Flag conservation

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

Remembering World War I and II Service Banners and the 'Home Front'

Sheet music, "Our Service Flag: A Blue Start 
Turned to Gold," 1920, Library of Congress.

Over the years at Spicer Art Conservation, we have seen many types of service banners or service flags that were meant to be displayed by service members' families. First used during World War I, the banner was designed and patented in 1917 by U.S. Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the Fifth Ohio Infantry, in honor of his two sons who were serving in that war. With subsequent use, their design and sizes were standardized and codified.
The flag or banner is officially defined as a white field with a red border, with a blue star for each family member serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities. A gold star with a blue edge represents a family member who died during Military Operations. This includes those who lost their lives during World War I, World War II, or during any subsequent period of armed hostilities in which the United States was engaged before July 1, 1958, or those who lost their lives after June 30, 1958:
  • while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party against an opposing armed force;
or those who lost their lives after March 28, 1973, as a result of:
  • an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of Defense; or
  • military operations while serving outside the United States (including the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States) as part of a peacekeeping force. [1]
A personal banner, often placed in a window. The blue star signifies one family member serving in the Armed Forces. Should the family member die in service, the family had the right to replace the blue star with a gold one.
The size of this banner needed to be the same size ratio as the American flag.

The Gold Star Mother designation originally started in 1928 by Grace Darling Seibold to recognize mothers who lost sons in WWI. The last Sunday in September is observed as Gold Star Mother's Day. Above, Gold Star Mother's Day at Arlington National Cemetery in 1936.

These banners were widely distributed in the home front, but lost favor during the Vietnam War. There has been a resurgence in their use since the first Gulf War. For example, the Silver Star is a tradition begun in 2004, marking service personnel who were wounded.

A 1918 Service flag, presented to Mills County by Glenwood
Lodge No. 43, Knights of Pythias
Many organizational banners were personalized
with the names of their members and, thus, can be very large.

WWII banner for Navy service. The printed design is
'flocked'. It still has its wooden rod with cord and tassels
WWII Banner from the West Side Rowing Club,
Buffalo, NY
The idea of commemorating members of a group has a tradition with GAR roll of honor as a means to honor valor and bravery of members.

GAR Roll of Honor with 18 names
Names are printed onto cardboard and attached to
fabric with a ribbon

Notes and Resources

[1] Wikipedia, "Service Flag," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_flag, accessed January 12, 2019.

CRW Flags, "Service Flags (U.S.)," https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us%5Esvc.html, accessed January 12, 2019.

"The Service Flag of the United States," http://www.usflag.org/history/serviceflag.html, accessed January 12, 2019.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Puerto Rico - One Year Later

I sit here comfortably in my home. The lights on, heat when I need it, and even water (this is sporadic due more to regional geographic issues than natural disasters). Even this year in the mid-west crazy events are happening on unusual scales - flooding and endless rainfalls, record numbers of days with tornadoes. Nationally, the incredible weather events this spring make one wonder if some of their underlying causes are related to climate change.

Lost siding from strong winds on the Museo de
Arte de Puerto Rico. 

It was only a year ago I found myself in Puerto Rico surveying collection damage for FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Maria. I was reminded of this fact by FEMA's countdown clock which announced next hurricane season begins June 1st.

Blue tarps on unprepared roofs.

A year later and Puerto Rico's recovery is far from complete. Perhaps a roof has been repaired on an university's library. Volunteers, like me, have come and gone. But I can't helping asking myself if the  the collections that library roof had once protected will ever be the same. Can students safely read the books without masks? Will the staff at the library every resume their jobs or health?

LIbrary at the Universidad de PR-Humacao.
The roof was completely lost.
Circulation dest at the library at the Universidad
de PR-Humacao.

Capuana Ceremonial Ball Courts site, Utuado.
Metal building in Caguas.
Museo Casa Antonio Roig, Humacao.
Moisture in the walls of Casa Alonso, Vega_Baja.

