Flag conservation

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

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Unfurling History: The Remarkable New York State Suffrage Movement Street Banner

At the heart of New York State's Suffrage Movement lies a powerful symbol of women's fight for equality - a political street banner encouraging viewers to “VOTE FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT No. 1 NOV 6th.” This banner comes from the Howland Stone Store Museum and dates to 1915, just two years before New York State voters passed Amendment One that granted voting rights to women.

The Street Banner for 'Votes for Woman Suffrage'

The banner, said to have hung in Auburn, NY, is possibly linked to Emily Howland, an influential figure in the Suffrage Movement. Emily Howland's pivotal role in the suffrage movement further enhances the banner's historical significance. Born in 1827, Howland’s involvement in the abolitionist movement led her also to champion women's rights, advocating for suffrage. Her lifelong dedication to social justice and women's rights earned her the admiration of prominent suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

She was honored as a pioneer and leader, financing both the New York State Woman Suffrage Association and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She spoke at significant events, including the thirtieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention in 1878 as well as before the New York State legislature in 1894.

Emily Howland

This street banner features four white cotton fabric panels that have been painted blue leaving the letters white, the same as the fabric. These panels are double sided and supported onto a net ground. Yellow triangle appear to have been later attached to each corner of the net ground. Below the net hangs a blue cotton valance, scalloped at the edges, and stenciled in white paint with the name of the banner’s manufacturer: ANNIN & Co. NY. Annin & Co is still making flags and it the oldest American flag manufacturer.

After careful vacuuming and gentle cleaning, the creases in the large fields of the banner were humidified and flattened, making the banner easier to read and protecting the painted areas from stress. The blue fabric valance, displaying splits and deterioration, received special attention.

A sheer fabric infused with a conservation grade adhesive was used to stabilize extensive splitting. A fabric matching that of the original was used to support underneath the most damaged area with a sheer netting stitched in place on top. 

(left) The many tears and weak areas; (right) The tears aligned and supported, before areas of loss were filled.

The New York State Suffrage Movement street banner stands as a timeless testament to the courage and determination of suffragists. With its conservation treatment complete, this banner will continue to inspire and educate, honoring the struggles and achievements of those who paved the way for gender equality.

As we celebrate the suffragists' legacy, the banner remains a poignant symbol of progress and a reminder of the ongoing journey towards an equitable and inclusive society. Its conservation and preservation ensure that future generations can draw inspiration from the bravery and vision of those who came before them.

The banner rolled onto its storage tube and being walked to the truck. Marilyn Post (left), Linda VanBuskirk (center), Gwen Spicer (right).

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A United States Color Troop's Flag Marker Found in a Small Local LIbrary!

Remarkable historical artifacts can be found in so many places, not always in museums or historical societies. Here is a story of a remarkable flag marker found at a small library in Western New York State. Spicer Art Conservation, LLC has previously treated another USCT flag (read about it here).

The library's director with the framed flag before treatment.   

The flag marker is a silk 35-Star National flag with a 6/6/6/5/6/6 star pattern located in the canton. Embroidered in yellow and light blue silk threads on the strips with "26 / U.S.C.T." The small flag measures 17 7/8" H x 24 1/2" W. All of the seams are flat-feld. The blue silk hoist is a folded over to create a sleeve with four holes that were used to attach the flag to its staff. A small fragment of the fly edge survived. 

Drawing of the flag's construction. In the drawing a small vertical section
of the stitched fly edge can be seen.

The 26th USCT is one of three troops from New York State. It turns out that it is also called 26th Regiment New York Infantry (Colored). The 26th Regiment was organized at Riker's Island, New York harbor, in February 27, 1864. The unit was commanded under Col. William Silliman. 

Below, is the surviving regimental flag for the unit, beautifully embroidered with silk bullion fringe. 

A beautifully embroidered regimental flag for this unit still exists and
is held in the collections of the Division of Military Naval Affairs.
Embroidered at the lower section is "GOD AND LIBERTY".

