Flag conservation

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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Modern materials and conservation

By Gwen Spicer, with Barbara Owens

With the New Year upon us, 2013 will become history. What items from this year will be in a conservator's studio generations from now? We at SAC spend so much time with artifacts from the distant past that we often do not think about modern art materials. That is, until recently.

Several things occurred at once: I was preparing to go to the NATCC (North American Textile Conservation Conference) in San Francisco where the focus at this conference was on "topics that concern modern materials"; I was also listening to Alternative Radio on NPR where the speaker talked about items which were purposefully engineered to fail (i.e planned obsolescence); and finally an article appeared in the newspaper about an artist who's medium were items which were non-permanent, i.e. they are meant to disappear. Coincidence? I think not!

This delicate bowl is created by Dutch artist, Geke Wouters, who made this paper-thin bowl from vegetables. The art created by this artist is meant to wilt. It is by nature, and her design, temporary.

I fully understand that art which is intended to "disappear (like the bowl pictured above or the dust drawings below), is not art to be conserved, that after all, would be the opposite of the artist's intentions.

Scott Wade is the artist who creates incredible works by utilizing the dust that coats car windows where he lives. His work is only a rain storm or wiper blade away from oblivion. See this image and his other works at the artist's website:  www.dirtycarart.com

What I am mostly thinking about is the conservation of modern art made of materials that are non-organic, these are the items which will be brought to the studios of future conservators. Particularly art made from objects that are considered "disposable". For instance, when does styrofoam, like the cup below, need to be conserved? After all, we are told that decomposition will occur in 1,000,000 years, but in the meantime, what kind of degradation might occur and can we perform preventative conservation treatment to slow it? What other possible breakdown is it subject to? And how long will that take?

When we talk about non-organic materials that have a "life span" of 500 to 1 million years or longer, in this respect, some modern materials perhaps should be thought of as the complete opposite from disposable art, after all, these materials have real "staying" power. It is ironic - we refer to disposable items as things that do not last, or are intended for limited use, yet the materials which comprise these items can last nearly forever.

Art on a styrofoam cup.  The artist is Cheeming Boey and the drawing on the cup is done in ink.  You can see more of his cups at his website www.iamboey.com

For conservators, we must carefully consider the idea of modern art and how to approach modern non-organics. Some ingenious art is being created right now, many are created from non-organics as a comment on our disposable lifestyle, our unnecessary waste, and the damage it causes our environment.  All of these non-organics will require specific conservation methods and techniques.

A garbage dump filled with discarded appliances. Many artists comment on our mass produced refuse, our mass consumption and the careless disposal in our society.  

If you are interested in hearing an artist talk about his work and the social consequences of the enormity of our culture, please listen to Chris Jordan's TEDtalk at www.ted.com. One of his artistic mediums is large format long-zoom artwork, meaning you are looking at each piece from a far distance, and as the image gets closer it begins to change until you are suddenly up-close and it becomes perfectly clear what it is on a small scale (visit his website here and see them for yourself: www.chrisjordan.com).  Each of his pieces is a statement on our society, our waste, and each piece is eye-opening.

"Lion" by artist Yong Ho Ji.  This, as well as other sculpture created by the artist, is made entirely from tires.  How will conservators approach the treatment of petroleum based products as they age?

I read in an article recently that film is considered completely obsolete as an artistic medium, and those who continue to use it as the medium for their art are finding themselves in the minority. Here is great story from 2011about Artist Tacita Dean and her struggle with obsolescence: http://www.artnews.com/2011/10/18/planned-obsolescence/. On the heals of this story is the work by artist Erika Iris Simmons, aka iri5. She takes obsolescence in the form of film and cassette tape and makes it into wonderful works like the one below "Ghost in the Machine - The Beatles." See more of her work at her website: http://iri5.com

Erika iri5 creates art by cutting and placing film and cassette tape (among other things) into iconic depictions of the famous. 

Modern art items, composed of modern materials, they are the true challenge. But after all, with challenge comes opportunity…

In an age of object disposal, it is a juxtaposition of ideas when art is created from that which was cast away as valueless, and beauty is created from the ugliness of our mass consumption. Conserving these non-organics as they become artifacts will bring change to the practice of conservation by way of new techniques, methods, tools and solvents. So much will change just as it always does. Each year brings change, and each year brings another era of history for art conservators.

So cheers to the New Year!  Happy Conserving!  And Happy 2014 to all!

Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What to do with Three-Dimensional archival objects?

By Gwen Spicer 

The majority of our posts this month (aka: "October is Archives Month") have focused on storage relating to flags which also fit in nicely with the NAVA annual meeting which took place October 11-13. It is true that flags can be found in Archives, however, the typical material that Archivists handle and need to store are flat materials consisting of documents, historical records, and photographs. These materials fit neatly within the standard document box, or smaller version: the document case.

Many museums or historical societies use document boxes or cases for storage, simply because they are standard sized, or perhaps it is the type of box which they have the most need for, or maybe it fits best within their storage area.

museum storage solutions, archival materials, document boxes, art conservator survey
Row upon row of Storage Cases - the smaller, upright, top-loading style of the document box.

