetts, to see "Leisure Pursuits" at the Fruitlands Museum through March 24, 2019.
Museum Textile Services Director Camille Myers Breeze has been chosen as one of the five instructors participating in the inaugural season of a new collections care program at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. The Center for Collections Care uses two campus museums--the Logan Museum of Anthropology and the Wright Museum of Art--which feature a vibrant archive, and historic costume and natural history collections. According to a 2018 external review, “Beloit College is a recognized leader in the academic field of Museum Studies,” and “… one of the greatest strengths of the Museum Studies Program curriculum at Beloit is its emphasis on experiential, hands-on learning and practice.”
The Center for Collections Care at Beloit College provides important training for all current and emerging museum collections professionals. To register for Introduction to Textile Conservation or any of this summer's programs, visit the Beloit College website: www.beloit.edu/ccc.
Four trapunto quilts arrived at Museum Textile Services this winter for conservation. Three belong to Hammond-Harwood House of Annapolis, MD, and a fourth is being donated to the New England Quilt Museum, in Lowell, MA. These wonderful examples beautifully showcase this historic style of quilting that was popular in America in the mid-nineteenth century. The quilts varied in condition, but were all treated in a similar way and exhibit a wide spectrum of this style of whitework.
Similar to other textile art such as mourning pictures, images quilted in these such as urns, cornucopias and flowers hold symbolic meaning and can tell a story. Traditionally, the threads would be moved aside with a needle from the back of the quilt and tiny amounts of stuffing or cording was pushed into the voids made by the quilting pattern. This created a raised effect that was beautiful, yet subtle. Once an area was stuffed to satisfaction, the threads at the back that had been moved aside are again worked back together to make the entry area invisible. One of the Hammond-Harwood House trapunto quilts has a more delicate backing fabric, which allowed it to be more easily stuffed.
This style of quilting is believed to have originated in Sicicly in the the 14th century, and continued to be popular across Italy and Europe through the 18th century. Immigrants brought the technique to America with them and it enjoyed popularity from the early 19th century, peaking mid-century. It became less common by the 20th century, as it was so time consuming and the country was being vastly changed by the industrial revolution. The trapunto quilt belonging to a private collector is a fine example of one made in America in 1823 and prominently has the name “Elizabeth North” across the top, possibly having been made for her as a wedding gift. It also features two urns of flowers and an overflowing cornucopia of flowers.
Cleaning discolored textiles is always rewarding, and restoring the legibility of these three-dimensional trapunto quilts is no exception. Viewers will enjoy seeing the results of conservation when the quilts are exhibited in their museums.
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