At one point in the flag's history, it had been glue to a laminated board. Excessive glue was used.

The flag glued to the board once removed from the frame.

The slow process of removing the laminated back board that the flag was glued.

The vast majority of the paper board layers were able to be removed. But still not all could be removed safely with out damaging the silk. The small areas were determined to stay.

Encapsulated flag, showing the reverse side.
Once the flag was encapsulated, it was then positioned onto a prepared aluminum honeycomb panel. Layers of needle-punch batting are incorporated to create the best pressure with the covering UV-filtered Plexiglas.

Attaching the show covered fabric to the mount.

The flag was positioned onto the prepared mount, covered with UV-filtered Plexiglas and secured with a powder-coated aluminum frame.  
Completed and mounted flag.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The 18th Star

About a year ago a flag rolled onto a large diameter tube came to my studio, brought by the Preventive Conservator, Tara Kennedy from the archival collection at the Divinity Library at Yale University. They had recently learned of a large, wool bunting, 18-star, thirteen stripe National flag in their collection. This was part of an investigative project for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) by Library Alliance intern Taylor Williams, who is a forensic science undergraduate from Southern University of New Orleans. The flag arrived at Yale in 2017 as part of a transfer of several hundred boxes of archival materials from Andover Newton Theological School, formerly located in Newton, Massachusetts. Every eighteen-star flag is very unusual and rare. What was the date of the flag? Could it be a real 18-star flag from 1812? These and other questions could only begin to be answered with a fuller understanding of the flag. This began with a full analysis and description of the flag. 

Overall of the 18-Star flag.

Schematic of the flag illustrating the locations of seams and selvages.

What is a flag analysis? This is a technical study that includes every aspect of the flag’s construction, including measurements and type of materials used. The study documents gross overall construction and progresses down to the spin and thread count of each fabric present (see the table below). The physical examination is done under both simple, 8x magnification and microscopy at 100x and 250x magnification. The known physical properties are compared to other known flag examples of similar type and ages. Some technical studies include analysis of the dyes as well, which was not performed in this case. 

Magnification of the three wool fabrics. The salvage edge is located on the left side of both the blue and red fabrics. Each are a plain-weave structure with threads spun in the Z-direction.

The Canton
The first indication of the unusual nature of this flag was in the construction of the canton. It was made with three horizontal seams, evenly spaced about 8 apart. Found at each seam were selvage edges, meaning that each strip of fabric was a full width, not pieced with fragments. This narrow-woven bunting is called quarter cloth. Its presence in this flag was unusual. 

Uniqueness of an 18-star flag The second official national flag was in 1795 with 15-stars to include the states of Vermont and Kentucky. The third official flag was in 1818 with 20-stars (Mastai and Mastai 1973; Madaus and Smith 2006). The third Flag Act stated that the number of stripes would remain at 13. Many flags used during the War of 1812 featured fifteen stripes as well as stars. The eighteenth star of the US national flag represents Louisiana, which achieved statehood on April 30th 1812, following Ohio (1803) and before Indiana (1816). There was no official 18-star flag. This is why so many 15-star flags, such as the Star Spangled Banner and the Fort Niagara flag, were used long after they no longer correctly represented the number of states in the Union. Grace Cooper in her book Thirteen-Star Flags: Keys to Identification notes, ‘It is doubtful that there were any eighteen-star or nineteen-star flags. . . With the War of 1812 raging, one would not expect the national flag to be changed while it was under fire” (Cooper 1973). However, in So Proudly We Hail, (Furlong and McCandless 1981) a silk, eighteen-star and eighteen stripe flag is shown. This is called the Baton Rouge Flag and is in an unknown collection (see below). It clearly does not fully follow the Flag Act specifications about the number of stars and stripes. The stars in this this Baton Rouge Flag are in a 5-4-5-4 pattern. Its existence indicates that the Yale's 18-Star flag is possibly historically real.

The silk Baton Rouge Flag with 18-stars and 18 stripes.

