Flag conservation

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln Presidency and Assassination bring a world of memorabilia to be conserved

April 14th marks the 150 anniversary of the fateful day when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater, dying of his wounds early the next morning.

The memorabilia items that we see linked to this great president are in no short supply. Items that are either directly related to him, or related to some event that included him, are prized. In 20 years of private practice at SAC, clients have brought a multitude of Lincoln iconography to be conserved. And that doesn't even include the items linked to him from the Civil War or the Abolition of Slavery. Lincoln truly was prolific and his image on an item often meant it was kept.

Textile art conservation, Abraham Lincoln collectibles memorabilia, repair and restoration of artifacts, antiques and antiquities
Textile banners like these commonly appeared
with bunting and were hung on a building.
Private Collection.

The artifacts we have treated have been in textile form, like the banner (above), transparency sign (further below), or silk ribbon (furthest below). Objects, like the gloves worn to Lincoln's funeral (immediately below). Paper, like letters believed to be from Lincoln, or letters and newspaper clippings that spoke about him, his presidency, or his untimely death.

Antique leather repair, magnetic museum mount, objects conservator, Spicer Art Conservation Albany New York
These leather gloves were worn to Lincoln's funeral. Surprisingly, we
consulted with another collector on a very similar pair, also worn to
Lincoln's funeral, but by a completely different person.
Owned by the NYS Millitary Museum.

Objects from Lincoln's presidential campaign are also highly prized, like the campaign banner below.

Spicer Art Conservation, repair and restoration of presidential memorabilia, artifacts, antiques , textiles
This transparency sign, made of cotton and mounted on a wooden
frame box to be illuminated by candle, is owned by the
Columbia County Historical Society in New York. 
Lincoln campaign, presidential memorabilia collectibles, art conservation, textile conservator
This silk ribbon, from the 1860 Presidential election
suggesting "A. Lincoln for  president" and "H. Hamlin
for Vice-President".  Private Collection.

Often when a client brings an item relating to Lincoln or any other historic figure, they want the item to be substantiated. Is it real, is it from the actual event, or was it from an anniversary to commemorate the event? This is usually unknown, yet they want to conserve the item because of the image of Lincoln and because, after all this time, he is still regarded as a great president.

Interestingly, many items that we treat are what is considered ephemera, and therefore were originally not meant to last (such as the campaign ribbon, or the cotton transparency sign). This of course means that these items arrive at the studio in quite fragile condition. And although many of these artifacts have been kept carefully, these items that were meant to be short-lived are just inherently delicate. It is also interesting that often a client wants their Lincoln ephemera placed in an archival mount or storage, but does not want to change the look of it (meaning that they want to keep the wrinkles in the paper or fabric, and the marks that make it look old). Perhaps it feels more "authentic" if the object's history of use is still clearly visible.


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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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