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.
With Thanksgiving on our minds, we want to acknowledge all of the families, collectors, and individuals seek out conservation and advice for textiles and clothing deemed vulnerable—and valuable—enough to invest in preserving.
A four-piece uniform worn by William Raymond Brown of Winchenden, Massachusetts, came to MTS from his great-granddaughter Heather Brown. First Lieutenant Brown served with the 10th Engineers in France, where he was responsible for keeping the lumber mills running for the duration of the war. The uniform consists of a tunic jacket, jodhpur-style trousers, a brown leather belt with shoulder strap, and an officer’s service cap with leather brim. Brown’s ribbons and pins have been removed and are in the possession of his great granddaughter. Rather than trust her 100-year-old heirloom to a commercial dry cleaner, Heather Brown had Museum Textile Services clean it before framing.
While our name may suggest that most of the clients we work with at Museum Textile Services are institutions, this is actually not the case. Our favorite solutions are those that meet the clients’ needs while also meeting the needs of their heirlooms.
After testing to determine which archival adhesive would provide enough support for the shattered silk, thermoplastic, archival 1 mil BEVA film was chosen. 16 mm silk habotai was found to be the best substrate onto which to adhere the silk components because it has the same shine as the original and is easily dyed ecru with Jacquard acid dyes.
In Part II of this blog we will walk you through the conservation procedure, and show you the dress after reconstruction and mounting.
The ground textile is a hand-woven, weft-faced tapestry with white cotton warp. The center of the woven textile has fine red wool weft. Borders of tan cotton weft line the top and bottom, where the edges are rolled to the back and stitched. A blend of thick cotton and wool yarns are used to embroider the designs in satin and chain stitches. Dating the textile proved easy because of the extremely bright pink, blue, and green yarns used for the embroidery. These shades are recognizable as aniline dyes likely dating to the middle of the 20th century, more specifically the 1960s or 1970s. Figuring out what part of the world the textile comes from was much more difficult. The materials and technique of embroidery are quite universal, so we went with our gut instinct and started our search in the Middle East.
The colors and designs reminded us initially of Afghani war rugs that date to the 1960s and 70s. While the imagery is somewhat similar, the Afghani war rugs are much more detailed than the Wheaton College mystery textile. The figures have more articulated faces and the guns are much more detailed. The biggest difference between the two types of textiles is that the Afghani rugs are piled while the mystery textile is a flat weave with embroidery.
This textile was cleaned, stabilized, mounted, and framed so that it can be safely exhibited in the future. We hope that Wheaton College students can do more research in the future and uncover how and when this textile was brought into their collection
It's our favorite time of the year! The leaves are turning, the air conditioners are off, and the annual Museum Textile Services e-Magazine is ready to release.
Museum Textiles Services recently conserved a signature quilt that piqued our curiosity due to its lack of a date, place of origin, or occasion for which it was made. Using our research skills, we were able to answer two of these questions, and pose a theory for the third.
We determined date range for the quilt by dating the fabrics and the design, and then used historical information to confirm our hypothesis. Signature quilts became a favorite way of defining a community or family in the mid 19th-century and remained popular into the early 20th century. MTS Director Camille Myers Breeze states in her article Harvard signature quilts that by the 1840s quilts of all types were popularly made to commemorate events such as presidential elections, marriages, strong friendships, or fundraising efforts. Signature quilts get their name from the fact that they were inscribed with names, verses, poems, or important dates. Sometimes individuals made and inscribed their own block. Other times a single person made all or many of the quilt blocks and had different people sign each one. This quilt appears to have been inscribed by just one person, another common practice. We further narrowed the probable time frame during which this quilt was made to between the last quarter of the 19th century to the early 20th century using Eileen Jahnke Trestain's invaluable book Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide.
This signature quilt is a rare historic document listing many prominent Dublin families. Why these people are commemorated on this quilt still remains a mystery. Once the quilt is returned to New Hampshire, perhaps its origins will be revealed.
Museum Textile Services conserved three quilts from the Maine State Museum in summer, 2017, with another six on the docket for the fall. Part of a significant donation to the museum from a Maine family, the quilts cover over one hundred years of textile manufacturing and use. This project will result in several new quilts within the museum's already impressive exhibits.
