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Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Friday, April 24, 2020

Preserving a Piece of Alaska History

The Pioneers of Alaska is a fraternal organization originally founded in Nome, Alaska, in 1907 to preserve the legacies of all the state's early white settlers, collecting material related to Alaska's history, and promoting "the best interests" of the state. The organization also provides mutual aid, which was a critical safety net in territorial days and early statehood when there was a lack of reliable public or government services. Alaska was home to several similar organizations, but now only the Pioneers remain.
The Pioneers of Alaska was, and still is, an organization formed from the need of helping each other survive. Helping by providing food, care, medical, legal assistance, recreational opportunities, and social interaction was vital for life in this new and sometimes extremely harsh environment. Conditions of life in this rugged frontier made mutual associations necessary. This northern spirit lives on and is the base for the Pioneers of Alaska.[1]
Originally restricted to white males who entered Alaska before 1900, the organization's membership today must be residents of Alaska for at least 20 years to be eligible to join. Once led by men, women became eligible for all leadership positions in 2012. The Pioneers are divided into 16 igloos, or chapters, each for men and women. The Grand Igloo unites Alaska’s Pioneers by meeting once each year with the subordinate Igloos which take turns hosting these conventions. The subordinate igloos maintain active schedules of business meetings and social gatherings. The Pioneers, long involved in legislating fish and game laws and garnering support for the elderly, also played a key role in bringing Alaska into statehood.

The painted fabric banner receiving treatment in the Conservator's Studio was one created for Igloo III, located in St. Michael, a small community near Nome. The St. Michael Igloo was chartered on May 10, 1907. Today, St. Michael's population is less than 500 residents.

Historic image of the hall interior with the banner at the back wall.

Tears in the fabric, paint loss, and a missing tassel were attended to by conservator Gwen Spicer.

The recent banner from the pioneers treated was an unusually constructed vernacular design with four satin weave fabric panels, two dark blue, and two white. These panels were positioned with the selvage edges horizontal, allowing for the stronger weft threads to carry the weight, but also creating vertical tears.

In addition to a painted scene featuring a man pulling a sled at the top, lettering at the bottom spells out the Pioneers' motto, Ecce Novum Astrum, "Behold the New Star."

The reverse side of the banner, a cotton layer, shows extensive water damage.

The layers of the banner were separated to gain access to the reverse sides of the fabric. This also allowed for each side to be cleaned. Then the loose threads were aligned and supported with a full adhesive backing. By having the banner and its layers hanging vertically, the best alignment of the layers could be ensured.

Gwen stitches the banner to a new fabric backing

The banner above is not the first banner of this type to be treated in our studio. Previously a banner a more traditionally made banner from 1909 for the Fairbanks Igloo was treated.  

Before treatment of both the front and reverse sides of the Fairbanks Igloo #4 Banner
Detail of an earlier Pioneer banner from Igloo 4
After Treatment of the Fairbanks Igloo #4 Banner


[1] Pioneers of Alaska website. http://www.pioneersofalaska.org/igloo_history.html. Accessed April 10, 2020.


"Behold the New Stars: Pioneers Crown New Royalty." https://www.juneauempire.com/news/behold-the-new-stars-pioneers-crown-new-royalty/. May 14, 2018. Accessed April 10, 2020.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Safe Ride for the Sloop Clearwater Model

Last year, Spicer Art Conservation was asked to protect the model of the Sloop Clearwater for transportation from its home to New York City. The Sloop Clearwater is the floating icon for the successful citizen-driven environmental effort to clean up the Hudson River. The sloop is one of the first vessels in the U.S. to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship.

Model on display at the Hudson River Maritime Museum

Here's a bit of its history:
In 1966, folk music legend and environmental activist Pete Seeger, in despair over the pollution of his beloved Hudson River, announced plans to “build a boat to save the river.” Seeger, along with many other concerned individuals, believed that a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries would bring people to the river where they could experience its beauty and be moved to preserve it. 
Seeger and friends played dockside concerts up and down the river, passing the banjo case for donations to raise funds to build the sloop. As an awareness of Seeger’s vision grew, so did the crowds. In 1969, the 106-foot sloop Clearwater was launched at Harvey Gamage shipyard in South Bristol, Maine. On her maiden voyage she sailed to South Street Seaport in New York City, and then ultimately made her home on the Hudson River.[1]
The model was made sometime in the 1970s, by Bernhard Schulze, who created the hull, and Anneliese Schulze, who made the riggings with great attention to detail.