Several years ago I was asked to speak to an Archives group regarding 3D artifacts. (Yes, 3-Dimensional items are archival items). Flat items are the typical materials to be found, but certainly 3D items need an archival home as well. In preparation for the workshop, I created solutions for possible 3D materials that could fit within standard document case packaging found in an archives storage facility. Below is a short video highlighting the retrofitting of a document storage case to hold 3D objects, as well as 2D objects, because yes, sometimes they can live together in one tidy storage case.

Many of the archivists present at the workshop mentioned that their archives would not be complete without the 3D items in their collections and that these items rounded out the document collections in that they gave depth to exhibits, making them more eye-catching. And sometimes the documentation exhibited required the 3D objects to illustrate more clearly the display, for example, one archivist had extensive textiles and bottles to accompany the documentation of early medical training at a nursing college.

art conservator survey of museum storage space utilization. collection care
Archival boxes, also referred to as document boxes, in the storage area.

The most valuable part of utilizing a document container as multi-dimensional storage, is making sure that the transformation of the box was easy to do and would involve only the tools and materials any archivist or conservator would have on hand, and use a technique that would be easily known (i.e. cutting mat board, acid free materials like twill tape)

The multi-dimensional document box/case storage provides excellent accessibility, while significantly limiting excessive handling, as each item can be removed independently of the others. Many workshop participants appreciated the concern for handling, as reduced handling of archival items is crucial to their integrity. Yet, having access is to archival items is key.

In the prior post, How to Store Your Flag Part 2 - The Sink-Mat, the sink-mat can be used to great effect. Remember that smaller sink mats can be placed horizontally by stacking them inside the box, while remaining flat. For this particular solution, a specific document box is required - the clam-shell or print box, with a drop front. Available through all archival suppliers, these boxes are meant to lay flat on the shelf, and when the lid is lifted, the front side of the box drops forward, thereby allowing full access into the box without moving the box - it is truly the perfect archival home for a sink mat!

We hope you have enjoyed October, and all of our posts about archival storage, as much as we have.  Look for more videos from SAC in the coming months, our next video will cover how to properly roll textiles.

Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Glossary of safe materials for storage

How to Store Your Flag parts 1, 2 and 3 have been met with lovely comments from old friends and colleagues as well as some new friends and colleagues, I'm so glad these were useful.  In this series of posts on storage we mentioned many materials. We thought that it would be helpful to just post the entire list of materials in one location, so as promised, below is the glossary - enjoy!

Acid-free tissues, papers and boards:
Acid-free or neutral pH materials should always be used. These materials are made of 100% cotton fiber, whereas acidic papers are made from wood pulp. Questionable materials can be tested with pH indicator pens. These pH pens can be purchased at archival supply, or craft and fabric stores.

The blue/gray boards have a buffering agent added. It is generally an alkaline substance with a pH over 7. This reservoir neutralizes the acids that may be absorbed from the environment around. The alkaline residues could react with protein materials, like wool, hair, leather and some photographs.

Buffered materials can be used for Cellulose materials, like paper, cotton, and linen, but not with proteins. It has been observed that being in contact with buffered tissue also affects some dyes. Therefore care is needed in choosing the correct material.  Use for interleaving, solid supports, and in storage containers

Adhesive Tapes (Double-sided):
As with plastics, tapes need to be chosen with care. A product by 3M, #415 double-coated tape has been found to work best. It is pressure sensitive made with a high tack acrylic based adhesive on a polyester carrier. Products #924 and #969 are acrylic-based adhesives with no carrier. Both are non-yellowing, inert and reversible with solvents. Both tend to cold flow.

Use these tapes only in construction of storage supplies, like encapsulating flat paper items, but not placed directly on the artifact.

Look for polyester needle-punched batting. This batting is formed mechanically by fiber entanglement using barbed needles. The other commonly found battings are made with resins that bond the fibers. The resins have been found to yellow and then can transfer onto artifacts. The packaging will frequently be marked if one is purchasing from a fabric store. Polyester materials resist mildew.

Use batting for padding-out and filling in order to obtain the desired profile of a mannequin. It can hold shape even under weight. Best if secured with stitching. Can also be used as stiffening, like at the bottom of a petticoat. Note that all battings need to be covered.

A rigid, lightweight, polypropylene/polyethylene copolymer corrugated (or fluted) sheet. It is lightweight and fairly strong. The archival grade does not have any anti-static or ultraviolet inhibitor additives. This grade is more expensive than the standard grades. Coroplast can be cut with a utility knife. It can be bent with heat, or scored. Sheets are available in several thicknesses, 2-6 mm, and in several colors. When used for storage box tray construction, the sides can be secured with brass clasps, and sewn with heavy weight cotton, linen thread or twill tape. Corners can also be secured with hot melt glue rivets.

For display, one can cut it into forms to support lightweight textiles. Cover Coroplast with batting and stockinette or exhibition fabric.

Ethafoam is a Dow Chemical Co. trade name for polyethylene, a thermosetting plastic. Ethafoam is a closed-cell foam with a smooth surface. The cut edges are softer than other foams, like Styrofoam. It is easily cut with knives, and wood working tools.

It is best to look for Ethafoam manufactured by Dow. Other foams have been found to include additives and stabilizers that can cause problems and yellowing.

It is best to use unbleached 100% cotton fabrics, like muslin, stockinette, flannel and twill tape. Any fabric that is used with collection needs to be washed in hot water.

