Flag conservation

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

AAGPBL: They Looked Like Ladies, But They Played Like Men

For baseball fans October usually means one thing, MLB playoffs!  While the rest of the world turns it’s attention towards the MLB, here in the studio we have been working with a baseball artifact from a different league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Image 1: Betty Yahr's Rockford Peaches Cap (Before Treatment) 
(Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL for short, began in 1943 and played their final season in 1954.  Despite its relatively short tenure as an operating professional baseball league, the AAGPBL left a lasting impression on the landscape of baseball and pop culture for decades to come, including the Diamond Dreams exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the well known film A League of Their Own.

Professional baseball has long been a man’s sport; there are the occasional stories of women playing for exhibition, such as the story of Jackie Mitchell who famously struck out both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1931.[1]  Another woman who left a mark on baseball was Effa Manley, an owner and executive for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues.  To this day Manley remains the only female to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.[2]  These women represent some of the rare instances of women being able to penetrate the male world of baseball.  However the onset of World War II created the opportunity for, even if temporarily, a much more prominent place for women in professional baseball.

As more and more young men headed into the armed services, concern about the impacts this would have on the sport of baseball led a few enterprising men to form a new professional baseball league for women.  Over the years the AAGPBL went through some name changes as well as variations to the playing rules, however by 1945 the league had taken the shape it remains most known for today, women playing professional baseball, using the rules of Major League Baseball, and most importantly overhand pitching (as opposed to the underhand pitching style softball is known for).[3]

Image 2: South Bend Blue Sox Player Betsy "Sockum" Jochum is pictured at 
bat during her baseball career[4]

Image 3: Sophie Kurys, star of the Racine Belles of the AAGPBL, 
slides into the bag[5]

Most people are familiar with the AAGPBL through its depiction in the film A League of Their Own.  This film tells the fictional story of the Rockford Peaches, their starting 9, and their head coach, Jimmy Dugan.  The film may be fiction, but it was inspired by the stories of the real women playing professional baseball in the 1940s.[6]  The Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in the film, was one of the first teams in the AAGPBL, playing in Rockford, Illinois.  The Peaches would be one of the few teams to play every season of the league’s existence.[7]
1946 was an exciting season for the Rockford Peaches as they made the playoffs and faced the Racine Belles in the league championship game.  The Peaches would end up losing to the Belles, finishing in 2ndplace for the season.[8]  Making her professional debut in 1946, playing outfield for the Peaches was Betty Yahr.[9]  Ultimately Yahr would only end up playing this one season for the Peaches as she decided to return home to Michigan at season’s end.[10]  Despite her short tenure in the AAGPBL, Yahr and her legacy remain an important part of the story of professional women baseball players.

Image 4: The 1946 Rockford Peaches Team Photo[11]
Back, L-R:  Bill Allington (Manager), Rose Gacioch, Dorothy Kamenshek, 
Dorothy Green, Dorothy Moon, Naomi Meier, Mildred Deegan, 
Helen Smith, Margaret Wigiser, Mildred Lundahl (Chaperone).
Front, L-R:  Betty Yahr, Dorothy Cook, Lee Surkowski, Helen Filarski, Olive Little, 
Margaret "Mobile" Holgerson, Dorothy Harrell. Carolyn Morris.

Image 5: Betty Yahr, Rockford Peaches 
Baseball Card[12]

In 2007, a relative of Yahr donated many items from her playing days to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to be used in their exhibit on women in baseball, Diamond Dreams.  Among the donated items was the cap Yahr wore while playing for the Rockford Peaches in 1946.[13]  As is often the case with game worn items, the cap showed signs of wear and damage.  The Hall of Fame funds its conservation efforts through crowd sourcing for individual artifacts, and recently Yahr’s cap met its fundraising goal for treatment.[14]  As a part of the treatment the cap was cleaned and holes were repaired. Additionally a custom mount was created for the cap to ensure it is properly supported, both in storage and while on display, to minimize new damage in the future, allowing fans to learn and appreciate the legacy of Betty Yahr, along with all the women of the AAGPBL, for years to come.

