Flag conservation

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Preservation week and the importance of preserving artifacts

A week devoted to the preservation of cultural heritage is a wonderful week indeed! We get many phone calls and email messages asking for advice or help to care for artifacts from families and museum collections.  Sometimes, the items in question are in need of care from a professional conservator, but other times the items are just not being kept as carefully as they could.  The most frequent advice we give to those looking for proper storage and care is threefold:                          


  1. Watch the temperature and relative humidity of your storage/display area.  You do not want large fluctuations in either; temperature should be between 65 and 70 degrees F, and RH should always be below 50%.  The chart below illustrates the ideal conditions for the safe-keeping of artifacts.  
  2. Direct light is a NO-NO!  Keep your items out of the light. Light damage is accumulative and irreversible.  "No light" is therefore the best possible environment, especially for your paper, textile and upholstered items.  
  3. Use acid-free materials to support and store your collection. 



Artifacts, storage, art conservation, antiquities, museum collections, relative humidity

If the only thing you can do is the three items listed above, it is a great start!  The recommendation of the above three items is always followed with the next three questions:

  1. How in the world do I determine relative humidity?
  2. What can I cover my windows with? OR is there a UV protecting glass I can use?
  3. What is "Acid Free"?

As luck would have it, there is an answer for each of these questions.

  1. Relative Humidity, temperature, and light exposure can be determined quite easily and with no great expense using a HOBO data logger.  If that is just way more than you think you need, then just keep in mind the guidelines above: between 65 and 70 degrees F and below 50% humidity.
  2. Cover your windows with curtains or light blocking/filtering shades or light blocking/filtering cling-style window films.  Cover your lights with diffusers.  And use UV filtering plexiglass on your framed artifacts.  And if you want to measure what kind of light a particular room or area is receiving, you can use British Wool Fading Cards to determine that.  Bottom line = Light is bad!
  3. An in-depth discussion about Acid Free materials can be found in our October 2013 blog entry entitled:  "What is Acid Free?"

ALA, the American Library Association reports that after the first comprehensive national survey in 2005 of the condition and preservation needs of the nation's collections, "it was reported that U. S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion library items. Libraries alone hold 3 billion items (which represent 63% of the whole).  A treater trove of uncounted additional items is held by individuals, families, and communities.  These collections include books, manuscripts, photographs, prints and drawings and objects such as maps, textiles, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and furniture, to give a sample.  They include moving images and sound recordings that capture performing arts, oral history, and other records of creativity and history.  Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats quickly become obsolescent, if not obsolete".

The survey showed that, "some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk."
And because of these statistics and the survey information, Preservation Week was born. Libraries and cultural heritage institutions are encouraged to use Preservation Week to connect with their local communities "through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections." If you couldn't attend a presentation in your community or anywhere else, here is a youtube link to ALA's past "Preservation Week" presentations, covering various topics on how to care for your collection. 
Of course, if in doubt about the way you are caring for (or storing) an item, or a collection, contact us!  We are happy to help. And if you think your item or collection falls into that category of the "630 items that require immediate attention and care," contact us sooner than later.


_____________________________
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.

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.


_____________________________
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, April 3, 2015

Treatment of a 100 year-old textile and a magnetic mount for display

Fredonia Grange is the first grange in the United States and is therefore designated appropriately as Grange #1. But what is a grange?  Most people have heard of the term, but are not clear about what a grange is and what a rich history this group has.

The formal term is "The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry" and the group traces its birth to the time following the Civil War when the U.S. was feeling the economic damage from the war (particularly in the Southern states). But it was not just the ravaged farms and plantations in the south that were suffering, farmers everywhere were having troubles. Under the direction of Andrew Johnson a representative was sent to the south the survey the conditions. This man, Oliver Kelley was a northerner and not readily welcomed by southerners. But when Oliver Kelley revealed he was a Mason, fellow southern Masons spoke with him freely. From these conversations, Kelley felt that there was a way to revive agriculture and build the trust and cooperation among farmers, and Kelley knew that supplying food to the nation was dependent on this. Upon his return to Washington DC, Kelley and some fellow Masons decided that a secret organization (much like the Masons) for farmers and people living in rural areas could be a fraternal group that would promote cooperation and unite farmers everywhere, regardless of their Civil War affiliation. And so on April 12, 1868 with the establishment of Grange #1, the first farmers advocacy group was formed.