A word of caution about fabrics; many have finishing treatments like flame-retardant or durable press. These types of finishes need to be avoided and removed with hot water washes. Wool is also a fabric not to be used for exhibitions or storage. It can tarnish silver in closed environments and attracts insects. If felt is to be used, look for polyester types.

A Styrofoam sandwiched between paper or plastic. There are both archival and non-archival products available. These come in several thicknesses. Avoid using cores made of beaded Styrofoam, as the beads can easily break apart at the edges. Best to use as a temporary material. Not suitable for long-term storage.

Hook and Loop Fasteners (Velcro):
Not all-generic Velcro is made from the same formulation. Some forms of Velcro have been found to have adverse effects to the textiles to which they have been attached. It is suggested to purchase it in large batches and test it. Always attach the soft side to the textile artifact with a separator of webbing or a muslin tab.

Avoid using Velcro with pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Hot Melt Glue:
This is a thermoplastic adhesive that is applied in the molten state and forms a solid when cooled. There are several different formulations. The ethylene/vinyl acetate copolymer is generally suitable for construction of mount supports. 3M’s #3764, Bostik’s Thermogrip #6363 and Evode’s Evo-Stik #7702 have been found suitable.

The glue is very hot! Care is needed not to burn oneself. It adheres to most surfaces. It can be difficult to use with smooth surfaces. Can cause damage to rare earth magnets.

Marlvelseal #360:
A foil composed of layers of nylon, aluminum and polyethylene. Provides a good barrier that resists transmission of water vapor and gases. The polyethylene side or dull side can be heat-sealed and can conform to curved shapes with a tacking iron. Use Marlvelseal to seal questionable materials for display and storage.

Mylar-D is a polyester, transparent film. It is a strong, inert and dimensionally stable film that is very clear. It comes in different thicknesses. Look for virgin polyester, type D made by DuPont Co. Mylar does create static charge.

Use to encapsulate and separate materials.

Not all plastics are the same. Many have plasticizers that make the plastic material more flexible. Over time the plasticizer causes deterioration and should be avoided. Other additives that can be included and can cause damage are slip and anti-static agents. Dry cleaning bags turn yellow due to BHT that is added to the polyethylene.

Good plastics are made from polyethylene, polyester, polypropylene and acrylics. These are the most commonly found. Most archival products found in catalogs will be made of one of these types. Other less common plastics are: polytetrafluoroethylene, polycarbonates and silicone.
Plastics that cause adverse effects are materials and rubbers containing sulfur-vulcanizing agents.

This comes as 100% cotton unbleached or 100% polyester surgical tubing. Both need to be pre-washed. It is used to cover mounts, tubes, etc. It is particularly useful in making arms and other sausage like shapes. It provides sufficient tension to lower the amount of stitching needed.

A spun bonded olefin is a high-density polyethylene fiber bonded under intense heat and pressure, manufactured by DuPont. This product has many good qualities: it is strong, non-buffered, has low resistances to water and mold. Tyvek both protects artifacts from dust while allowing for air circulation. It is smooth with no binders, fillers or buffers. It is low linting, and resistant to water and chemical-aging. Some solvents cause swelling. Housewrap may contain ultra-violet stabilizers. It comes in a range of weights. The weight that is commonly used is Type 1443R. This material can be washed in the washing machine several times. It is good for dust covers and wrapping collections. Can be seamed or glued. However, is not a good barrier for preventing acid migration.

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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Look for Gwen's book, "Magnetic Mounting for Art Conservators and Museums",  available in 2018.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to store your flag, Part 3: Rolling

As stated earlier in "How to Store Your Flag, Part 1" proper storage is critical to the long-term preservation of any collection. Proper storage includes safe materials that are acid-free, a stable environment, protection from light, minimal handling, etc.

Rolling of textiles is an excellent option for flat, single layer, artifacts that are too large to be stored “flat”. Any rolled storage consists of four main parts: the tube, an internal support for the tube, the leader, and the outer wrapping. Specifically, for flag storage, the length of the tube is determined by the height of the flag, plus additional space for the securing of the outer wrapper. Remember that the hoist edge will run the length of the tube and will be rolled last. The tube and its textile is then supported on cradles, or in storage furniture.  Grouping your collection into standard sizes maximizes space and budget.

Illustration of the layers of rolled storage of textiles, art conservation, image property of Gwen Spicer
Illustration by Gwen Spicer of the various layers of rolled storage.

A paper, or muslin, apron is used to assist in the initial rolling of the textile. The textile can be interleaved with acid-free tissue, muslin, or cotton sheets for larger textiles like rugs. The textile is then covered with muslin or Tyvek and secured with twill tape ties.

The diameter of the tube needs to be considered with several factors in mind. The larger the tube, the better it is for the flag. However, there is always a balance among space, budget constraints, and the size of a collection. Unfortunately archival tubes are very expensive specialty items because tubes used for rolling textiles need to be made of acid-free cardboard, which is made from virgin materials.

A small lightweight flag can be stored on 2" diameter tubes. Medium size textiles are best on 3" diameter tubes, and heavier flags require even larger tubes, which may also need to be supported by metal rods. Part of the tube’s diameter selection is the degree of bend, or angle, that the fibers are required to conform. Over time, the fabric can have a memory of the curvature.

art conservator custom made rolled flag storage, carpet, rug and large textile storage, archival materials
Cutting tubes for a collection of flags.