Model images from the Clearwater.org website.

The task was to fully condition the model before it left the Hudson River Maritime Museum, carefully support it for transportation in a box and support that into a sturdy wooden crate. The work was performed at the barn of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

Support tray with attached ethafoam supports. All labels with instructions.

The model was in quite good condition and was well secured to a solid wooden base. The model's hull extended beyond the base. Due to the many fragile elements, it was the base that required full support by way of a slide-out tray. 

The model safely secured inside its travel box.

Ethafoam support at the main mast.

Wooden shipping crate with the interior travel box.

[1] History of the Clearwater from the Clearwater.org website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Shipping in the Time of Social Distancing

We have implemented the necessary protocols to keep Spicer Art Conservation up and running during this time while also keeping our staff safe and adhering to all recommended and required guidelines for everyone to be working from home now. As a part of this, we have worked to ensure Gwen can continue performing treatments safely while the rest of our staff have transitioned to working remotely in compliance with all New York State mandates and guidelines.

So in line with this, we here at Spicer Art Conservation wanted to take this opportunity to show everyone how to use a set of services offered through USPS.com that can greatly aid in staying connected while adhering to all necessary social distancing guidelines and keeping everyone safe.

The first of these services is called “Click N Ship.” This service allows individuals to provide details on any package they need to ship, including the dimensions and weight, and then the customer can pay for the shipping and print their shipping label from home.

The second service we want to tell you about is called “Schedule a Pickup.” This allows individuals to schedule a time for their mail carrier to come to their house and pick up any packages that need to be shipped, eliminating the need to go to the post office to drop things off.

A caveat: the online scheduling for pickup service is not available everywhere for every address, but it is a widely available service that can be utilized at this time to assist in shipping packages while staying home as much as possible. If you find you are unable to schedule a pickup and happen to know your mail carrier, feel free to ask them about the possibility of scheduling a pickup (while maintaining the appropriate social distancing requirements) or even call your local post office to check on the ability for scheduling.

Here at Spicer Art Conservation, we will be using these services to help with the return of any items which have completed treatments and we encourage any client with something they are looking to have treated during this time to use these services to safely ship your item to us. 


How to use “Click-N-Ship”

Things you will need:
  1. Return Address
  2. Address where the package is being sent
  3. Package Details
  4. A Printer to print the shipping label

To begin head on over to the USPS website 

After you select “Click-N-Ship” you will be taken to screen to log into your account.  If you do not have an account yet, take this moment to create one; instructions are located at the end of this post. Then proceed with the rest of the steps.  Once you have your account set up, navigate back to the Click-N-Ship section to proceed.

First, you will need to enter the address where the package is shipping from, if you have your address set up in your account it will prepopulate in this section, as you can see below. At this point, you can edit the address if you need, or you can select either of the side options which will provide you with tracking notifications or will allow you to enter a different zip code to determine the shipping costs.  This can be used if you are planning to drop the package off for shipping.

Once you have taken care of where the package is shipping from it is then time to proceed to where you are shipping to package to.

Next, you will select the date you want to ship the package (note try to make this match the date you will use for scheduling the pickup)

Now it is time to enter the package details. If you are using one of the USPS Flat Rate Shipping options, select that radial. Otherwise, you will enter the detailed information on the other side of the box. 

This next section is where you can enter the value of what you are shipping for shipping insurance purposes.

Finally, it is time to select your shipping. First, you need to use the drop-down menu to select the type of shipping you want.

Once you have made this selection from the drop-down menu, confirm that you have a blue checkmark for each of the steps if you do not return to the unfinished step and make the necessary changes. Finally, select the blue button at the bottom to proceed to the next screen where you will see the different shipping options available based on your selections and the different prices based on the information you have entered. (The shipping options you select here will be used again when scheduling the pickup for the Type of Package)

Select this shipping option you would like and scroll on down to the final section where you can add additional options. (Please note, during this time as we work to maintain social distancing for everyone’s safety we ask that clients do not select any of the options requiring a signature to help us and our mail carrier with social distancing. Just provide us the shipping details as always and we will watch for the delivery and notify you as soon as it has been delivered)

When you are finished with your selections go ahead and add the item to your cart. This will take you to the last screen where you can confirm all of your shipping details. If you find an error you can select edit and make the necessary changes. If everything is correct you can head onto the billing portion of the process.