Image 6: Yahr's Cap (After Treatment) (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
Image 7: Cap and Custom Mount (Photo Credit: Mark Schrodt)
If you would like to learn more about the history of women in professional baseball and the AAGPBL stop by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to visit the Diamond Dream exhibit and also check out the official AAGPBL website (www.aagpbl.org)

[1]Tony Horwitz, “The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig,” Smithsonian Magazine(July 2013) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-woman-who-maybe-struck-out-babe-ruth-and-lou-gehrig-4759182/.
[2]“Effa Manley,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/manley-effa.
[3]“League History,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-history.
[4]Margaret Fosmoe, “Women Pro Baseball Players Gather, Reminisce in South Bend,” South Bend Tribune(August 7, 2015) https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/history/women-pro-baseball-players-gather-reminisce-in-south-bend/article_218cc831-cdf2-5105-8b42-d15bee181766.html.
[5]Nicole Haase, “Women’s Baseball Trailblazers Reflect on the League, 75 Years After its Founding,” SBNation(May 30, 2018) https://www.sbnation.com/2018/5/30/17407798/women-baseball-trailblazers-reflect-aagpbl-75th-anniversary.
[6]“A League of Their Own,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_League_of_Their_Own.
[7]“Season Timeline,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons.
[8]“1946 Season,”All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/seasons/1946.
[9]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[10]Alicia Meyer, “’We Saved Baseball’ Betty Yahr and the Rockford Peaches,” Rockford Retold, (October 29, 2015) http://www.rrstar.com/article/20151029/BLOGS/310299999.
[11]“About the Rockford Peaches,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/teams/rockford-peaches.
[12]“Betty Yahr,” All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, https://www.aagpbl.org/profiles/betty-yahr/471.
[13]“Pastime: Betty Yahr Cap, 1946,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://collection.baseballhall.org/PASTIME/betty-yahr-cap-1946-5.
[14]“Our Museum in Action,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.baseballhall.org/museuminaction.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pre-Order Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions and Save!

We are excited to announce that Gwen's new book, Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions, will be available in December and we are now taking pre-orders through December 15th at a 10% discount off the $75 cover price. Order your copy today!

The book is an essential text for mount-makers, exhibit designers, museums professionals, curators, conservators, collections managers, archivists, and architects. It systematically explains magnetic behaviors and the procedures involved in developing magnetic mounting systems for artifacts. With actual case studies and over 80 photographic images and drawings, the book explores a broad range of applications, including artifact types and magnetic systems that can be employed and manipulated for uses in exhibition and storage.

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions is an essential reference text for any reader planning or executing displays, including mount makers and exhibit installation teams within museums and the commercial exhibition industry. It is a must have for everyone who displays collections in museums of all sizes, galleries, archives, libraries and private collections. It will be beneficial to conservation students and any technical staff who wish to employ magnets in their proper fashion to insure the safety of objects they are installing or mounting.

Table of Contents

Additional information

  • Softcover
  • Over 300 pages
  • 59 case studies each with cross-sections and images
  • 16 chapters with extended glossary, appendixes and reference list
  • 44 tables
  • Chapters contain "how to's," "Useful tips" and "Wacky behavior"
  • Available December 2018

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Low-Tech Treatment for Small Areas of Visible Mold

The humidity many of us have experienced this summer due to torrential rains and heat sweeping across the country can easily lead to mold growth. Now in the wake of Hurricane Florence mold will be rampant as the flooding recedes. (For more on freezing see our earlier post.) It's important to be vigilant by monitoring humidity levels throughout your institution or home to prevent excessive moisture levels. Mold is not only a hazard for objects, it's also a danger to people.

If you've got a big mold problem, first fix the source of it and then call in professionals to remediate it. Poor drainage, foundation or wall cracks, leaking roofs or plumbing, lack of sufficient ventilation or air-conditioning all contribute to the spread of damaging mold.

If you have visible mold in less than 10 continuous square feet, you may be able to remediate it yourself with dehumidification and a low-tech water trap attached to your vacuum to capture the spores.

The water trap can be made of any glass or jar. The one we use in the studio is in the image below. It is important to ensure that it is well sealed around the openings and the tubes. Ethafoam (a strong, resilient, medium-density, closed-cell, white polyethylene foam which is acceptable for use in the preservation of objects) is really helpful for this. Gwen even carved out a stand for the glass to ensure it would not fall over. The other critical aspect is the ends of the two tubes inside the glass are above the water line. It is the vacuum's suction that forces the mold spores into the water i.e. trap, while not traveling into the vacuum cleaner.

