But for many institutions, by the time a report is deemed necessary, an overwhelmed state has already been reached. The museum staff simply may not know where to begin because the task has been labeled as "daunting". Yet, in some situations the survival of the collection, and certainly the most vulnerable items in the collection, need to be addressed or be lost.
I know, you are reading this and saying, "we are understaffed!", "we have a shoestring budget!" or, "you've never dealt with my board!"
Those are stumbling blocks, no one will deny. But implementing recommendations does not have to be an "all at once" effort, nor does it have to be "everything or nothing at all". Hence is why most recommendations are prioritized and a time-line is projected.
Success Story: The Banner Collection of the Literary and Scientific Circle of the Chautauqua Institution.
The background story is this: the Chautauqua Institution is a small community known for their short intense summer season, and many residents are seasonal only, leaving just a handful of people on-site in the off-season. Many buildings belonging to the institution are unheated in winter.
|Overall of the 1947 banner with its protective covering.|
|The 1947 banner features a painted surface.|
The Chautauqua Institution dates back to 1874. The banner collection dates to 1875 where it is known a the collection from The Normal School, and then the Scientific and Literary Circle from 1882. The collection grows by one banner each year as the literary circle creates a banner to symbolize that year. Every banner since the inaugural banner is in the collection. Traditional also calls for the banners to be removed from display/storage and be marched in an annual parade.
About 15 years ago, the Institute called to consult with Spicer Art Conservation about the condition of some of the older banners that had grown quite fragile, as well as to seek advice about the building in which the banners are housed. The building, Alumni Hall, which is original to the grounds, had no basement, no insulation, no covering over the lights or windows, no heat, no dehumidification system, and no air conditioning.
|Alumni Hall. Some of the banners are reproduced to be hung outside.|
The first step was a survey of the collection, included in the survey report were recommendations which were classified into categories. The most urgent needs were identified to be dealt with first, followed by those which were close behind, and finally the needs that could wait. After the survey, a hands-on session was conducted to train anyone in contact with the collection how to properly handle and care for the banners.
|One of the shelving units in the collection.|
The all-volunteer committee was eager to learn about best practices and while they were concerned about the monumental task ahead of them, they made the decision to move forward, one recommendation at a time, and create the best possible environment for their collection.
The committee worked on each step, they budgeted for things they did not expect (like getting dehumidifiers), and they worked for a solid decade. Ten years later, the collection was reassessed. The collection was being stored, displayed and handled properly. Guidelines were in place, and the environment was being monitored constantly.
|Each banner is placed on its solid support in archival shelving with an image of the banner on an identification card.|
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle's (CLSC) collection of banners has become the hallmark for how to implement change and create the best storage and display environment possible for any textile collection. This past week I returned to Chautauqua for another visit to examine the collection and give a talk about the banners and this incredible story of success.
With hard work and perseverance, the entire collection has been conserved properly. If a tiny institution can do it with an all volunteer staff, anyone (who is willing) can do it too.
The banner collection of the CLSC has been featured in our blog once before. That entry is one of our most popular and most viewed. Simply titled "How to Store your Flag Part 1" it has been viewed by thousands and I invite you to view it by clicking the link. There are simple storage solutions there, and it is never to early or too late to implement proper storage.
And of course, if you need a professional conservator, reach out! No project is too big or too small for Spicer Art Conservation. We are here to help institutions, historic societies, private collectors and anyone who is interested in the care and preservation of historic textiles, banners and flags.
Gwen Spicer is an art conservator in private practice. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper. Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of artifacts is unrivaled. To contact her, please visit her website.