Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beep, Beep! Car in the Studio!!

One never knows what one might find in the conservator's studio. Last month it happened to be a car. Yes, that's right. And as you might guess, it wasn't just any car. What rolled into Spicer Art Conservation was a 1910 Stoddard-Dayton limousine.

First, let's take a short detour into the history of this remarkable brand. The Stoddard-Dayton was a high-quality car manufactured by the Dayton (OH) Motor Car Company between 1905 and 1913. Three models were available in 1906, with the limousine being the largest and most expensive (it retailed for $3,200). Within five years, the company was offering an astounding twenty models with four different engines. Quality engineering, materials and manufacturing set this company apart from the expanding field of automobile manufacturers of the early 20th century. While most of Stoddard-Dayton models received between 15-18 coats of paint, the limousines typically featured 30 coats of paint, each coat sanded and rubbed by hand. Known for their dependability, all models were extensively road tested before delivery to the proud owner.

Is it any wonder Frank Lloyd Wright owned a 1908 Stoddard-Dayton Model K roadster?

1906 Stoddard-Dayton "Limousine of Luxury,"
from the archives of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

When faced with financial difficulties, Stoddard-Dayton was acquired by the United States Motor Company in 1912, and later by the Chrysler Corporation. Wikipedia notes,
Stoddard-Dayton was slow to react to the emergence of a mass market and maintained a high-quality strategy after automobiles ceased to be exclusively rich men's status symbols. They were building cars as good as possible while Ford and General Motors were building as cheap as possible.
The Stoddard-Dayton limousine that made its way to the studio is indeed special. It was built on speculation by the company and, therefore, only one of its type exists. Privately owned, it has many of the traditional elements commonly found in the carriage of a horse-drawn vehicle: leather upholstery, often tufted; brass and nickel appointments, such as light fixtures; and fabric pockets, hand loops or 'swing holders', window open pulls or 'sash holders' and slides often made of ivory or bone. The photos below illustrate how the interior design of a horse-drawn sleigh on the right is echoed thirty years later in the limousine's interior on the left. Continuing this interior design tradition makes some sense, after all, how much change can a person take?

Examples of two vehicle interiors; (left) The interior of the 1910 Stoddard-Dayton with leather tufted
 seats and squabs, wool broad-cloth covered walls and ceiling. (right) 'Booby Hut' 1880 sleigh, Long
Island Museum, (The Carriage Collection: The Museums at Stony Brook, 1986) 

Communicating with the driver was important, whether with a speaking tube or bell at the end of a cord and tassel. The the case of this limousine, a speaking tube was available. The tube was covered in wool broadcloth to match the interior's burgundy broadcloth lining fabric.

Detail of the interior door, showing all of the trim types, even with a fifty year span between examples they
followed the same tradition; (left) Stoddard-Dayton; Just present at the center top of the image is the metal
bracket for the sash holder (the lace or leather strip fastened in the bottom of the window frame used to open
and close the window) that would have fallen in front of the pocket; (right) 1860,  J. B. Brewster & amp;
Company, Circular-front coupe, at the center of the door is the sash holder with fringe.

(left) The Stoddard-Dayton's 'Swing holder' made of a wide coach lace, lined with wool broadcloth with a wooden
covered silk thread decorative element; (right) Coach lace patterns from c. 1880, the white upper center sample
is the same pattern as the Stoddard-Dayton (Ferrell, M. 1987. 'A Harmony of Parts' 19th Century American 
Carriages: Their manufacture, decoration and use).

The unusual aspect of this treatment is the amount of original textiles present that remain in good, but dirty and sooty condition. In addition, the owner was very interested in retaining as much of the original material as possible, while also wanting to be able to drive the car and accommodate passengers. It is a car, after all, that still runs.

All interior surfaces were cleaned by vacuuming and with dry soot sponges to remove residue, grime, and surface grease. Some textiles were also wet cleaned and dried. Deteriorated carpeting, window shades and tassels and the leather upholstery were all replaced as that they were too deteriorated for actual use.

Glossary

Coach laces: Narrow woven fabric used to finish edges, corners and seams. It is both ornamental and functional. They are divided into types. Broad lace – Wider woven and used in door panels, falls, handholds, and cushion sides. Woven with elaborate patterns.  (Narrower ones with abbreviated designs in coordinating colors.) Seaming lace – A narrow fabric with one selvage used to cover cords. (It is similar to piping) Pasting lace – They function as a binding on borders and edges.  Narrower then Broad lace, typically ½” wide with a tape of the same width. Binding – has one tape side; used on falls, pockets and lining.