Cradles are an integral part of rolled storage. If the rolled textile were allowed to rest on a solid surface, the point of contact between the surface and the artifact would result in stress, not just to the outside layer which runs the length of the tube, but to each layer beneath the outside layer. The weight of the textile and the storage supplies can easily crush and cause damage to fragile textiles. By raising the ends of the tube above the surface just slightly, this can be prevented. Cradles can be easily carved from Ethafoam. Ethafoam is a Dow Chemical Co. trade name for polyethylene, a thermosetting plastic. Ethafoam is a closed-cell foam with a smooth surface. The cut edges are softer than other foams, like Styrofoam. It is easily cut with knives, and wood working tools. It is best to look for Ethafoam manufactured by Dow. Other foams have been found to include additives and stabilizers that can cause problems and yellowing, these obviously should be avoided.

They can even be stacked, or with notches, placed in a row side by side. The cradles need to be positioned at the end of the tubes, away from the flag itself. Stacked cradles are useful when a small group of unusually sized tubes are needed, and it is cost prohibitive to purchase furniture for such a small collection.

art conservator Gwen Spicer create these cradles from ethafoam, which is archival safe for museum storage and ideal for  supporting large rolled textiles
Detail image of carved Ethafoam cradles for two flags.
large textiles storage, rolled flags, archival materials, proper rolling techniques of artifacts
The cradles were designed for the flags to be stacked. The locations
where the tube rests on the cradle is outside or beyond where the
artifact is located. The pressure of the cradle is only on the tube
and outer wrappings itself.
Shorter length tubes can be placed in boxes, or drawers supported with Ethafoam cradles to suspend the tube above the bottom surface. Care will be needed to ensure that the tubes are cut to accommodate the inside dimension of the drawer or box. This is especially true with long and bulky textiles that can become large in diameter as their length is rolled. Tubes within boxes or drawers can run either direction to provide more options for tube length. These shorter tubes do not require an internal metal bar for support like the longer tubes. Please note any cut end of tubing often needs to be sanded lightly.

Art conservation, proper storage, rolled textiles, large textiles, flags, rugs, carpets
Rolled textiles suspended in the storage drawer with Ethafoam cradles.
art conservator, rolled storage for large textiles, archival materials, museum archives, collection care
Flags rolled and suspended on cradles that are positioned onto shelves.

On occasion, a longer tube is necessary. To make a longer tube, an insert is made from a scrap tube section approximately 8" or 10" long. A cut is made along the entire length. (For thick-walled tubes, the cut needs to be the thickness of both walls.) One half of the scrap tube is inserted into the tube and its extension. These longer tubes will also need more attention paid to placement within the storage room. Each tube will need to be maneuvered through the storage room's door, possibly around cabinets to its designated location. These heavy textiles will need to be supported by metal rods.

There are several collections that use Mylar with the prospect that the artifact can be seen through the storage covering. This is an advantage. However, there are two main disadvantages, one is the static-charge inherent in the Mylar and the other is the potential of fading in the exposed area. If plastic is deemed necessary due to pest concerns, then Polyethylene tubing as the covering is a better choice. There are many collections that use Mylar as their outer covering to aid in seeing the artifact, but this conservator discourages this choice.

It is important to note that Mylar would not be fitted into another tube as that it creates surface abrasion. In addition, if the receiving tube is too small, it can crush the flag inside. Other drawbacks are that there is limited access to the rolled flag, and, when it is slid in, one does not know if it remained smooth or if it is bunched.

Flag Storage has many facets, to this point we have covered several methods of storage. Many terms have come out of these reviews of storage, in the next posting we will include a full glossary of safe storage materials.
Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to store your flag, part 2: The sink-mat

by Gwen Spicer

Welcome to part 2 of flag storage!  I find that often flag storage focuses around larger flags. We lament how much storage space they require, the sometimes inevitable need to fold them because of their size, and how to access or display them - again because of their size. But what about the small things like flag fragments or small parade flags or even artifacts like political ribbons and the like? It is these smaller things, and especially textured or unevenly surfaced artifacts, that will benefit from flat storage in sink-mats.

Storing a flag or other artifact is determined by many things as discussed in part 1 of flag storage. But determining storage needs can also be done in a very simple way, and that is by basing it on size. For smaller flags and related textiles, sink-mats are a perfect solution. Actually any small to mid-size textile can be stored, and then easily accessed from storage with this design. Such textiles might also include samplers, embroideries, printed textiles, etc. They allow for the smaller textile to remain flat, while being supported and protected. This is especially useful when one is trying to avoid the compressing of any delicate raised areas, fringe, embroidery, and similar. 

The design is very much a variation of "matting" used for prints and drawings. In fact, the first designs for textiles were window mats that were cut around the textiles. The design described here uses less materials and can be simply done and without special tools, such as a mat cutter. The design includes strips of acid-free board to accommodate the thickness of the textile with a board cover that is secured with twill tapes. The flag or textile can be tied to the board or sandwiched between muslin and tissue paper.

illustration of sink mat by Gwen Spicer, art conservator in private practice. Archival materials for safe storage
Illustration by Gwen Spicer of a sink-mat

The images below represent various sink-mat views. The first is overall, and then details of the design for a small silk ribbon. Protective covers can be easily incorporated into the design. 

archival storage for flat items in this sink mat designed by Spicer Art Conservation for the safe storage of museum collections, artifacts and heirlooms

sink mat storage for flat artifacts, protective lids keep them safe from damage, archival materials, museum collection storage, art conservator
Sink-mats can also be designed with protective lids.