Mold is silent, till it is awakened
Waves of assistance come and go
No electricity or generators,
More mold grows

Am I safe?
Are my loved ones safe?
My home, my belongings?
Yet mold grows

Mixed with a humid climate, mold grows
Stone walls remain wet
Wind can slow it, if at the shore
More mold grows

Collections are disfigured
Collections are distorted
Collections are never the same
As more mold grows

What is the remedy?
Without assistance
More mold grows

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions is now available!

The book is now available and it is time to get yours today! 

We have been waiting for this day for a long time. I especially want to thank all of those who pre-ordered books. In all, they ordered over eighty books. Some ordered at the time of the International Mountmaking Forum in London. Since that meeting, there has been a steady flow of orders from museum professionals, framers and mountmakers globally. I have been overwhelmed and pleased by this early support and enthusiasm for the book.

All the boxes delivered. 

The book! It looks really great, too.

How do I get a book? It is easy, you can go here to place your order and we will ship a copy to you.  Are you going to be at this years AIC annual meeting in Connecticut and don't want to wait or pay for shipping? It is only a few weeks away. I will be there too selling copies of the book.

How do you find me at AIC? You can find cards with ordering information at SmallCorp's table in the exhibit hall. Or look for conservators wearing a large button with the book cover. These conservators will also have cards with ordering information available. Or you can just find me walking around. I will have books available for purchase and am happy to arrange meeting up with people to facilitate the purchases; just send me an email at gwen@spicerart.com and we can work out the details!

An assembly line was needed for
the packaging of all of the books.
These books are headed abroad!

All of the pre-ordered books packaged and ready
to be shipped out!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Magnets to the Rescue for Mounting Paper, Books and Label Text

I have recently been contacted by a conservator at the Winterthur Museum regarding the display of books and archival materials using magnets. As part of the conversation, we discussed the idea of converting the existing display case where small pins and tacks are used to support artifacts into a full magnetic system.

It turns out that a magnetic system is perfectly suited for use with these types of materials. This is especially the case when using a three-part magnetic system. Such a system would use one magnet between two layers of ferromagnetic materials, ie steel. One layer of steel is the actual back wall of the case with the second steel part being the armature as seen in the image below. The use of a three-part system almost doubles the strength of the single magnet, allowing for the support of even heavier artifacts when using the stronger neodymium type of permanent magnet. An example of a two-part system can be found in an earlier post on the mounting of leather gloves.

The variations of two-part and three-part magnetic systems, a) Magnet-to-magnet; b) Magnet-to-ferromagnetic
material; c) Ferromagnetic material-to-magnet-to-ferromagnetic material.

A range of armature shapes and sizes made of either steel or another ferromagnetic material can be created independent of the magnet. Separating the parts allows for each to be stored. Remember the importance of proper storage of magnets.

I recently visited the musée de quai branly, in Paris. The conservator, Eleanore Kissel, generously gave me a tour of the galleries and conservation studios. Below are some images from the visit. The quai branly is unique in that their gallery display cases, designed in 2006, were purposely designed to use magnets. They are perhaps the first museum to so fully embrace a wide use of magnets. Since that time, magnetic systems have become more sophisticated and fine-tuned. It was wonderful for me to see all of the creative solutions each using magnetic force!

Having an entire surface of steel means that artifacts can be placed anywhere on the panel with no marking of the surface. This eliminates the need for filling holes in the wall between each gallery rotation. Steel, with a durable powder-coat, can also be placed in a gallery's deck and ceiling.

The armature for this basket is
attached to the cup with a magnet inside.

Magnets in 'cups' or 'pots' produce a strong pull force. The cups are available with counter-sunk holes for securing into wood or other materials or into a protruding flange as seen in images above. All of these armature elements can easily be moved and readjusted to accommodate fine-tuning.

The 'J'-shaped armature is attached to the back wall with a magnet. A
decorative coat-layer was added to the face of the steel. The armature
elements are discretely placed, to support both the lower and upper edges
of the matted works of art.

A modular system for labels can also be created with flexible magnets behind them. The printed text can then be inserted into an appropriately sized sleeve. A range of products are available for such things and the internet is filled with a variety of ideas demonstrating the range of aesthetic options and prices.