Sash Holder: A lace or leather strip fastened in the bottom of the window frame. The loose end is finished off with a piece of fringe or other ornament. It is used to raise or lower the window. Also called a “glass frame lifter” or “glass slide


Slides: Ivory, bone or metal fixtures attached to the top edge of the door lining upon which the lace or cord moves.  It is used to lift the window in the doors; flat bolts having a notch in the end used to keep carriage windows in their places.


Squabs: A quilted or stuffed section used on sides and back panels of an enclosed or partially enclosed carriage. Also called “upper quarter panel”.

Swing Holders: Straps are used to assist the passengers with getting in and out of a vehicle as well as a sling-like armrest.

Tapes: An extended plain-weave section that is woven at either only one or both sides of the decorative lace element. It is folded under, and used as a tacking edge.

Resources


Stoddard-Dayton. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoddard-Dayton. Accessed June 30, 2018.

Stoddard-Dayton Company. http://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/stories3/stoddard_dayton_story.pdf.
Accessed June 30, 2018.

Comparison images are from publications by the Long Island Museum, formerly the Museums of Stoney Brook. Their collection of carriages is superb.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Tricolor in the canton of a Civil War National Color

It's Flag Day, June 14, and there is interesting history to go with an artifact being conserved this summer at Spicer Art Conservation. We going to be mounting an unusual Civil War National Color from the collection of the New York State Military Museum, soon to be going on loan for an exhibit in Germany.

On the obverse side of the flag are 34 embroidered stars in the grand luminary design in the canton. On the reverse side is a tricolor of black, red and gold, a German National flag (the black and red fields are comprised of solid pieces of fabric, while the bottom gold field is comprised of four ribbons stitched together horizontally.)

It is unusual to have another national flag in the canton of a US National flag. These were tumultuous times in Europe, with the widespread 'revolutions' of 1848, and the black-red-gold tricolor became the symbol of those advocating a German Republic. Following the disturbances, many Germans emigrated to the United States, and, having lost their bid to establish a republic at home, these immigrants became whole-hearted Americans, and some of them enlisted to preserve our Republic.

The reverse-side of the canton, a tricolor of
black, red and gold strips.
The four ribbon rows used to create the
yellow strip of the German flag.

"The large German-American population of the North was among the first to rally to the defense of the Union in 1861. In all, over 200,000 of these immigrant Americans would enlist in the Federal armies. Some of them were not only eager volunteers, but distinctly dressed as well. Two New York City German regiments, the 8th and the 20th Volunteer Infantry, wore uniforms reflecting the Germanic tradition of marksmanship and the use of rifles." (*Don Troiani's Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War (Stackpole Books 2002).

(Learn more at  the New York State Military Museum's webpage about the 8th Infantry https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/8thInf/8thInfMain.htm )

It may be a bit of a shock to some to recognize the tricolor in the US national flag canton to be the modern German flag--it looks like something from an editorial cartoonist's pen. This flag has a long history, and it has specific meaning. Wikipedia ("Flag_of_Germany") tells us that there have been two tricolors competing to be the German national flag: black-white-red (imperial colors) and the current black-red-gold (republican colors). The black-red-gold flag appeared first in 1778, and was prominent during and after the 1848 revolutions. It was proposed to be the flag of a constitutional monarchy for united Germany. Black-white-red was the imperial flag until the end of World War I. The black-red-gold flag again returned during the Weimar Republic, giving way to the imperial colors during the Nazi regime. Following World War II, the republican design was revived to represent Germany, what we referred to as 'West Germany' during the Cold War. During that time 'East Germany' included a field of 'socialist heraldry', the latter dropped upon reunification in 1990.

The grand luminary star pattern.

If you look carefully below the nylon net,
the star is embroidered as a circle with a
chain-stitch outline, with five-points.

The flag that SAC is treating was made for the 8th NY Volunteer infantry, a regiment composed of the German-Americans. The 8th was referred to as the 1st German Rifles, commanded by Ludwig Blenker. They were issued M1842 Muskets rather than rifles, but still chose to wear the green trim associated with rifle units. They were one of many Union regiments wearing gray in 1861.

After some brief searching and asking around, I have not yet been able to locate any other examples of a flag from a different nation being combined into the US flag for any of the other immigrant troops. There are examples of troops carrying a flag representative of their home nation along with a US flag, but nothing where the 2 flags are combined into 1 flag like this one is. We would be interested in learning more about such flags.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beware “Fake” Dust Masks and Respirators


As part of a FEMA team deployed to Puerto Rico, Gwen is volunteering her conservation expertise this spring to cultural institutions that continue their recovery from last fall’s devastating hurricanes. She and her colleagues use dust masks and N95 particulate respirators on a daily basis to protect themselves from a range of non-oil based airborne particulates, including mold.