The next two photographs are for a larger textile and its associated wooden rod. The same design is used, just with sturdier materials. Lincoln's banner is supported with double-walled corrogated blue-board. Larger sized sink-mats sometimes require thick flutted plastic, like Coroplast. This material can be sturdy and provide necessary support, while also remaining light-weight.

art conservator designed storage solutions for flat artifacts and their associated parts

The Lincoln campaign banner and the smaller parade flags retain their staffs. These too can be incorporated into the sink-mat design.

art conservator, sink mat storage of textiles, museum collection care
Drawer storage with several sink-mats.
sink mat for art conservation of textiles and other flat items, museum storage, collection care
Large sink-mat holding several associated artifacts in a single sink-mat.

Sink-mats are also often suggested as a best storage solution for photographic materials, like daguerrotypes as well as other photographic items. Sink-mats are desirable as a means of storage for a variety of objects simply because the result of their use is a collection that is accessible to researchers, and it can be viewed with very little handling. In addition, the items placed in sink-mats are free from the threat of compression.

Coming up next in Flag Storage we will discuss rolling. Look for the blog soon, or sign up in the right side margin and you will automatically receive the blog delivered to you via email.

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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to store your flag, Part 1

by Gwen Spicer

We have recently had many calls about how to store and care for flags.

Proper storage is a critical part of all collections housed in institutions, as well as those in private collections. Proper storage is really the best means for long-term preservation. The goals of storage are to provide proper support and environment. Flags and other types of artifacts deteriorate from poor handling and lack of archival materials, high light levels, mold, pests, temperature and relative humidity, and inherent vice. It is the role of proper storage to lower the effects of these modes of deterioration.

A useful way to approach any storage, whether archives, libraries, or museums, is to think of it as a “a box within a box with in a box” The first level of "box" is the building itself, then the room, then the storage furniture, and last is the possible boxes that contain each item. Each layer of protection enhances the environment of your collection. Large fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are diminished with slower transitions; and pests are further prevented from getting to the flag. This is especially important for organic materials like silk, wool and/or cotton.

Museum storage, archival supplies, art conservator, artifact, collection care
Chrome-plated wire shelving from Metro-International used to store a
collection of banners from the Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, NY.
Care is needed when selecting materials used for storage. (See last weeks post, "What is acid-free?") As stated earlier, they can either assist in the preservation or deter. Poor quality materials can cause acidity, off-gas, and discoloring, among other effects, that deteriorate collections. To prevent these types of damage, good quality and acid-free material should be used.

The ideal method is to keep your flags as flat and fully extended as possible. Flags and textiles that need to be flat have several options that include: sink-mats, boxes, or shelves. In many circumstances, placing the flag on a full support is recommended. This is especially necessary with flags made of silk. Silk, as it ages, becomes less flexible and prone to splits and fractures. A contributing factor to the deterioration of silk is its past history, like its exposure to sunlight.

storage of textiles and artifacts, archival materials, museum storage collection care
Oversize shelving by Crystallization.

The supporting material can be muslin, or Tyvek (see earlier post "What is acid-free?"). For fragmented flags, placing a layer on top is also recommended. The support allows the flag to be moved and handled without damage. The material used for the support is determined by the conditions. The poorer the condition, the sturdier the material should be. The support should be continuous over the entirety of the flag.

Museums often have available space for large storage units. Also, many museums have the storage facilities to accommodate large units outfitted with full sized pullout drawers or shelves. The designs of these units vary in detail and perhaps construction materials. However, they all allow a flag to be fully extended and visible to the researcher. Since flags often come in standard sizes, standard sized storage units can be used.  However, when a collection consists of a variety of flag sizes, having a range of sizes of units utilizes the space efficiently. This can best be achieved with full knowledge of your collection and the dimensions of each flag in it. Units are designed both for the flags to rest in a pre-conserved state, or on their display mount after conservation. The later allows for easy rotation of the collection. Below, as well as the two photos above, are a sampling of flag and banner storage in museums.

reduction of handling of artifacts, art conservator, conservation of flags and historic textiles.
Mounted flags at the Maine State Museum, Augusta, Maine. Each flag was
secured to a prepared panel (aluminum honeycomb) and had a place within a
the rack. The panels and rack were made by SmallCorp, Inc., Greenfield, MA.

Determining appropriate storage for a flag can be done by answering questions about the object itself.  The following questions and their corresponding answers are meant as a guide. It is understood that specific situations exist that may not easily fit into these guidelines. These first 10 questions are about the flag and therefore suggest what kinds of storage to consider for an individual flag.

Q: What is the age of your flag?
A:  The age of the materials that compose a flag greatly affect the method of storage to select. Older flags need more protection and support. Therefore it is important to realize that the better the storage early on, the better the preservation in the long-term. Early flags that have been kept off display remain in far better condition than those that have been exposed to poor environments.

Q:  Is your flag made of silk?
A:  Silk becomes quite brittle with age, loosing its flexibility. Of the natural fibers, silk is the most dependent on its environment.  Flat storage is preferable for silk flags.

Q:  Is your flag made of cotton?
A:  Cotton is susceptible to moisture and mold growth.  Cotton flags benefit from being stored in a box or rolled.