The above photo illustrates how the water trap is connected to a vacuum. The right hand hose (with the blue end on it) is the one used to suck up the mold.

When finished, thoroughly clean all of the associated tools, mark them and save them together, including brushes.

It's very important to contain the spores, not spread them around (which is what regular vacuuming will do). Here's a step-by-step guide to what to do next and don't forget to wear an approved N95 respirator, gloves, and eye protection!

Captured mold

Gwen Spicer. When Water Strikes, It's a Freezer to the Rescue! March 2018.
Ibid. Mold on Pastel Portraits, why it grows and how it can be prevented. January 2017.
Idid. Mold in museum collections is the environmental "canary in a coal mine". September 2014.

Friday, September 7, 2018


We join our colleagues around the world in mourning the incalculable loss of Brazil's National Museum, which sustained the destruction of 90% of its collection in a fire that spread on September 2. As a result, one of the Americas' largest museums of natural history and anthropology, and the rich legacy of indigenous and immigrant populations is no more.

Screenshot from YouTube

An extensive article examining the event and its aftermath was published by Hyperallergic. As Popular Science reports, what happened in Rio is just the tip of the iceberg for many museums around the globe when it comes to disaster prevention.

The fire's cause is under investigation, however, two things are known for certain: smoke detectors in the building were not working and there was no sprinkler system. It's not such a big leap to envision the type of damage fire could bring to your own institution and we hope that the National Museum's fire caused every museum official to immediately check their fire detection and suppression systems, including hand-held fire extinguishers.

Detection and suppression systems, whether simple or sophisticated, are just two elements of a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan that must rely, first and foremost, on human diligence. Humans are the first line of defense, ensuring that electrical systems are up-to-date and functioning properly, that flammable materials are safely stored, that storage and work spaces are free of combustible materials, that plans are in place regarding emergency response, that staff and volunteers are trained to respond appropriately, and that first responders are made aware of the unique characteristics of museum buildings and their holdings.

If you need help creating or updating your emergency preparedness plans and procedures, there are many resources to turn to for help.

Meanwhile, the National Museum needs your help. If you have photos of the museum and/or its artifacts, consider sending them to The Museu Nacional staff at isabeladfrreitas@gmail.com. With any luck some photos will have legible labels which may help recover at least some data.

Additionally, museum studies students at UNIRIO, the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, are collecting photos in an effort to preserve the memory and create a virtual museum of what has been lost. Emails may also be sent to thg.museo@gmail.com. You can read more about this project, Students Are Collecting Photos to Remember Brazil’s Destroyed National Museum.

Wikipedia is also collecting images: upload by going to commons.wikimedia.org, follow the instructions in the left-hand sidebar to upload images and choose the category "Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro".

Aqui no SAC lamentamos a perda do Museu e percebemos o dor do Povo Brasileiro. Olhamos para um futuro renascimento do Museu, que vai servir como um Fênix cujo destino serrai de liderar uma animação da percepção da grande historia e das riquezas dos ecossistemas do Brasil.

Friday, August 31, 2018

What are Flexible Magnets?

You know them and we bet you even own a few! We're talking about flexible magnets, also sometimes called refrigerator magnets, which first appeared as a type of ceramic magnet in the 1960's. 

Because they're made with flexible resins and binders (synthetic or natural rubber) this type of magnet can be produced as 1) extruded magnetic profiles that are usually coiled or 2) in sheets, resulting in a wide variety of options and properties. For example, extruded flexible magnets are often found on shower door or refrigerator closures. Magnetic sheets, on the other hand, can be cut into all sorts of shapes and sizes, and are what you find holding that souvenir of your summer vacation to your refrigerator door or office filing cabinet.

When flexible magnets are extruded, they pass through a line of powerful cylindrical permanent magnets or a rotating magnetic field. This step allows for the creation of a wide variety of options. For instance, they can be formed to have holding power on both sides, or only on one side. 

The most commonly arranged magnetic poles occur in an alternating line format on the same surface plane (NSNSN or SNSNS). An interesting phenomenon occurs when two layers are slipped slightly on top of one another: they both repel and attract as one slides across the surface of the other. One side of the flat surface is more magnetic (has an increase in holding force) than the other. This arrangement of polar direction is called the Halbach Array. It is this alternating polarity that creates modest attraction (fig. 1). 