In the warm and humid environment of Puerto Rico, mold grows quickly. In addition to the damage it causes to objects, textiles, and paper-based materials, it has the potential to cause health problems. Allergic reactions are common and can be immediate or delayed. Respiratory protection is essential and the safest, most reliable gear is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the United States federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.

The N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators and filters at least 95% of airborne particles but is not resistant to oil.

To their surprise, the team found that some of the dust masks in use are not approved by NIOSH. Rather, they are marketed as NISH-approved, which is not a legitimate designation.

Gwen urges you to check your dust masks and respirators to ensure they are N95 NIOSH approved and discard those that are not.

Resources

NIOSH is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can learn more about NIOSH at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/about/default.html

Respiratory Protection for Residents Reentering and/or Cleaning Homes that Were Flooded  https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/respiratory.html 

Training videos for respirators  (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/respiratoryprotection/training_videos.html 

Una Breve Guía para el Moho en el lugar de trabajo (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html 

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/respiratory.html 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Conserving the Details From a Poet's Life


Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1914

A conservator's work often entails dealing with art and artifacts that span the spectrum from the truly spectacular to the mundane. All need to be treated with the same respect no matter their type or provenance, and the conservator's training allows her to see and understand the importance of each and every item in her care.

Passing through the conservator's studio a couple of years ago were some everyday objects belonging to one of America's most respected and successful poets. Born in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up in a household with a strong, independent mother who took an intense interest in seeing her daughter exposed to a broad and liberal cultural education. Millay flourished in this environment, went on to graduate from Vassar College, and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and feminist activist. 

Millay spent the last twenty-five years of her life with her husband at their home, called Steepletop, in Austerlitz, NY. Today the house still holds all of her furniture, her books and other possessions, many of which remain where they were on the day she died in 1950. The site is maintained by the nonprofit Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. 

Steepletop as it appears today

Enter the conservator sixty-five years after Millay's death. Three items -- a pastel portrait of Millay, a lampshade, and a Do Not Disturb hotel sign -- were all in need of treatment. 

The large portrait (30 x 25 inches) had been executed in 1937 on a dense laminated board by illustrator and portrait painter Neysa McMein for McCall's magazine. Because of Steepletop's humid environment, mold was present, as was staining, on Millay's face and the background. Extensive dirt and debris were found when the frame was opened during initial examination. The goal of the treatment was to compensate for the mold damage and reframe the picture using archival materials. The backing board and matting were removed and discarded, mold residue was removed and the staining was in-painted with a similar type of medium. Reassembly required attaching the portrait to acid-free board with Japanese paper hinges, creating a new window mat of acid-free board, cleaning the frame and adding glass with ultraviolet filtering.

Before and after treatment of Edna's portrait.

The early 20th century lampshade consisted of six paper panels containing three alternating bird prints. Not only was the shade dirty from coal soot, the metal support at its top had separated from the paper and it had been repaired with tape. It appeared that a coating, possibly to imitate thin wood veneer, had been allied to the panels. Compounding the condition were losses at the edges of the shade and a 3-inch tear with smaller tears radiating out from it. The focus of the treatment was to secure the metal support and mend the tear with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Creases and paper distortions were reduced through humidification.

The most curious artifact of all was the circa 1927 paper sign reading "DO NOT DISTURB / THE COPLEY-PLAZA / BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS", which hung from the doorknob by a string. What would be an occasion that would cause someone to keep such a memento? It's interesting that Millay was in Boston along with other writers in August 1927 to protest the verdict of Sacco and Vanzetti and was arrested for her participation. Her prominence afforded her a meeting with the governor where she made the case of Sacco and Vanzetti's innocence. Could a simple hotel sign symbolize such an important event?

Before and after treatment of the sign

As often happens with ephemera, careless use or storage often get the better of it. The paper had separated into three pieces, there were tears around the string holes, and fragments of the sign had torn away. The cotton string was kinked, creased, knotted and dirty. After cleaning, the sign was reinforced with acid-free board for additional support and the tears were mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Losses were replaced by toned Japanese tissue and in-painted as necessary. Lastly, a support stand was created for the sign.





Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Successfully Mounting Barkcloth with Magnets

A few months ago I was fortunate to have a visit with Monique Pullan, a conservator of organic artifacts at the British Museum. I was interested in seeing how she was mounting a range of artifacts using a magnetic system, and I was especially curious to talk with her about mounting barkcloth, which has long been a challenging material to display safely.

First, what is Barkcloth?