Q:  Is your flag made of wool?
A:  Wool is most susceptible to insects, like webbing cloths moths and carpet beetles. Protection from these insects is critical. Boxing or rolling these flags is suggested.

Q:  Is your flag made of Nylon or other synthetic material?
A:  Many synthetic materials are easily degraded in sunlight, whose affect is not fully realized for several decades later. Caring for these flags now will only lengthen their preservations. Flags from WWII and the Korean War are deteriorating and are becoming weakened.  This type of flag benefits from rolling or boxed storage.

Q:  What is the condition of the flag?
A:  Being able to evaluate the condition assists the determination of the flag’s storage needs. The condition of the various materials that the flag is composed of is critical.

Q:  Has your flag been treated previously?
A:  Treated flags often have additional supporting layers that prevent the flag from being rolled. In additional, early treatments can contain materials where their aging properties were not well understood and are possibly brittle presently. Learn the date and materials used in the treatment. It is best to follow the instructions of the treatment.  These flags should be stored flat.

Q:  Are painted surfaces present?
A:  Paint layers, as they age and become dry are no longer flexible. When flexed they crack and are vulnerable to flaking.  These types of flags must be stored flat.

Next week look for the continuation of our discussion about flags and storage.  Rolled storage is an art all its own, we will take a look at it, and answer a few more questions and answers to determine when rolling is wise and when it should be avoided.
Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is acid-free?

by Gwen Spicer

October is "Archives Month" and we at Spicer Art Conservation, LLC are celebrating the month by discussing some storage topics. In an earlier post we talked some about environment (see "It's Spring and it's Dry?").  This post will focus on selecting the materials which are within closest proximity to your artifacts.  Whether it be storage, support, or display materials, these materials will almost always be in contact with an artifact and should always be acid-free.  

Care is needed when selecting materials used for storage. The materials selected can either assist in the preservation or deter it. Poor quality materials can cause acidity, off-gas, and discoloring (among other effects), that deteriorate collections. The results of poor quality materials are not immediately observable and so their damaging affects will not be apparent until it is too late and the damage has been irreversibly done.  To prevent these types of damage, good quality and acid-free materials should be used.
archival materials,support of artifacts, art conservator, acid free storage, museum collection care
An acid-free box with "artifacts" waiting to be stored.  The tray is made of ethafoam, the lifting handles are made of twill tape.  All items are acid-free, of course.

So what is acid-free?  They are materials that are a neutral pH of 7.  There are two methods to reach this pH 7. One, is to begin with naturally, inherently neutral, pH materials, like 100% cotton fiber.  The second method is to begin with a wood pulp or other acidic material and buffer it until it reaches a pH 7. The disadvantage of buffered wood pulp or any other acidic material is that the buffering eventually becomes exhausted and then the product returns to being acidic. Buffering can be done in more than one way, yet each way will always result in temporary buffering. Calcium carbonate or other buffering agents can work, but how long do they last?  Is the length of its buffering ability effected by the environment that it is stored?  Too many unknowns exist in using this method, best to not use it at all.

Yes, archival materials are expensive, which is a result of their being made from pure-virgin materials. As framers, collectors, and other private owners of art become aware of the benefits of high-quality materials, the buying audience becomes larger, thus the price does drop. The down-side to true archival,  pure-virgin materials is that is not conducive to the new "green" society that we are moving to where recycling is encouraged. To find out more on sustainable practices read about it on the AIC wiki page by clicking the link.

But back to storage using archival materials. An important part of safe storage is using safe materials that do not cause further damage. For example, direct acidic contact causes yellowing and localized brittlement. The shelf that the box rests on, if wooden, can also affect the archival integrity of the box which houses the artifact over time.

pH indicator pens can be purchased from any archival supplier.
The use of a pH pen is a good idea for testing your shipments of archival materials or the materials you already own.  The reason for this is that one can not be sure of purity, particularly of archival materials that are old.  The paper and boards used are absorbent and over time are effected by their environment.  So, if an acid-free box is sitting on a uncoated wooden shelf, over time the bottom of the box will have absorbed the acidity of the wood and will no longer be acid-free. Even the inherently acid-free nature of cotton rag cannot stay acid-free in that environment.  Therefore, the pen will give you an indication of when boxes or other storage materials might need to be replaced. Unfortunately, no FDA or other “watch-dogs” exists for archival materials. So, it is the buyer who must beware. I always use the motto of “if it is too good to be true, then it is.”
Wood remains a common material in storage construction, due to its cost and ease of use. However, wood has inherent volatile compounds which off-gas and cause damage to organic materials. Each wood specie has a different rate, hard woods emit (especially oak, for example) more than soft woods. Newly milled wood emits more than older wood. But it is important to remember that wood emits acid throughout its life, until it is  fully degraded and no longer viable for any purpose. If new wood needs to be used, only Poplar is recommended. It is the lowest acid-emitting wood available. Wood is not just in furniture, be aware of it's use in other ways: the jacket below for example.

historic textiles, garments, art conservators, why to use padded hangers, wooden hangers are bad
The evidence of the wooden hangar that this coat hung from is unmistakeable.