Figure 1: A cross-section of a Halbach array with the alternating poles that create a stronger magnetic
field on one side and a weaker one on the other.

The most common style used in museums is the multi-pole on one side. In museums, flexible magnets are commonly used to attach accession or object numbers in documentation photography, for overall humidification as a substitute for weights, holding wrapper enclosures closed, and mounting of lightweight flat artifacts. Their continuous magnetic field is ideal for overall support; their low pull force, however, does not allow them to support heavy or thick items (Schlefer, 1986; Stenstrom, 1994; Braun, 2001; Keynan et al., 2007; Vilankulu, 2008; Heer et al., 2012; Migdail, 2013).

The pull force of flexible magnets is quite weak, and they have low magnetic strength when compared to a non-bonded magnet. Today, the flexible-style magnet is also formed with neodymium (further described in the following section), creating a much greater pull force. Thickness of the flexible material is in direct relation to the pull force of the magnet. Manufacturers specify pull force in pounds per square foot. Pull force is related to thickness; the thicker the sheet, the stronger the magnet. A flexible magnet .04 cm (.015 inches) thick has a pull force of roughly 40 pounds per square foot (0.278 PSI) while a flexible magnet .08 cm (.030 inches) thick has a pull force of roughly 85 pounds per square foot (0.59 PSI). No other magnet type has such clear-cut specifications; therefore comparing flexible magnets with others is not easily transferable (table below).

Table: Thickness of the flexible magnet and the pounds per square inch of pull force
Approximate pounds per sq. ft.
Pounds per square inch (PSI)

Flexible magnets are very susceptible to demagnetization, especially when in contact with other stronger magnets and with other similar flexible magnets (fig. 2) (Livingston, 1996). They also appear to lose their magnetization over time, likely due to proximity to other magnets. Flexible magnets are less susceptible to demagnetization by their Curie Temperature. When used in a situation where strength is needed, they should be checked occasionally.

Figure 2: The parallel rows of the flexible magnet visible with a
'magnetic viewing film (left). The same parallel rows disrupted
when exposed to a rare-earth magnet (right).

Flexible, bonded type magnets are conducive to creating large area pressure type systems. These ferrite-bonded magnets are weak, but to increase the strength, the polar directions are arranged as in a Halbach Array during manufacture. It is this alternating polar direction that provides gentle pressure, evenly dispersed over an entire surface. Conservators use the standard magnetic orientation of a magnetic force on one side. Sheets can vary in alignment when placed together and should be trimmed as a pair. Their strength can be increased somewhat by using both thicker flexible magnets and a related gauge of metal (Spicer, 2014). A second layer of flexible magnet placed on top does not add to the pull force of the first layer, due to its particular alternating polarity.

The addition of pressure created by the pull force can both introduce and assist in the removal of moisture during humidification of an artifact. An artifact sandwiched between absorbent materials is given overall pressure either between two flexible magnets or a top flexible magnet layer above and a steel plate below. The presence of the sandwiching method has been noted to slow drying time (Blaser and Peckham, 2006), but the benefit of not having to lift heavy weights offsets this.

As a conservation tool, flexible magnets have been successfully used for a wide range of applications, including during humidification of paper and book repair as a substitute for weights (Brooks, 1984; Stenstrom, 1994; and Blaser and Peckham, 2006); an embellishment attachment with two layers of flexible sheets (Braun 2001); and mounting (Keynan et. al., 2007; Heer et al., 2012; and Migdail, 2012).

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beep, Beep! Car in the Studio!!

One never knows what one might find in the conservator's studio. Last month it happened to be a car. Yes, that's right. And as you might guess, it wasn't just any car. What rolled into Spicer Art Conservation was a 1910 Stoddard-Dayton limousine.

First, let's take a short detour into the history of this remarkable brand. The Stoddard-Dayton was a high-quality car manufactured by the Dayton (OH) Motor Car Company between 1905 and 1913. Three models were available in 1906, with the limousine being the largest and most expensive (it retailed for $3,200). Within five years, the company was offering an astounding twenty models with four different engines. Quality engineering, materials and manufacturing set this company apart from the expanding field of automobile manufacturers of the early 20th century. While most of Stoddard-Dayton models received between 15-18 coats of paint, the limousines typically featured 30 coats of paint, each coat sanded and rubbed by hand. Known for their dependability, all models were extensively road tested before delivery to the proud owner.