"Barkcloth is a versatile material that was once common in Asia, Africa, Indonesia, and the Pacific. Barkcloth comes primarily from trees of the Moraceae family, including Broussonetia papyrifera, Artocarpus altilis, and Ficus natalensis. It is made by beating sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark of these trees into sheets, which are then finished into a variety of items. Many texts that mention "paper" clothing are actually referring to barkcloth."    -- Wikipedia, accessed February 24, 2018

Making barkcloth

Given the fibrous nature of the material and methods of fabrication, barkcloth is often characterized by creased surfaces, undulating edges and irregular sizes. It is used for clothing, for masks and various ritual objects, to support painted decoration and to mark sacred spaces. Write Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins, "... barkcloth formed a major vehicle for creativity, kinship, exchange, and the expression of political prestige. Everywhere these fabrics maintained and communicated the artists’ deep connections to ancestors and country." [1]

As you can imagine there are large collections of barkcloth in museums ranging in date from the early nineteenth century up to the present day. Also called Tapa cloth, they are important culturally, symbolically and historically, but are often collected for their sheer decorative appeal.

Mounting with Magnets

Barkcloth has long been a challenge to mount in museums due to its wide variety and difficulty of fitting it within standard mounting museum methods. For one, is it a textile or paper? Actually, neither of these fully describe the nature of this material. Conservators have in the past generally mounted barkcloth as though it was a textile, using Velcro, sleeves for rods, hinges or even Plexiglas clips in an attempt to find a suitable method to support these widely varied materials.

As one can imagine the possibilities of using magnets is now an increasingly viable option. What has become clear in researching magnetic systems for mounting barkcloth with magnets, however, is that few systems have been published. The few systems that have been published do not fully describe the system such that could be fully reproduced.

Part of the reason to visit Monique Pullman at the British Museum was to see she how she has mounted barkcloth in their collection. She showed me a method were she attached a 'magnetic' stainless steel sheet to a Tycore (honeycomb archival paper board) mount. The full mount was covered with flannel and display fabric (for information about 'magnetic' stainless steel see our recent post 'What is magnetized stainless steel?'). The fabric-covered, disc-shaped N42 grade magnets were positioned along the upper and side edges of the barkcloth, as shown below. The outer surface of the magnets were covered with toned Japanese tissue paper (more can be read about camouflage of magnets by reading 'How do I camouflage my magnets?').

Cross-section of the magnetic mounting system used by Monique Pullman and the British Museum (left);
Schematic showing the location of the individual disc-shaped magnets along the upper and side edges.

Monique Pullman's mock-up board for her
magnetic system for mounting Barkcloth.

This is only one of the many variations of magnetic mounting systems that have been used and that I have documented. A summary of all of the systems found at this time is that they are all 'point-fasteners', in essence where single individual magnets, either disc- or block-shaped, are used with a receiving metal.

In studying the magnetic systems used, I have been interested in the spacing and location of the individual magnets, the weight and thickness of the barkcloth, the grade, size and shape of the magnet, as well as the type and gauge of the receiving side metal or the ferromagnetic material, whether stainless steel or steel. All of these details are important to gather in order to replicate the mounting system or to even develop a possible 'rule of thumb' to mount an artifact as varied as barkcloth.

In my forthcoming book, Magnetic Mounting in Art Conservation and Museums, many magnetic mounting systems are illustrated to mount barkcloth and other types of collections -- with an attempt to present systems that can offer solutions to meet the variety of types of cloths that can be found in museums.

Notes
[1] Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins. Tapa: Barkcloth Paintings from the Pacific. Exhibition Catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. 2013.

Additional Resources
Kimberly Adams. World in Progress: Modern Bark cloth in Uganda. Deutsche Welle. (2016-01-27). 2016-01-28.

Margot M. Wright (ed.). Barkcloth: Aspects of preparation, use,deterioration, conservation and display, 96-111. London: Archetype Publications. 2007.
 
Peter Mesenhöller and Annemarie Stauffer (eds.).  Made in Oceana: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Social and Cultural Meanings and Presentation of Oceanic Tapa. 117-28. Newcastle on Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2014.

UNESCO. Bark Cloth Making in Uganda. 2005.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hands-on magnet experiments that look closely at particle size

One of my local museums, MiSci, in Schenectady, New York, is a popular hands-on science oriented museum. During my last visit, I was greatly surprised to find a small exhibit with strong magnets that tested the attraction of various iron particle sizes. The exhibit consisted of three vessels filled with liquid (see photo below); at the bottom of each vessel were particles of iron. Each of the three vessels held a different size of iron particles, starting with a "nano" size. Positioned near the vessel were two magnets on vertical sliding rods.