Once you get to this point, you just click the blue button to enter your billing information and complete the checkout and payment process. Once you have finished paying, you will be provided with the mailing label which can then be printed out and attached to the package.

Please note, printing the mailing label does not schedule a pickup. You must schedule the pickup as a separate step.


How to Schedule a Pickup

Things you will need:
  1. Where is the package being picked up?
  2. Package Details
          *Type of Mailing
          *Total Weight

To begin, head back to the main USPS webpage (www.USPS.com)

This time you want to select “Schedule a Pickup” from the dropdown

From here you will be taken to the next screen where you can begin entering the information for the pickup. The first section is where the package will be picked up.

**Please be aware that this is where you might run into issues with scheduling your pickup. For example, while the address of our studio is eligible for pickup and runs into no issues on this screen, my home address comes up as not eligible, but I have confirmed with my mail carrier that, in fact, they can pick up packages from my location. Should you run into issues at this step try contacting your local post office by phone to see if they can assist you in scheduling the pickup**

If you have successfully made it past the first screen, you will then enter the information to tell the mail carrier where the package will be left along with any additional notes they might need to get the package. This step is important because the mail carrier needs to be able to find the package without needing to speak with you in person, as speaking in person defeats the social distancing benefit of this service.

Next, you can select when you would like the package to be picked up. Selecting during regular mail delivery is free and still allows you to select the specific day you would like to schedule the pickup.

This next screen you select the day of the pickup. Remember earlier when we selected the day the package would be mailed while completing the Click-N-Print steps, this is where you try to get the dates to match as close as possible.

The next step will be to let the mail carrier know how many packages they will be picking up by entering totals for each type of package. The type of package will match with the selections you made during the Click-N-Ship steps. You will also enter the weight at this point. It is important to remember this is the total weight of ALL packages being picked up. 

Once you have filled in all the required information, just check the box at the bottom of the screen and select “Schedule a Pickup”. 

The final step is to make sure you remember to put your package with its already paid shipping at the location you have selected before your scheduled pickup time.

We hope this will not only help you with shipping items to us for conservation but that it will also help everyone to safely stay in touch during this time and we look forward to seeing you back in the studio again for help with all your conservation needs in the future!


How to Create an Account

If you have not already created an account select “Sign Up Now” to begin creating your account.

The first step is to create your user name. You can use your email address for simplicity.

Next, is to create your password. All of the password requirements are listed.

After you have created your password you will need to select and answer 2 security questions.

Next, choose the type of account you want to create. For most people, it will be a Personal Account.

This next step is where you will enter your contact information.

Lastly, you will enter your address. Once you have entered your address click “Verify Address” located at the bottom of the page.

Once you address has been verified the green checkmark will appear and you can complete the account creation process by clicking “Create Account.”

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions Receives Major Review

Since the publication of Gwen's book, Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions, early last year, more than 350 copies have sold worldwide, including to 26 countries in addition to the US on 6 of the 7 continents. Among the purchasers are 145 museums and galleries, and 69 libraries. The book was also one of the recipients of the 2019 Awards for Excellence from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network.

2019 GHHN Award for Excellence
(Photo Credit: K.Sclafani, GHHN)

In 2019, Gwen spoke to six groups in the U.S., Canada, and Europe about magnetic systems, advocating for their use in a variety of applications.

Gwen presenting at an International Conference

In her review of Gwen's book, conservator Kloe Rumsey wrote in the December 2019 issue of News in Conservation,
"A book dedicated to the use of magnets for the mounting and display of museum objects has been eagerly awaited by the global conservation community for years....There has been significant buzz in the profession since we began to hear news of a book, and as we cross our collective fingers that it's as good as we want it to be, I'm happy to say that I think it is."
Rumsey calls out Gwen's attention to describing the scientific details of magnets, defining terms and theories within the body of the text for easy reference, illustrating the science and the systems with diagrams and figures, for drawing on case studies that offer "...tips, hacks and things to bear in mind when developing our own systems," and for providing useful tools for working with magnets.