Is it any wonder Frank Lloyd Wright owned a 1908 Stoddard-Dayton Model K roadster?

1906 Stoddard-Dayton "Limousine of Luxury,"
from the archives of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

When faced with financial difficulties, Stoddard-Dayton was acquired by the United States Motor Company in 1912, and later by the Chrysler Corporation. Wikipedia notes,
Stoddard-Dayton was slow to react to the emergence of a mass market and maintained a high-quality strategy after automobiles ceased to be exclusively rich men's status symbols. They were building cars as good as possible while Ford and General Motors were building as cheap as possible.
The Stoddard-Dayton limousine that made its way to the studio is indeed special. It was built on speculation by the company and, therefore, only one of its type exists. Privately owned, it has many of the traditional elements commonly found in the carriage of a horse-drawn vehicle: leather upholstery, often tufted; brass and nickel appointments, such as light fixtures; and fabric pockets, hand loops or 'swing holders', window open pulls or 'sash holders' and slides often made of ivory or bone. The photos below illustrate how the interior design of a horse-drawn sleigh on the right is echoed thirty years later in the limousine's interior on the left. Continuing this interior design tradition makes some sense, after all, how much change can a person take?

Examples of two vehicle interiors; (left) The interior of the 1910 Stoddard-Dayton with leather tufted
 seats and squabs, wool broad-cloth covered walls and ceiling. (right) 'Booby Hut' 1880 sleigh, Long
Island Museum, (The Carriage Collection: The Museums at Stony Brook, 1986) 

Communicating with the driver was important, whether with a speaking tube or bell at the end of a cord and tassel. The the case of this limousine, a speaking tube was available. The tube was covered in wool broadcloth to match the interior's burgundy broadcloth lining fabric.

Detail of the interior door, showing all of the trim types, even with a fifty year span between examples they
followed the same tradition; (left) Stoddard-Dayton; Just present at the center top of the image is the metal
bracket for the sash holder (the lace or leather strip fastened in the bottom of the window frame used to open
and close the window) that would have fallen in front of the pocket; (right) 1860,  J. B. Brewster & amp;
Company, Circular-front coupe, at the center of the door is the sash holder with fringe.

(left) The Stoddard-Dayton's 'Swing holder' made of a wide coach lace, lined with wool broadcloth with a wooden
covered silk thread decorative element; (right) Coach lace patterns from c. 1880, the white upper center sample
is the same pattern as the Stoddard-Dayton (Ferrell, M. 1987. 'A Harmony of Parts' 19th Century American 
Carriages: Their manufacture, decoration and use).

The unusual aspect of this treatment is the amount of original textiles present that remain in good, but dirty and sooty condition. In addition, the owner was very interested in retaining as much of the original material as possible, while also wanting to be able to drive the car and accommodate passengers. It is a car, after all, that still runs.

All interior surfaces were cleaned by vacuuming and with dry soot sponges to remove residue, grime, and surface grease. Some textiles were also wet cleaned and dried. Deteriorated carpeting, window shades and tassels and the leather upholstery were all replaced as that they were too deteriorated for actual use.


Coach laces: Narrow woven fabric used to finish edges, corners and seams. It is both ornamental and functional. They are divided into types. Broad lace – Wider woven and used in door panels, falls, handholds, and cushion sides. Woven with elaborate patterns.  (Narrower ones with abbreviated designs in coordinating colors.) Seaming lace – A narrow fabric with one selvage used to cover cords. (It is similar to piping) Pasting lace – They function as a binding on borders and edges.  Narrower then Broad lace, typically ½” wide with a tape of the same width. Binding – has one tape side; used on falls, pockets and lining.

Sash Holder: A lace or leather strip fastened in the bottom of the window frame. The loose end is finished off with a piece of fringe or other ornament. It is used to raise or lower the window. Also called a “glass frame lifter” or “glass slide

Slides: Ivory, bone or metal fixtures attached to the top edge of the door lining upon which the lace or cord moves.  It is used to lift the window in the doors; flat bolts having a notch in the end used to keep carriage windows in their places.

Squabs: A quilted or stuffed section used on sides and back panels of an enclosed or partially enclosed carriage. Also called “upper quarter panel”.