Are there other 18-star flags? In 1860 when southern states were beginning to secede, areas of the north were beginning to make flags with stars representing those states who were known to remain in the Union. Such flags have been called Exclusionary Flags. A surviving example is the 18-Star flag from Isaac Hayes Arctic Expedition of 1860 that left from Boston (Zaricor; ZFC0630; Mastai and Mastai 1973). This cotton flag was professionally made, with two-concentric rings around a center star. In contrast are Louisiana Secession flags. A surviving flag has eighteen stars, being the eighteen state, however with fewer stripes (Bridgeman). Both of these surviving flags are made of cotton.

Summary of Findings 
The fabric analysis of the 18-star flag bunting used fits within the range of threads per inch of the early nineteenth century. According to Cooper, use of single Z-spun threads persisted into the Civil War. The flag is made of high-quality wool, hand-woven fabric and is skillfully constructed with an unusual star count. All of the findings indicate that the flag is genuine to the time period of when Louisiana became a state in 1812.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Whose Side Was He On?

If you grew up in the Northeastern United States, you probably learned early on that the Redcoats were the enemy in conflicts fought in the early days of the fledgling country. “The Redcoats” were the British, of course. Schoolbook illustrations of the War of 1812 featured red-coated Canadian troops as well in descriptions of the battles. Today, re-enactors in the Niagara region of Ontario proudly wear their red coats when educating tourists about the heroes of the Canadian side.

But those schoolbook illustrations are misleading, as we recently learned from a beautiful uniform that came into our care from the Delaware County Historical Society. This scarlet coatee with black collar and cuffs was likely to have been worn by a New York or New England patriot. The fine, dense wool was almost certainly spun and woven in England, based on its quality, but the coatee was probably tailored for a soldier on the southern side of the 45th parallel.

The Red Coatee from 1812

In 1812, the U.S. regular army was growing but fairly small and the country still was dependent on state militias for much defense. Soldiers in some Connecticut militias, for instance, wore Red coats with black trim that would be indistinguishable from the coat in our care. Musicians, indispensable for armies at the time, often wore “reversed colors” and so even in regiments such as the New York City Artillery, who wore blue with red trim, a drummer or trumpeter might be clothed in red. U. S. Cavalry troops throughout the North East also frequently wore red.

We may not know who wore this uniform, but he certainly had a fine tailor! The quality of the fulled red twill fabric is impressive and the stitching meticulous. Unfortunately, the past 200 years have not been kind. The plain-weave front lining (woven from unbleached white wool singles) was riddled with holes from insect damage. The black collar and cuffs, made of fustian (similar to corduroy) were faded to brown and quite ragged from wear.

The damaged natural wool lining

In preparing the coatee for display, the goals were to protect all the fabrics while leaving them visible for examination and simultaneously presenting the garment’s handsome appearance in the best possible way. To accomplish this, the fine lining was fitted with a sheer overlay. The overlay will allow the coatee to be slipped on and off a mannequin without damage.

The lining, protected by a sheer overlay. Note the pillows to cushion the coat against creases

The thickset cuffs and collar were also protected with an overlay stitched in place. For this, a nearly invisible, soft netting was applied in areas of wear. Once those areas were protected, the yellow trims were reattached where they had come loose.

The "thickset" collar. The blue arrow shows one of the areas protected by netting

Finally, custom pillows were fitted in place so that creases that would weaken the fabric could not develop in storage. 

The provenance of this bit of history are still being researched by the historical societies that have cared for it. Someday we may know the name and regiment of this soldier. In the meantime, we can celebrate his memory by admiring his uniform.

Thanks to Shaun Pekar (on Facebook and shaunpekar@gmail.com) and Matthew Keagle of Fort Ticonderoga (https://www.fortticonderoga.org) for their patience, expertise and valuable insights in helping with this posting.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Remembering a Giant of Diplomacy

William Henry Seward (1801-1872), Governor of New York State, Senator and Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, was a giant of a man in every sense. Although today he is best known for the purchase of Alaska (Seward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox), in his time he was respected for his intellect, his moral courage and tenacity and his widespread and effective diplomatic prowess.