Three vessels with magnets on rods. Each vessel contained different sized
 particles of iron, yet the magnet near each vessel was the same size and strength. 

The purpose of the exhibit was to learn how the particles behave in the presence of the magnet. For the interest of conservation and understanding more about iron particles, this was a wonderful activity to see!

Below is the image of the iron particles that are considered "nano" size or 100 nanometers or 0.1 microns. In the presence of the magnet, the particles are all clustered together very near the magnetic field. As the magnet moves up the vessel the particles stay together following the magnet and traveling easily together in a tight group.



The image below shows a larger size particle, called "magnetite sand" at 1,500,000 nanometers. These particles followed the magnet as it moved up and down on the rod, but did not remain as a tight group. These particles are so small they have fewer magnetic regions that can align to be attracted to the magnet. More about domains can be read in a previous blog post "Magnets are only as strong as ....".  


Next is "magnetite powder", at 3,000 nanometers. These particles only slightly are attracted to the magnets. These particles are hardly attached to the magnetic field force. They really just want to sit at the bottom of the container.


So, what is going on here? What might be the difference between "sand" and "powder"? Clearly it is the activity of the small regions, even smaller than the particles called "domains". It is how these domains align in the presence of a magnet that make them attach to a magnet or not.



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Conserving New York's Suffrage Wagon

The journeys of historical artifacts often take many twists and turns; their stories become embellished and some undergo physical changes that make deciphering their histories all the more challenging. In honor of Women’s History Month, we thought it would be interesting to share the conservation challenges of a wagon that was used by the New York State Suffrage Association to advance the cause of women’s right to vote in the early 20th century.

The treated wagon as on display at the New York State Museum. The
later letting 'Sprit of 1776' can  be easy seen

In June of 1913, the Association received the wagon as a gift from the I.S. Remson Manufacturing Company in Brooklyn for use in suffrage parades in New York City and Long Island. The wagon was said to have a Revolutionary War pedigree, although that story has not been corroborated. After the right to vote was successfully achieved, the wagon was retained by the Kearns family who accepted it on behalf of the Association until it eventually made its way to the New York State Museum by way of the short-lived Museum of Women in Manhattan. A side panel on the wagon is painted with the lettering, "Spirit of 1776," the name Edna Buckman Kearns is said to have named the vehicle, according to her great-granddaughter. Was this because of the unfounded pedigree? We'll likely never know.

The wagon when on parade. The lettering visible
in the image can only faintly seen, but still
present (see the image below).

The wagon, accurately termed a New England Pleasure Wagon, received conservation treatment by Gwen Spicer and Ron duCharme in 2000, with the goal of stabilizing it for exhibit. The treatment focused on the three materials used in the wagon’s construction – the wood wheels, axles, and body; the body's painted surfaces; and the iron springs, wheel hubs and rims.

Inadequate storage and exposure to weather take their toll on wood and painted surfaces. Dry rot, shrinkage, warping and crumbling paint are common problems. In the case of the wagon, they were compounded by grease, oil and bird guano.

A thorough cleaning required removing the wood body and wheels from the carriage. What was left of the lettering on the wagon body’s sides needed to be protected to prevent further paint loss during the remainder of the cleaning process. This was achieved by consolidating the painted surfaces with a dilute solution of Acryloid B-72, applied by brush. Dirt and soil could then be removed from the body with diluted detergent and water. Grease and oil on the running gear were cleaned with mineral spirits.

The wagon during the stabilization of the painted regions. At
least two campaigns of  paint are present. The '6' of 1776 can
be seen in the image above.

A separated side panel was glued back into place and small wood losses and missing molding were reproduced, glued in place and toned. Plaster fill from a previous restoration was removed.

All heavily corroded metal components were cleaned with brass bristle brushes, degreased with mineral spirits and then coated with magnesium phosphyl in order to chelate the metal before being painted with dilute black enamel.

The uneven color of the wood surfaces was evened out by brushing on water-soluble aniline dye. A final protective application of dilute Acryloid B-72 in xylene was thinly applied to all surfaces by spray gun and a second thin-layer was applied to heavily weathered areas.

Despite its centuries of use, the Suffrage Wagon has earned its place in history. It can no longer withstand prolonged stress and most certainly cannot hold people or be pulled any distance. For long-preservation, the recommended temperature is between 60-70 F, and relative humidity between 40-55%. Light levels should be between 5 and 10 footcandles.

Additional Resources

Bill Bleyer. Women's groups petition NY state museum to display LI suffrage leader's wagon.    Newsday.  June 27, 2015. Accessed March 23, 2018.

Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute. Preserving and Restoring Furniture Coatings. Accessed March 23, 2018.