Swing Holders: Straps are used to assist the passengers with getting in and out of a vehicle as well as a sling-like armrest.

Tapes: An extended plain-weave section that is woven at either only one or both sides of the decorative lace element. It is folded under, and used as a tacking edge.


Stoddard-Dayton. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoddard-Dayton. Accessed June 30, 2018.

Stoddard-Dayton Company. http://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/stories3/stoddard_dayton_story.pdf.
Accessed June 30, 2018.

Comparison images are from publications by the Long Island Museum, formerly the Museums of Stoney Brook. Their collection of carriages is superb.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Tricolor in the canton of a Civil War National Color

It's Flag Day, June 14, and there is interesting history to go with an artifact being conserved this summer at Spicer Art Conservation. We going to be mounting an unusual Civil War National Color from the collection of the New York State Military Museum, soon to be going on loan for an exhibit in Germany.

On the obverse side of the flag are 34 embroidered stars in the grand luminary design in the canton. On the reverse side is a tricolor of black, red and gold, a German National flag (the black and red fields are comprised of solid pieces of fabric, while the bottom gold field is comprised of four ribbons stitched together horizontally.)

It is unusual to have another national flag in the canton of a US National flag. These were tumultuous times in Europe, with the widespread 'revolutions' of 1848, and the black-red-gold tricolor became the symbol of those advocating a German Republic. Following the disturbances, many Germans emigrated to the United States, and, having lost their bid to establish a republic at home, these immigrants became whole-hearted Americans, and some of them enlisted to preserve our Republic.

The reverse-side of the canton, a tricolor of
black, red and gold strips.
The four ribbon rows used to create the
yellow strip of the German flag.

"The large German-American population of the North was among the first to rally to the defense of the Union in 1861. In all, over 200,000 of these immigrant Americans would enlist in the Federal armies. Some of them were not only eager volunteers, but distinctly dressed as well. Two New York City German regiments, the 8th and the 20th Volunteer Infantry, wore uniforms reflecting the Germanic tradition of marksmanship and the use of rifles." (*Don Troiani's Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War (Stackpole Books 2002).

(Learn more at  the New York State Military Museum's webpage about the 8th Infantry https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/8thInf/8thInfMain.htm )

It may be a bit of a shock to some to recognize the tricolor in the US national flag canton to be the modern German flag--it looks like something from an editorial cartoonist's pen. This flag has a long history, and it has specific meaning. Wikipedia ("Flag_of_Germany") tells us that there have been two tricolors competing to be the German national flag: black-white-red (imperial colors) and the current black-red-gold (republican colors). The black-red-gold flag appeared first in 1778, and was prominent during and after the 1848 revolutions. It was proposed to be the flag of a constitutional monarchy for united Germany. Black-white-red was the imperial flag until the end of World War I. The black-red-gold flag again returned during the Weimar Republic, giving way to the imperial colors during the Nazi regime. Following World War II, the republican design was revived to represent Germany, what we referred to as 'West Germany' during the Cold War. During that time 'East Germany' included a field of 'socialist heraldry', the latter dropped upon reunification in 1990.

The grand luminary star pattern.

If you look carefully below the nylon net,
the star is embroidered as a circle with a
chain-stitch outline, with five-points.

The flag that SAC is treating was made for the 8th NY Volunteer infantry, a regiment composed of the German-Americans. The 8th was referred to as the 1st German Rifles, commanded by Ludwig Blenker. They were issued M1842 Muskets rather than rifles, but still chose to wear the green trim associated with rifle units. They were one of many Union regiments wearing gray in 1861.

After some brief searching and asking around, I have not yet been able to locate any other examples of a flag from a different nation being combined into the US flag for any of the other immigrant troops. There are examples of troops carrying a flag representative of their home nation along with a US flag, but nothing where the 2 flags are combined into 1 flag like this one is. We would be interested in learning more about such flags.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beware “Fake” Dust Masks and Respirators

As part of a FEMA team deployed to Puerto Rico, Gwen is volunteering her conservation expertise this spring to cultural institutions that continue their recovery from last fall’s devastating hurricanes. She and her colleagues use dust masks and N95 particulate respirators on a daily basis to protect themselves from a range of non-oil based airborne particulates, including mold.