The large embroidered hanging.

That prowess was recognized in his own time far beyond the borders of the United States. The Qing Dynasty of China held Seward in great regard and gifted him with a fine silk embroidery during his visit there in 1870. Spicer Art Conservation, LLC has recently had the opportunity to repair this large (6 foot by 10 ½ foot) work, renewing its handsome surface, repairing its support and preparing it for display.


William Seward's portrait created with silk satin stitches
and a coat of couched metallic threads.

The rose red cloth is closely embroidered with symbols of regard, respect and good wishes. The large portrait of Seward dominates the center while eight Taoist immortals stand on clouds in witness on both sides. A dragon and phoenixes, representing the emperor and empress, glare with authority from the top. 

The upper two rows with the large four-toed coiled dragon (mang) amongst clouds. In one claw is a 'pear' or sometimes called a 'ball.' Below are a pair of long-tailed phoenixes on either side of a sun disc. This sun represents intellectual enlightenment, while the phoenix signifies goodness and benevolence.


The eight embroidered Taoist immortals with their symbols.

Three gods called the Fu-Lu-Shou, representing happiness, longevity, and prosperity gaze benevolently down on Seward from the upper border. Scattered throughout the piece are peonies representing Spring, bats for happiness, and cranes for long life.

The Three Stars Gods are together in a row above Seward's portrait: Fuxing (Fu), God of happiness and good fortune holds a scroll; Shouxing (Shou), God of Longevity holding a peach that symbols long life; Luxing (Lu), God of Prosperity, holding a child.

Tigers, the king of animals, fiercely patrol the bottom of the work, protecting the Chinese citizens arrayed immediately below Seward’s portrait; they relax, playing qin and enjoying tea and entertainments.

Several other symbols are present amongst the above mentioned elements. They all add to the meaning of the large embordery. They include: Peonies representing wealth; White cranes for longevity; Mythical beast symbolize courage; bats symbolize 'good luck.' Interestingly based on the Chinese character for happiness (fu) and the final character for bat (pine-fu) that both have the same sound.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Out-of-this-World Tale of a Bust Called "Junior"

"Junior" isn't a run-of-the-mill piece of sculpture or one you would expect to find in the special collections of a university library, yet it's part of a large collection of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and DVDs at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The collection was amassed by university alumna Betty Hill and her husband Barney, a couple who claimed they were abducted by aliens. Even the dress Betty was wearing that fateful night is part of this extensive other-worldly collection.
Betty and Barney Hill lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Betty (1919-2004) was a social worker with a degree from the University of New Hampshire, and Barney (1923-1969) was a postal worker. The couple were catapulted into the international spotlight when, in September 1961, they claimed to have been abducted by aliens in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The two were returning home to Portsmouth from a trip to Montreal, Canada, when, as they were driving in the middle of the night, they saw lights approaching from the sky. What followed is said to be the first well-documented, feasibly legitimate UFO abduction in history. The couple claimed that they saw bipedal humanoid creatures in the window of a large spacecraft that landed in a field, after which they had no recollection of the next two hours. They returned home to Portsmouth unable to explain the two missing hours. Both Betty and Barney had physical evidence from the night before, including Betty’s torn and stained dress, Barney’s scraped shoe, and a broken binocular strap, but neither of them had any memory of these things having happened. [1]
Photograph of Betty and Barney Hill, Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Betty and Barney engaged Ohio artist Majorie Fish to create the bust of an alien based on a description Betty provided. In fact, thirty-four letters between the Hills and Fish exist in the university's collection. Called "Junior," the bust is a popular artifact at the university, as you might imagine. It measures just 13-inches tall and is made out of an unknown synthetic material -- possibly a type of fiberglass -- that is soft enough to yield when gently pressed. Unfortunately, Betty accidentally dropped the bust at some point, resulting in several cracks in the neck and the back of the head, all radiating from a sizable loss. Scotch tape was also present in an earlier attempt to support the cracks.