I hope that I have shown the great flexibility that using a magnetic system can offer in displaying a wide variety of artifact types, all without the visitor knowing. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Delicate Yet Functional: Ladies Folding Hand Fans

Before the age of air conditioning, a must-have accessory for comfort, fashion and flirtatious conversation was the ladies hand fan. In fact, the fan's history stretches back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, China and India, where fans were used in religious ceremonies, as symbols of royal power, for cooling oneself and for keeping away insects. The folding hand fan was a Japanese invention, but French fan-makers turned the craft into a high art form.
From around 1600, the hand-held fan was used in Europe, where it also gained the notion of a utensil for coquetry. Later on, fans were also used as commemorating special or historic events, such as weddings and coronations, the first hot air balloon flight of the De Montgolfière brothers in 1783 or for the French Revolution. Others were destined to entertain, such as the fortune-telling fan or those depicting mythological scenes.[1]

The fans we're most likely familiar with today are the folding, hand-held kind -- a ubiquitous part of most 18th and 19th century middle and upper-class women's wardrobes." A society lady in the 18th century was expected to know how to elegantly handle and hold a fan, allowing observers to differentiate between different social statuses."[2] Silk, lace, vellum or paper were adhered to sticks of wood, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell or ivory and decorated with all manner of miniature paintings, cut paperwork, feathers, and paper festoons.
Regardless of what they are made of, most folding fans have the same basic parts. The piece that’s most visible to the eye, and the source of decorative expression for fan makers, is the leaf, which is creased so that it compacts into a little package within the fan’s monture, which includes the sticks, ribs, and outside guards. A pivot anchors the bottom of the fan, which is also known as the head, and that’s about it. Everything else is decoration.[3]
These accessories are much more fragile than they might first appear. The combination of hard or sharp materials such as bone, ivory and metals, combined with fragile textiles, feathers, and paper, make them especially vulnerable to damage. Fans decorated with feathers are very susceptible to insect damage. These fans need to be boxed and perhaps bagged independently. Opening and closing the fans may cause creases to split. In addition, fans, like hats, are prone to damage with repeated handling; care must be taken when wrapping and unwrapping them. Therefore, they are best left resting uncovered on a board with twill tape ties to prevent them from sliding. Of course material selection for the storage container is critical; ensure all materials are acid-free for the artifact's long-term preservation.

Fans can be stored fully opened or closed. The deciding factor is condition, as well as access. If a specific fan is frequently examined by researchers or others, having the fan open is preferred. Fans with warped and broken sticks, brittle fabrics or papers, and flaking paint are stored open and supported on mounts. Mounts may be time-consuming to make, but they could also be used for display. A mount style for an open fan can be smooth or have a accordion surface where each of the folds of the fan can rest.

A support for a fan that is fully open.
Images from Pauline Webber's 1984 article in The Paper Conservator.
More modern fans in good condition can be stored closed and housed in custom boxes or divided drawers or trays.
Closed fans within their original storage boxes.


1. Alexandra Starp. "The Secret Language of Fans." Objects of Vertue, April 24, 2018. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/the-secret-language-of-fans, accessed February 11, 2019.

2.  Ibid.

3.  Collector's Weekly. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/accessories/hand-fans, accessed February 11, 2019.

Annie Walker, 'History Unfolded' poster, http://www.conservation-us.org/docs/default-source/annualmeeting/2014am_poster44_history_unfolded.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Joseph Addison, "Art of the the Fan," The Spectator, No. 102, http://www.victoriana.com/Fans/art_of_the_fan.htm, accessed January 13, 2019.

"History of the Fan," Victoriana Magazine, no date, http://www.victoriana.com/Fans/historyofthefan.html, accessed January 13, 2019.

"Ladies and their Fans," AVictorian.com, http://www.angelpig.net/victorian/fanlanguage.html, accessed January 19, 2019.

"The History of Fans," The Fan Museum (England), https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/fan-history, accessed January 13, 2019.

"Victorian Hand Fans: Ladies Fans," VintageDancer.com, https://vintagedancer.com/victorian/victorian-hand-fans/, accessed January 13, 2019.