by Gwen Spicer
What does one do when they want to display a large textile but have no space? This is a dilemma that many face, whether it is one large artifact or a group of artifacts. Conservators will always suggest that an artifact be fully supported. However, full support can be tricky, particularly when space is a premium in many museums and especially historic sites. Historic sites were not designed to display artifacts, and flag display can be especially problematic. Flags are often large, and some flags can be gigantic (for example, garrison flags that can be as large as 20 or 30 feet in any one direction, and so called "mammoth flags" whose hoist edge exceeds 50 feet). But coverlets or quilts might also be considered large. Think of the "Aids Quilt" that is literally endless in size.
|The Garrison Flag from Fort Niagara, ca. 1812 (that's me on the right)|
Many times, mammoth flags are displayed outdoors, over long periods of time, and their sheer weight causes incredible weakness and so tearing is inevitable. To add to the demise of these huge flags is the storage of such an object. They are enormous, they weigh a ton, and they beg the question: where could you put me? The Utah Statehood Flag of 1896 comes to mind (see below) when pondering these obstacles. That flag measured 74 x 132 feet and was displayed during various occasions from 1896 to 1903. When hung, it eventually tore under it's own weight, and when stored was in damp locations (the basement or greenhouse) causing it to mold. The flag was respectfully destroyed, but had it not been, where would it be today? It's sheer size, coupled with the weight (smaller mammoth flags weigh in excess of 500 pounds!), and its increasing fragility would make it a display nightmare for any museum. Showing a portion of these flags could be the answer, but how would you support the not-shown portion? While patches were cut from some of history's giant flags, it appears no one cut a souvenir from the Utah flag.
|The Utah Statehood Flag hanging from the Salt Lake Temple, ca. 1900|
|Vertical display of the Star |
Spangled Banner, ca. 1964
Some historic sites have developed ingenious ways to display their flags. The Pike County Historical Society in Milford, Pennsylvania has mounted their large National flag, the "Lincoln Flag" with two large rollers that displays the flag like a large scroll with the full height of the flag exposed (see image below left). The smaller area of exposure is displayed in a deep frame with glazing. Only the most important feature of a narrow section of the flag is actually seen.
|Jeannie Gourley, an actress in the play performed|
in the Ford Theater the night Lincoln was
assassinated, brought home to Milford a large
flag stained with his blood. It is now known as
the Lincoln Flag.
|The view of the original wall case with the National, |
National with honors, Regimental, and Marker flags
|Re-enactors pose with the flag.|
|The National flag with honors |
returned to its wall case.
Neither of these two flag examples are displayed with conventional methods, however, they balance the support and preservation of the flags, while also allowing the visitors to view them. In either of these cases, if they were displayed conventionally, this would not have been possible due to space limitations.
Other large artifacts are quilts and coverlets. To the left and below are a few images of such an exhibition at the Shelburn Museum in Shelburn, Vermont a few years ago, where they successfully balanced preservation and visitor enjoyment of their vast textile collection.
With some thoughtful consideration, large artifacts can be beautifully and purposefully displayed in an abbreviated method, and most importantly, displayed without losing the effect of the object. Certainly, the majority of large objects cannot be displayed in their entirety, but my assertion is that only a very few large objects MUST be displayed in their entirety. What do you think?
-More on the Star Spangled Banner and the painstaking conservation efforts taken by the Smithsonian can be found at http://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/default.aspx
-More on Large Flags, especially an article about the mammoth Utah State Flag written by John Hartvigsen, can be found in the most recent edition of Raven: a Journal of Vexillology, Volume 19.
also check out NAVA's website at www.nava.org
-More on the Old Dutch Church project can be read in an article "'Mounts Altered; Mounting Textiles to Meet the Needs of Clients" presented at AIC's annual meeting._____________________________
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.