As stated earlier, no liquid applied barrier fully prevents acid migration, only an applied film will do so. Mylar and Marlvelseal can easily be used to line wood shelves or the inside of wooden drawers.
Marlvelseal is a foil composed of layers of nylon, aluminum and polyethylene. It provides a good barrier that resists transmission of water vapor and gases. The polyethylene side or dull side can be heat-sealed and can conform to curved shapes with a tacking iron. Use Marlvelseal to seal questionable materials for display and storage.
Mylar is a polyester, transparent film, that is a strong, inert, and dimensionally stable film that is very clear. It comes in different thicknesses. Look for virgin polyester, type-D made by the DuPont Company. It is helpful to note that Mylar does create a static charge. It is most commonly used to encapsulate and separate materials by interleaving.

Marvelseal, archival materials, art conservation of textiles, prevention of acid migration,
A wooden drawer lined with a layer of Marlvelseal. It is a true barrier
 against the migration of acids from the wooden drawer. All of the
sides and bottom of the drawer are covered.  The tape used to secure it to the drawer is linen tape.

Now onto the drawer itself and the rest of the storage containers and furnishings. Whether you use drawers, shelves of a combination of both, the selection of materials for these units or any other storage furniture is performed with consideration of materials that do not off-gas or cause other damages to the collection. Safe materials for furniture include aluminum with a powder coating, anodized aluminum, and steel with powder coating.

proper storage of artifacts, heirlooms and collectibles, art conservation of objects.
Sometimes acid-free tissue is not enough. Compare the knives side by side above.  the one on the right was wrapped in acid-free tissue, the one on the left was wrapped in Pacific Cloth, a cotton-flannel with scavengers (more on scavengers later) which remove the sulfur dioxide from the air and prevent tarnishing.

Certainly not everything in a collection fits neatly into boxes, on standard sized shelves, or into drawers.  These items, rugs, large flags, tapestries, and large textiles to name a few, often require rolling onto tubes and storage of those tubes on acid-free supports. At times, acid-free tubes are not used due to budget restraints, in this case, a layer of Mylar or Marvelseal over the standard cardboard tube is required. Mylar is secured to the tube with double-sided d-tapes, (3M #415). Marvelseal can be heat sealed to any surface. These materials are barriers against the migration of acidic products from the standard tube to the artifact. A word of caution, while they may seem like a good idea and cost effective, liquid shellacs and paints do not sufficiently provide the same amount of protection, and should be avoided. Think of the old adage: "Do it right the first time".

art conservation using safe materials, decomposition of plastic over time, dry cleaning bags are bad for artifacts and storage of garments of historic costumes and textiles
An example of ordinary plastic dry-cleaners bags over time. These pieces are yellow
and a crumbling due to their brittleness. 

Above I mentioned a diversion from "green" practices, when we discussed virgin materials. I will make up for that here by suggesting a very green practice: Substituting acid-free tissue with washed cotton muslin or cotton sheets. Cotton sheets make excellent handling slings, they provide support and diminish the direct handling of an object during transporting. The benefit of their use as handling slings is that they can be washed and reused, whereas the tissue is just thrown out.

Another great material is Tyvek. Tyvek is spun bonded olefin which is a high-density polyethylene fiber bonded under intense heat and pressure, manufactured by DuPont. This product has many good qualities: it is strong, non-buffered, has resistance to water and mold. Tyvek both protects artifacts from dust while allowing for air circulation. It is smooth with no binders, fillers or buffers. It is low linting, and resistant to water and chemical-aging. It comes in a range of weights. The weight that is commonly used is Type 1443R. This material can be washed in the washing machine several times. It is good for dust covers and wrapping collections. Can be seamed or glued. However, while it is a good acid-free material, it is not a good barrier for preventing acid migration. Also, some solvents cause swelling. Tyvek used in archival applications should never be confused with Tyvek Housewrap, used in the building industry, as house wrap may contain ultra-violet stabilizers and coatings.

Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Ukrainian Boudoir Doll

by Nicolette Cook, SAC Conservation Technician

Recently, while working on a striking Ukrainian doll, it got me thinking about the function of dolls and why they hold such fascination for many of us. The doll was affectionately named "Katya" by the current owner's grandmother. Her grandmother lived near the cultural center of Lviv in western Ukraine and was given Katya in the 1890s. Katya's cloth body joins together her head, hands and high-heeled feet of composition, a material made mostly from the mixture of sawdust, glue and wood flour. She is still wearing her original hand-embroidered traditional costume and is adorned with a beaded floral and velvet headdress with embroidered silk ribbons flowing down her back.
Repair and restoration of an antique historic doll, art conservation of clothing and doll. Ukranian doll, heirloom collection
Up-close of "Katya" before treatment.  The owner wanted the make-up substantially toned-down to be closer to the original that she remembered as a chi

However, according to her owner, the bold make-up she wore was not original, as she informed us the doll was restored in NYC in the 1960s. This was evident by the way the dark brown eyeshadow was inexpertly applied. Otherwise, she was in remarkable condition for an antique over 120 years old and only came to the studio to repair the garishly applied make-up as well as her detached foot.
ukranian doll in traditional dress, repair and restoration of dolls and clothes, art conservator in private practice, expert care.
Katya, after treatment.
repair and restoration of antique dolls, archival materials, professional art conservator, dolls and doll clothes, Ukranian doll
Close-up of Katya, after treatment.

Children have played with dolls and doll-like toys for millennium. The first were simple, vague figures made of clay, wood, stone, bone, cloth and other natural materials, presumably for ritualistic purposes. In contrast today, dolls are made out of modern plastics and porcelain composites and are barely more than commercial novelty products of a materialistic world. 