We began by assessing the fabrics and construction of a coppery-brown four-poster bed quilt made of alternating blocks of nine-patch squares and solid printed fabric set on their corners. The fabrics vary in design and are not arranged in any complex pattern. The quilt is much used and it is possible that it was from older, worn-out clothing. A larger amount of yardage was needed to make the solid blocks and the binding which are all from the same fabric, and this was more likely bought for the intended purpose of this quilt. The quilt top, cotton batting, and solid tan backing are hand stitched together in a simple grid. All three layers are bound with the same fabric as the larger square blocks. Although the sewing machine would not arrive in New England homes until around the time of the Civil War, hand stitching remained common throughout the 19th century. The fact that this quilt is hand sewn, therefore, is not a great help in dating it.
Stay tuned for more blogs about the amazing quilts we are conserving for the Maine State Museum's upcoming exhibition schedule.
The Massachusetts Historical Society recently contracted Museum Textile Services to aid in the conservation of items for their upcoming fashion exhibit. Each of the textiles is associated with different historical figures that relate to the history of Massachusetts. This significance of an object often has a lot to do with the importance of the person who once owned it. Many are saved and passed on through generations largely because of their history of ownership. Of course, the importance of a historic object is often much more than just its previous ownership, especially if it has survived many years. Certain artifacts may have signatures and clues that alert us of previous owners; however, many items are considered historical due to a storied line of family history. Historians, appraisers, and conservators have developed expertise in the history and style of materials, allowing us to determine whether the date of the object is current to its proposed time period.
A blue-and-white “Gingham Square” with the initials “LD” hand-embroidered in the top left corner was chosen for the exhibit. We are lucky to have these initials, because they bring us closer to identifying the original owner of this object. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, this domestic textile once belonged to Lydia Dawes (1718-1760). Lydia Dawes is mostly known for being the mother of William Dawes, who was one of the men who alerted colonial minutemen of the approach of British Soldiers during the American Revolution. There are several clues when observing this object closely that help us to date it to the time of Lydia Dawes. The style of fabric is very characteristic of the 18th century, and “slugs” in the fibers (where the cotton thread thickens) help us to determine that it was hand spun.
The most complex conservation treatment we are undertaking for the exhibit is a hand-embroidered baptismal apron. According to catalog records, this apron once belonged to Mary Woodbury (1716-? ) from Essex, Massachusetts. Little is written about her online, however, the Massachusetts Historical Society also has a painting of “Pocahontas” that she supposedly made as a school girl in 1730. According textile expert, Pamela Parmal, samplers and other examples of fine embroidery completed by school girls were often kept throughout generations because they represented an investment in a young girl’s education. This particular style of apron is concurrent with other examples of embroidery from the mid-18th century, with its Indian influence seen in the exotic flowers and animals. Some of the motifs are exact copies of a nearly identical group of aprons in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston’s collection that came from the mid-18th-century Boston school of Mary Turfrey. We surmise, therefore, that Mary Woodbury was may have been her student.
A late-Victorian gown is also among the objects treated to date from the Massachusetts Historical Society. This particular gown was believed to have belonged to Rachael Hartwell (1868-1905). Rachael was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, and was a graduate of Wellesley College. She married her husband, George Joseph Pfeiffer, in 1896, and they spend many years traveling and living abroad. They later relocated to Arlington Massachusetts, and Rachael died during the birth of the couple’s only child, Hilda, in 1905. There is a lot of fine detailing in this dress, included a very intricate campaign of bead work. Based on our knowledge of style and materials of the dress, conservators can guess that this particular dress is from the early 1900’s, due to the distinct silhouette which is very characteristic of the dress and style from this time. Dating this dress to then would mean that it was worn towards the end of Rachael’s life. It was obviously a much loved garment, as three distinct campaigns of repairs were found during conservation treatment.
Stay tuned for another blog with more textiles we will treat this summer in preparation for the opening of the Massachusettes Historical Society's fashion exhibition.
On May 2, 2017, I traveled to Lima, Peru, to participate in a convocatorio, or gathering of archaeologists, conservators, textile historians, artisans, and other specialists who are affiliated with Huaca Malena. A ceremonial center located 100 km south of Lima in the town of Asia, Huaca Malena was in use for over 1000 years, including by the Incas as a cemetery prior to the Spanish conquest. Managed by the National Institute of Culture, the Municipal Museum of Huaca Malena was opened in 2001 as a repository for artifacts and mummy bundles salvaged from the surface after the nearby archaeological site was heavily looted in the 1990s.