Poster from the Library of Congress promoting the Granges.

Fredonia Grange #1 was formed on April 12, 1868.  In 1915 their current building was constructed and this year they will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its completion. The grange has a long history, and one of their wonderful artifacts recently came to the studio at Spicer Art Conservation for some much needed treatment.

restoration of 100 year old textile, art conservator, antique, Fredonia Grange, before treatment
The textile before treatment. 

The curtain had hung from a wall for nearly 100 years and was quite dirty from years of cigarette smoke, a coal fired furnace and any other debris that had settled onto its surface. It had hung is a way which allowed for the surface to billow in spots, just like a curtain, and those areas were no longer lying flat, hence the painted image was not clearly readable in these areas. Additionally, testing showed the presence of oxi-cellulose in the cotton, and an area of white bloom was visible in areas of the paint. A large tide line at the bottom of the textile showed where it had been wet at some point.

The curtain required cleaning, stabilization and a sturdy method to display it, as the Grange was quite eager to put it back on their wall.

Serving New York and the World, Spicer Art Conservation is an expert in the care and repair of antique textiles, object and works of art on paper.
Both sides of the curtain were quite soiled, even the wall facing side.
(Above) it is cleaned with soot sponges; the side in the foreground has
been cleaned,  while the background has not - and it shows!

Textile conservator, restoration and correction of old repairs, antiques and artifacts
Here is a detail of a repair made to the curtain.

The curtain is made of 5 panels of fabric and is quite large, with an overall measurement 8 feet high, by 11.5 feet wide. The fabric is cotton and the image is painted in oil.  The image was created by a member of the grange who painted it specifically for the 1915 building (see the information plate below).


This image shows the gentle undulation that was in the textile while it hung at the Grange.

The Grange had this tapestry as a focal point in their main assembly room, and desired for it to be returned to the space for which it was created. They did not want to alter the way it had been displayed, other than to make the mounting system more efficient and the textile to hang evenly, without waves. A magnetic hanging system was devised for the textile (below). Note that the cotton webbing sleeve is affixed to the upper edge of the textile.
Magnetic mounting system designed by art conservator, Gwen Spicer
¾” disc N42 Neodynimium magnets with counter-sink hole are screwed to a 
“L”-shaped aluminum bar. The magnets are spaced about 4” apart. The lower 
lip holds the 22-gauge steel that is secured in the sleeve and attached 
to the textile. The magnets keep the steel sheet back against the support.

After Conservation by Textile Conservator, repair and restoration, antique textiles, tapestry, curtain, wall hanging, painting
The Grange curtain after treatment

At Spicer Art Conservation, whenever an artifact has a magnetic system designed for its treatment, display or storage, we carefully document the system in a way that can be universally understood. This language for describing magnetic systems is helpful for anyone who will treat or care for the artifact in the future. The above mount was quite simple and is described as follows:

[Aluminum "L" strip, *N42, disk shape with countersunk holes, 3/4" diameter x 1/8", cotton webbing, steel plate (22-gauge), cotton webbing], cotton textile with oil paint.

The mount description is in brackets and begins with the layer furthest from the artifact. The artifact is listed in italics and if any internal structure is placed within the artifact, it follows within the braces (aka {squiggly brackets}).

Here are some guidelines:
  • The position of the magnet is indicated by an asterisk. The grade and size of the magnet is in parentheses and follows the asterisk: *(grade, shape, size)
  • The ferromagnetic material, is underlined, it's gauge and/or thickness follows in parentheses.
  • The gap layers are in bold.

More information about Fredonia Grange #1 can be found on their Facebook page.
_____________________________
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.