Flag conservation

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Russian artifacts nearly lost

While it is not a secret, it is probably not widely known that the Foundation of Russian History is located in Jordanville, New York, a small pastural community in central New York. The Foundation is a unique place in that it contains not only the museum, but Jordanville is also home to the Holy Trinity Monastery and Russian Orthodox Church as well. The Foundation's Museum holds in its collection some interesting items, many of which made their way from Russia at a time when so few objects survived. The Foundation of Russian History has trusted Spicer Art Conservation, LLC to treat many of their artifacts, particularly those which are now on display at their exhibition "The Russian Word and Image: Four Hundred Years of Books and Art".

The Holy Trinity Church in Jordanville on a spectacular day for the opening of the eagerly anticipated exhibit of the Foundation of Russian History.

Inside the exhibit: The Russian Word and Image.

Among these artifacts are some remarkable items which surprisingly survived following the fall of czarist Russia.  Perhaps most recognizable, Romanov family items are now part of the exhibit highlighting these and some of Russia's rare historic objects.

The artifacts SAC treated for the exhibit included both paper and textiles. The paper based items included a menu from a celebratory dinner of the Coronation of Czar Nicholas II (often referred to as "the last Czar") and a set of illustrations of the coronation. Before they arrived in our studio, many items had been painstakingly preserved by well-intentioned individuals who knew that these items were rare. Many paper based items had been glued to poster boards with rubber cement, and some had been placed in very acidic environments. Other items, like the print below had been "touched up" by painting areas where there was great loss.  With perseverance, SAC was able to remove the prints from their boards and conserve each of the paper items.

Historic print, glued to backboard, art conservation, repair, archival framing, Russian artifact, museum collection
One of a set of four prints celebrating the coronation of  Nicholas II.

The textiles we treated in this collection were magnificent. The flags and banners in particular were each richly and heavily embroidered with intricacy and unbelievable detail. The embroidery was often 3-dimensional. Such an artifact treated for the exhibition was a double-sided standard (image below) elaborately worked with metallic threads and silver discs. At the center, the image incorporated enameled metal for the face and hands of St. George who appears in the still richly red colored center of the double-headed eagle's crest all on a silk damask.

Expert conservation of historic flags and banners, Russian flag historic, antique, artifact, czar
1856 St. George Standard of His Imperial Majesty's Own Escort. This double-sided and elaborately embroidered  standard was awarded by Alexander II to the Chernomorski Cossack division in recognition of extraordinary feats in battle.  The flag, composed of silk and embroidered in metallic threads and elements is quite stunning, even in its present condition.

Many of the items are so rare simply because of the consequences of the changes that took place in Russia as the Socialist and then Communist parties controlled the government.  During this time of great change, monasteries were closed, priests were murdered or jailed, it was forbidden to teach children religion or to publish religious literature.  Museums and their contents were deemed "not necessary"; therefore much of the art, history, and culture of Russia was lost in the effort to make everything the same and free from religion or the rule of the past. However not all was lost. Miraculously, objects were rescued and brought out of Russia to the tiny town of Jordanville where they would be safe from destruction.

"The Russian Word and Image" exhibit sheds light on 400 years of Russian art and books, covering the time periods of the Muscovite czardom, through the reign of Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, to the civil war to the life of Russians abroad. If you are able to go, it is just a beautifully presented exhibit.
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.

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