Unlike our conception of dolls today, especially the "baby doll", the oldest dolls were "lady" dolls representing well-dressed women, such as Katya. Not unlike the notion of dolls today, "lady" dolls were not only play things but were also meant to prepare young girls for their later roles as wives and mothers. However, beginning in the early 20th century, doll-making strayed away from the conservative towards the risqué, with the growing popularity of the boudoir doll. Before the 1900's, dolls wore the latest costumes and followed the fashionable trends of European courts and represented the proper European woman. They were not toys, but instead were carried by fashionable women of the time. They were posed on sofas, chairs, beds and carried at balls, dances and other social events.

Antique Boudoir Doll, Wax Over Composition
Lady Doll, Circa 1860's
Yet the traditional style did continue into the early 20th century. Consider the boudoir doll we treated in 2011. This example of a lady doll, also dating to the early 1900's, shows a figure in a conservative silk gown, but her hair and make-up are distinctly modern with dark red lips and bright blue eyeshadow. Though from an later era than Katya, this doll was in worse shape when she came to us. Her composite face was flaking away and several holes were present in her silk garment. We consolidated and inpainted her face, filled in where her hair had thinned and mended the tears.

boudoir doll repair restoration, professional art conservation by conservator Gwen Spicer
Boudoir Doll, Composite, silk and cotton,
early 20th C
Even though this conservative style survived into the new century, the modern woman, as well as her boudoir doll, was rapidly changing. The new contemporary aesthetic of shortening hairstyles and skirts, the freeing of the body from the constricting corset, as well as striking cosmetics, gave rise to the flapper and smoking dolls of the era. Their popularity grew as symbols of the provocative life of the 1920's when Prohibition was in full swing.

Flapper with her boudoir doll, circa 1920s
However while dolls in America were following the styles of the modern age, European dolls somewhat maintained their traditional roots. Like Katya, with her conservative dress and her bold make-up, the European doll did not reflect the temptations of modern society as daringly as their New World counterparts. Europe did not experience Prohibition, nor the economic boom that led to the excesses of the "Roaring Twenties." Europe was recovering after the Great War and the aesthetic followed the lines of art deco, which shared similarities to American 20s style. But Europe's dolls, in a limited sense, with their bold make-up, coquettish eyes and a provocative expression, also tested the boundaries of the ideal image of a proper lady. Despite their differences, modern boudoir dolls across the globe allowed even the everyday girl to vicariously live the lifestyle of a free modern woman.

Antique French Boudoir Doll, Composition,
silk, cloth, circa 1920s
Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11th and a flag that survived.

Image from The NY Times
by Barbara Owens, SAC Staff

What you may not know is that the New York State Museum in Albany is the largest repository of artifacts from the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. If you do know about it, and you've had a chance to visit, you have seen a poignant exhibit that covers the event, the response, and the recovery in a way which comprehensively tells the story of not just a single date, but the time that followed when artifacts were uncovered from a massive debris field. The exhibit tells the story of an event that none of us will ever forget.

Trade Center towers.  Image from Google images.

One object found in the debris was a United States flag.  While not the only flag found, this flag was one which flew from a world trade center tower, although which tower is unknown.

Finding a flag in the debris is truly amazing. Picture an unending amount of twisted metal, dust, dirt, and unknowable objects. Now imagine coming across a flag like this (see image below), virtually intact and minimally soiled.  It must have been an incredible find for recovery workers.

display of september 11th flag at NYS museum, art conservation of flag, historic flag
An overall view of the flag after it arrived at SAC.

The flag measured 7' 6" high and 11'6" in length. It had many scattered tears, the largest was 16"x5" located at the top white stripe. It had 40 mid-sized tears, and approximately 30 small tears. See the images below.

tear in flag from the world trade center, art conservator, museum display, September 11
The largest of the tears

holes in canton, historic flag, art conservator, stabilization of september 11th flag for display at NYS Museum
Holes in the canton

smaller tears

Unlike many flags that come through our doors, keeping the damage to this flag prominent and unaltered was the priority, yet equally important was making the intactness of the flag evident. How could a flag endure an explosion and a building falling on top of it? Imagine a thin nylon flag buried under tons of rubble, coming out of the dirt and debris with bright colors of red, white and blue, the flag damaged, but intact. The symbolism was not lost on rescue workers, and the effect was not to be lost on exhibit goers. Head Conservator, Gwen Spicer, knew this was an important juxtaposition. Her task was to conserve the flag, yet allow it to show all of its tattering along with its majestic color. The flag would be hung prominently at the center of NYS Museum's exhibit, so it would require a hanging system to allow it to flow freely, yet not create stress on the holes and tears it suffered that fateful day.
flag conservator, textile conservation, september 11th flag display.

The flag as it is seen in the exhibit at the NYS Museum.  Image from the Museum's web site.
You can see this image in a panoramic display of the permanent 9/11 exhibit here:

Twelve years has passed since that day in September, yet the objects and the memories of that day live on at the NYS Museum in their permanent collection and ongoing exhibit, visit it if you can.
If you are unable to visit this exhibit, the museum has made much of this information available on its website: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/wtc/. Included are panoramic views of the exhibit space.

Gwen Spicer is a textile 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 flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.