The Triboelectric Series

Two- and Three-Part Magnetic Systems

As Rumsey concludes, "By producing this book, Gwen Spicer has introduced the wider community to these methods in accessible format, and we can now develop and grow in what we can achieve with it."
This isn't an instruction manual for a quick glance; it's worth spending time with this book to really be able to make creative decisions. While doing so might take longer than reading a set of instructions, we all know the benefits of working in this way for a varied collection. Some might say there's too much science, but this book provides all the information, and it's up to the readers to decide what they need to take away from it to achieve their own goals.
Order Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions

Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions for Sale at a Conference
(Photo Credit: K.Sclafani, GHHN)

Ms. Rumsey's review appeared in the December 2019 issue (75) of News in Conservation, the newsletter of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Family Quilt Reveals its Layers

One can say that every object tells a story. Often more than one.

In the case of a family quilt that recently arrived in the conservator's studio, it came with two distinct stories....and perhaps more.

When we think of quilts, we tend to conjure up colorful designs of pieced or appliqued fabric sewn together and layered with batting and a woven fabric backing meant to keep someone warm on a cold winter's night. For centuries, quilts were ubiquitous domestic textiles, made and used primarily for bedding, and found in many cultures around the globe. Today, quilts are often created as art pieces meant solely for display.

While quilts were often made of fabric scraps, the composition of colors and pieces, along with the sophistication of the stitching, could reveal the artistic eye and sewing prowess of the maker. As with most textiles, the materials used and their assembly also reveal the socio-economic status of the maker or owner.

The quilt's importance in the household meant they also took on prized, often commemorative, roles. They were made and given to honor births, marriages, and moves away from close-knit communities. Some traditions required that a new bride have a number of completed quilts in her dowry, thus ensuring her household could be set up quickly.

The quilt in question clearly seemed to be a commemorative piece -- at least its most recent use, that is. The top of the quilt consists of seven rows of neatly composed diamonds, each pieced with printed cottons in complementary colors of pinks, browns, and blues. At the center of each diamond was a white patch containing the autograph of a female family member written in iron gall ink. This quilt style is known as a signature or album quilt. Made in honor of the family's matriarch, its owner said the quilt dated from c1860. The date also connects with the colored prints that were popular at the time.

Front side of the Signature quilt.

In her Clues in the Needlework newsletter, quilt historian Barbara Brackman wrote, "Many of the blocks in the early album quilts made between 1840 and 1860 featured elaborate ink signatures and small drawings and verses. By the time of the Civil War, album quilt inscriptions had become shorter and were more likely to include only the block maker's name, and perhaps his or her hometown or date."

Turn the quilt over and a different story emerges. It is what appears to be a strip quilt. The back panel is made up of 13 faded and worn fabric strips of alternating toile patterns: a red/pink fabric with peacock feathers in the design and a blue and white fabric with imagery related to the Freemasons.

Reverse side of the quilt made of pieced stripes in an attractive design. Cleverly incorporating presumably left over pieces of three fabrics: a pink, dark brown and white with a blue toile print. All of the printed fabrics are quite worn, unlike the very good condition of the front side. Also visible is the patched area near the center of this side.
The Masonic images were adapted from late 18th century prints created by French-born artist P. Lambert de Linto. Masonic symbols do appear on quilts. Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Scottish Rite Museum and Library in Lexington, MA, tells us her hunch is that Masonic-themed textiles would have been used in homes, not lodges. Just as this reverse side suggests.

Textiles incorporating Masonic symbols, both home-made and commercially manufactured, have served many functions since the 1700s. They have transmitted family memories and history, becoming cherished heirlooms. They signified family identification with Freemasonry. Creating these objects offered an opportunity for the maker to display their skills. These textiles also functioned as educational tools - teaching family members about Masonic symbols and reminding Masons of the lessons they learned in the lodge. Like the quilts used to fundraise for political or social causes, Masonic quilts and textiles were - and still are - used to raise money for Masonic projects and charities.[1]

Below are two examples of prints by P. Lambert de Lino dating from the 1770-1790s with the corresponding similar images found in the quilt.

Also on the reverse is a large patched area near the center made of brown fabric with blue and white leaves, distinctly different from the fabric elsewhere. Obviously, this was a quilt worth saving. Did it belong originally to the family's matriarch? Did her descendants decide to honor her by keeping her quilt and adding a new top containing autographed squares? We know fabric was repurposed for quilt patterns; were whole quilts refashioned or updated, as well?


[1] "Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles," Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library blog,  June 12, 2012.