Thanks to the Individual Professional Development Grant from the FAIC, I was able to participate in the convocatorio between May 3 and May 9. Unlike ten years ago, today I can point to examples of ideal or nearly-ideal solutions within Peru, rather than having to cite museums in New York or Berlin. Some of these examples are the new metal storage cabinets built in Ica for the Ica Museum, the mummy bundle rehousing project at the Museo de Sitio Arturo Jimenez Borja Puruchuco, funded by a grant from the US Embassy (and being presented at the AIC meeting in Chicago by Peruvian colleagues courtesy of the Latin American and Caribbean Scholarship Program), and several installations at the newly renovated Amano Museum in Lima.
The Museo Amano, Lima's only museum dedicated to textiles, was recently reopened following a complete refurbishment of the 1960s building. Head of visitor services and experienced conservator Doris Robles showed Camille and Angela Pacheco (textile conservator and former MTS intern) inside the drawers of this new storage/exhibition space.
On my first day working with the team, I began to strategize on two rehousing projects. Peruvian-French textile conservator Jessica Levy is writing about feathered objects from Huaca Malena, and we decided to construct a box for three of the most fragile examples. The tallest, which a recent trip to the Museo de Historia Natural confirmed is made of duck feathers, needs a storage/display board so it can be exhibited without being handled. I built one out of archival materials I sourced in Lima, as well as BEVA adhesive film donated by Hollinger Metal Edge and unbuffered acid-free tissue donated by University Products. The individual mounts tie closed and fit into a three-tiered storage box made of corrugated polypropylene.
The other rehousing challenge I faced was how to properly store oversized textiles such as tunics and women's dresses like those researcher Lena Bjerregaard of the University of Copenhagen will write about. Ideally, they would lie flat in an inert storage cabinet, however the Huaca Malena museum has neither the space nor the funds for this. Instead, I used plain cardboard tubes covered with a barrier of polyethylene sheeting and a layer of polyester batting. We laid the women’s dresses out onto strips of tissue placed over a sling of Notex (nonwoven polyester fabric used for airplane pillow cases), covered them with more tissue, and made a new accession tag. We then rolled the dresses up and covered them with an outer roll of tocuyu, or Peruvian muslin. I also built a custom box for the tubes using corrugated polypropylene and fashioned cradles for the ends of the tubes out of expanded polyethylene foam.
In partial fulfillment of my internship at Museum Textile Services, I recently cleaned, repaired, mounted, and framed three lace objects that were donated to the study collection from a single family. I was fortunate to be able to spend an afternoon learning about the history of lace, manufacturing techniques, and how to identify various forms of lace.
The first of the three objects I conserved was worn by the ancestor of the donor, who lived in Oberlin, OH, in the late 18th and early 20th centuries. The hand-made cotton collar and its matching cuffs were salvaged from a garment, which indicates its value to the owner. Known as Irish Crochet, this technique of lace was first produced in the 1840s using an extremely thin steel crochet hook. After MTS conservator Morgan Carbone wetcleaned the collar with Sodium Borohydride, I mounted it with hand stitching to a fabric-covered archival board. A vintage grain-painted frame was found in an appropriate size, which I cleaned and toned to hide a flaw. The lace was framed with acrylic spacers behind UV-filtering glass.
The second of the three objects I conserved is an example of Teneriffe lace that was likely picked up in South America during the donor’s travels in the 1960’s. According to Heather Toomer, Teneriffe or “Sol work,” is a Spanish craft with known examples from as early as the 17th century. We learned about Teneriffe lace in 2016 when a customer brought three pieces for us to conserve, which gave us the idea to mount and frame the piece in the MTS study collection. Again, Morgan Carbone wetcleaned the lace and I mounted and framed it in another vintage grain-painted frame.
The third lace object I worked on is was from the donor’s childhood, which was spent in India during the 1950’s. It came to us sewn to a piece of blue paper with a card reading “Rajahmundry Lutheran Lace Industry E. Godavari Dist., India pattern no. 33 L.M. 484.” After doing a bit of research on this label, I learned that Rajahmundry is a center of textile production on the Godavari river in the eastern Indian province of Andhra Pradesh. A 1922 bulletin found online tells us that Lutheran missionaries trained women who had converted to Christianity in the art of lace making. The hand-made lace included needle lace, pin lace, and crochet, like the example I worked on, and the profits of the industry were used to support a “home for unprotected women.”
The Indian lace was wetcleaned and soon it will be mounted to a fabric-covered board like the previous examples. In order to frame the card along with the lace, an acid-free mat will be placed around the lace with a cut-out for the card to sit in. The card will be mounted with small dots of archival adhesive. This piece of lace will be framed behind UV-filtering glass in a newly purchased frame and will be displayed in the Museum Textile Services studio.
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