In the warm and humid environment of Puerto Rico, mold grows quickly. In addition to the damage it causes to objects, textiles, and paper-based materials, it has the potential to cause health problems. Allergic reactions are common and can be immediate or delayed. Respiratory protection is essential and the safest, most reliable gear is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the United States federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.

The N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators and filters at least 95% of airborne particles but is not resistant to oil.

To their surprise, the team found that some of the dust masks in use are not approved by NIOSH. Rather, they are marketed as NISH-approved, which is not a legitimate designation.

Gwen urges you to check your dust masks and respirators to ensure they are N95 NIOSH approved and discard those that are not.


NIOSH is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can learn more about NIOSH at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/about/default.html

Respiratory Protection for Residents Reentering and/or Cleaning Homes that Were Flooded  https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/disease/respiratory.html 

Training videos for respirators  (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/respiratoryprotection/training_videos.html 

Una Breve Guía para el Moho en el lugar de trabajo (available in Spanish and English) https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html 


Friday, May 18, 2018

Conserving the Details From a Poet's Life

Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1914

A conservator's work often entails dealing with art and artifacts that span the spectrum from the truly spectacular to the mundane. All need to be treated with the same respect no matter their type or provenance, and the conservator's training allows her to see and understand the importance of each and every item in her care.

Passing through the conservator's studio a couple of years ago were some everyday objects belonging to one of America's most respected and successful poets. Born in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up in a household with a strong, independent mother who took an intense interest in seeing her daughter exposed to a broad and liberal cultural education. Millay flourished in this environment, went on to graduate from Vassar College, and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and feminist activist. 

Millay spent the last twenty-five years of her life with her husband at their home, called Steepletop, in Austerlitz, NY. Today the house still holds all of her furniture, her books and other possessions, many of which remain where they were on the day she died in 1950. The site is maintained by the nonprofit Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. 

Steepletop as it appears today

Enter the conservator sixty-five years after Millay's death. Three items -- a pastel portrait of Millay, a lampshade, and a Do Not Disturb hotel sign -- were all in need of treatment. 

The large portrait (30 x 25 inches) had been executed in 1937 on a dense laminated board by illustrator and portrait painter Neysa McMein for McCall's magazine. Because of Steepletop's humid environment, mold was present, as was staining, on Millay's face and the background. Extensive dirt and debris were found when the frame was opened during initial examination. The goal of the treatment was to compensate for the mold damage and reframe the picture using archival materials. The backing board and matting were removed and discarded, mold residue was removed and the staining was in-painted with a similar type of medium. Reassembly required attaching the portrait to acid-free board with Japanese paper hinges, creating a new window mat of acid-free board, cleaning the frame and adding glass with ultraviolet filtering.

Before and after treatment of Edna's portrait.

The early 20th century lampshade consisted of six paper panels containing three alternating bird prints. Not only was the shade dirty from coal soot, the metal support at its top had separated from the paper and it had been repaired with tape. It appeared that a coating, possibly to imitate thin wood veneer, had been allied to the panels. Compounding the condition were losses at the edges of the shade and a 3-inch tear with smaller tears radiating out from it. The focus of the treatment was to secure the metal support and mend the tear with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Creases and paper distortions were reduced through humidification.

The most curious artifact of all was the circa 1927 paper sign reading "DO NOT DISTURB / THE COPLEY-PLAZA / BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS", which hung from the doorknob by a string. What would be an occasion that would cause someone to keep such a memento? It's interesting that Millay was in Boston along with other writers in August 1927 to protest the verdict of Sacco and Vanzetti and was arrested for her participation. Her prominence afforded her a meeting with the governor where she made the case of Sacco and Vanzetti's innocence. Could a simple hotel sign symbolize such an important event?

Before and after treatment of the sign

As often happens with ephemera, careless use or storage often get the better of it. The paper had separated into three pieces, there were tears around the string holes, and fragments of the sign had torn away. The cotton string was kinked, creased, knotted and dirty. After cleaning, the sign was reinforced with acid-free board for additional support and the tears were mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Losses were replaced by toned Japanese tissue and in-painted as necessary. Lastly, a support stand was created for the sign.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Successfully Mounting Barkcloth with Magnets

A few months ago I was fortunate to have a visit with Monique Pullan, a conservator of organic artifacts at the British Museum. I was interested in seeing how she was mounting a range of artifacts using a magnetic system, and I was especially curious to talk with her about mounting barkcloth, which has long been a challenging material to display safely.