"Junior," the alien, before conservation.

It was time for the university to send it to the Conservator's Studio for repair and conservation. The goal of the treatment was to repair the head and make it stable again for display.

To improve the appearance, and to remove particulate materials damaging to the fabric, the entire surface of the artifact was vacuumed with low suction and a small brush attachment.  The tape on the surface of the bust was mechanically removed.

A mount was then designed to 1) prevent the top-heavy bust from tipping over and 2) provide internal structure to lessen the possibility of the cracks becoming larger. The mount consisted of a solid redwood base to act as a counterweight. A vertical post was attached to the new base, padded with Ethafoam the diameter of the head's interior and secured to the base. The bust was placed over the padded post. When tightened, the bust was both invisibly and reversibly attached to the base. With this method, the cracks were given slight pressure to ensure they would not increase. All wooden components in the mount’s design were sealed with several coats of “Spar” Varnish, which is conservation approved.

The Rest of Betty and Barney's Amazing Story....
About a year after their abduction, Betty and Barney sought hypnosis therapy to help reveal to them the events of the two missing hours. Through many hypnosis sessions, both were able to recall what had happened and both had similar stories. Betty Hill, following her experience, became one of the most well-known voices in UFO research. The publicity she received from her abduction made her internationally famous. "Junior", the careful reconstruction of her abductor, became the most familiar face of alien visitors, inspiring internet memes and the beloved movie character, ET.  She continued her research into UFOs for the remainder of her life, even after Barney’s sudden death in 1969. The Hills, though best known for their association with UFOs and their abduction, were also active civil servants in their seacoast New Hampshire community. Both were members of the NAACP and belonged to a local Unitarian church. Barney sat on a local board of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. [2]

[1] Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

[2] Ibid.


Betty and Barney Hill Papers, 1961-2006, MC 197, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Kilbride Handwoven Vestments in the United States

We have just taken into care four beautiful silk chasubles from the Parish of the Holy Trinity in Hudson, NY. Three of the chasubles were woven and constructed in Ditchling, Sussex, UK, in the studio of Valentine Kilbride and Jenny Kilbride, his daughter. They were woven sometime between 1970 and the late 1980s. 

The three chasubles woven by Jenny Kilbride.

The fourth was woven and constructed in Troy, NY by the Sisters of the Cross, using the techniques of the Kilbride studio. The Kilbride vestments have orphrey bands (trim) of linen, or linen with silk embellishment. The chasuble from Troy has no orphrey bands but has a contrasting yoke. 

The chasuble woven in Troy, NY by the Sisters of the Cross.

ValentineKilbride trained at the family dyeworks as a young man before the First World War. Later, he was heavily influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement. The Kilbrides were part of the Guild of Saint Joseph and Saint Dominic, a collection of artists and artisans that was founded in 1929 and closed in 1989. The Guild itself was founded with a profound attachment to an enlightened form of Roman Catholicism; the tenets of that faith underlaid all of the work of the Guild.


Guild of Saint Joseph and Saint Dominic buildings

Valentine Kilbrid
Jenny Kilbride

All the chasubles are in the Gothic or bell style and are constructed with a single seam from one piece of cloth, woven out of 60-inch fabric. The weave structure produces a gorgeous play of light on the fabric as well as a beautiful drape and luscious hand. The Kilbrides’ vestments reflect the principles and aesthetics that flowed within the Roman Catholic church following Vatican Two. Those principles held that the beauty and solemnity of the Eucharist should be expressed through both simplicity and accessibility. The simple design of these chasuble is complemented by the subtle, elegant silk fabric and embodies those Vatican Two aesthetics.

The beautifully woven tape located and the neck and the center front band with areas of wear (left); Sketch of the chasulbe design (right)

Because of the nature of the silk fabric and the regular use of most Kilbride vestments, very few of these beautiful chasubles remain intact today. It is the hope of the Holy Trinity parish that the chasubles may someday return to their point of origin and be shown in the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft.

To read more about Jenny and her father and life in the guild read this article