First, what is Barkcloth?

"Barkcloth is a versatile material that was once common in Asia, Africa, Indonesia, and the Pacific. Barkcloth comes primarily from trees of the Moraceae family, including Broussonetia papyrifera, Artocarpus altilis, and Ficus natalensis. It is made by beating sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark of these trees into sheets, which are then finished into a variety of items. Many texts that mention "paper" clothing are actually referring to barkcloth."    -- Wikipedia, accessed February 24, 2018

Making barkcloth

Given the fibrous nature of the material and methods of fabrication, barkcloth is often characterized by creased surfaces, undulating edges and irregular sizes. It is used for clothing, for masks and various ritual objects, to support painted decoration and to mark sacred spaces. Write Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins, "... barkcloth formed a major vehicle for creativity, kinship, exchange, and the expression of political prestige. Everywhere these fabrics maintained and communicated the artists’ deep connections to ancestors and country." [1]

As you can imagine there are large collections of barkcloth in museums ranging in date from the early nineteenth century up to the present day. Also called Tapa cloth, they are important culturally, symbolically and historically, but are often collected for their sheer decorative appeal.

Mounting with Magnets

Barkcloth has long been a challenge to mount in museums due to its wide variety and difficulty of fitting it within standard mounting museum methods. For one, is it a textile or paper? Actually, neither of these fully describe the nature of this material. Conservators have in the past generally mounted barkcloth as though it was a textile, using Velcro, sleeves for rods, hinges or even Plexiglas clips in an attempt to find a suitable method to support these widely varied materials.

As one can imagine the possibilities of using magnets is now an increasingly viable option. What has become clear in researching magnetic systems for mounting barkcloth with magnets, however, is that few systems have been published. The few systems that have been published do not fully describe the system such that could be fully reproduced.

Part of the reason to visit Monique Pullman at the British Museum was to see she how she has mounted barkcloth in their collection. She showed me a method were she attached a 'magnetic' stainless steel sheet to a Tycore (honeycomb archival paper board) mount. The full mount was covered with flannel and display fabric (for information about 'magnetic' stainless steel see our recent post 'What is magnetized stainless steel?'). The fabric-covered, disc-shaped N42 grade magnets were positioned along the upper and side edges of the barkcloth, as shown below. The outer surface of the magnets were covered with toned Japanese tissue paper (more can be read about camouflage of magnets by reading 'How do I camouflage my magnets?').

Cross-section of the magnetic mounting system used by Monique Pullman and the British Museum (left);
Schematic showing the location of the individual disc-shaped magnets along the upper and side edges.

Monique Pullman's mock-up board for her
magnetic system for mounting Barkcloth.

This is only one of the many variations of magnetic mounting systems that have been used and that I have documented. A summary of all of the systems found at this time is that they are all 'point-fasteners', in essence where single individual magnets, either disc- or block-shaped, are used with a receiving metal.

In studying the magnetic systems used, I have been interested in the spacing and location of the individual magnets, the weight and thickness of the barkcloth, the grade, size and shape of the magnet, as well as the type and gauge of the receiving side metal or the ferromagnetic material, whether stainless steel or steel. All of these details are important to gather in order to replicate the mounting system or to even develop a possible 'rule of thumb' to mount an artifact as varied as barkcloth.

In my forthcoming book, Magnetic Mounting in Art Conservation and Museums, many magnetic mounting systems are illustrated to mount barkcloth and other types of collections -- with an attempt to present systems that can offer solutions to meet the variety of types of cloths that can be found in museums.

[1] Nicholas Thomas and Jonathan Watkins. Tapa: Barkcloth Paintings from the Pacific. Exhibition Catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. 2013.

Additional Resources
Kimberly Adams. World in Progress: Modern Bark cloth in Uganda. Deutsche Welle. (2016-01-27). 2016-01-28.

Margot M. Wright (ed.). Barkcloth: Aspects of preparation, use,deterioration, conservation and display, 96-111. London: Archetype Publications. 2007.
Peter Mesenhöller and Annemarie Stauffer (eds.).  Made in Oceana: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Social and Cultural Meanings and Presentation of Oceanic Tapa. 117-28. Newcastle on Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2014.

UNESCO. Bark Cloth Making in Uganda. 2005.