Thursday, May 13, 2010
Textiles Morning Session, 10:30am – 12:00pm
Comparative Approaches in Textile Conservation: the Whalley Abbey Vestments and the Whalley Abbey Orphreys
Leanne C. Tonkin, ICON/HLF (Institute of Conservation/Heritage Lottery Fund) Conservation Intern at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, U.K.
The first talk after the morning break was given by Leanne Tonkin and she discussed the 2007-09 treatment of the Whalley Abbey vestments and orphreys. These treatments were conducted as part of her training at the TCC.
Ms. Tonkin began with a brief historical background of the vestments. It has been 20 years since they were last treated, and a lot has changed in the field since then. At the time of their last treatment, the focus had been on cleaning to create a newer and fresher look. Ms. Tonkin had the opportunity to discuss the previous treatments with the conservator who performed them. When asked what should she would do differently now, the conservator’s response focused on surface cleaning and vacuuming: “The washing I’m not sure about; solvent dry cleaning I’m not sure about now…I’m tending towards hands-off….”
When compared to the altar frontal, it became clear that aesthetic was a bigger concern in the original treatment of the vestments. The altar frontal was found to be less altered from the previous treatments and exhibited more of the original handwork.
Current treatment included an SEM-EDS analysis which revealed corrosion where metal threads are joined. The appearance of the metal thread showed improvement after a cleaning treatment. Additionally, local humidification of the altar frontal was performed using Melinex barriers, moistened blotting paper, and Symatex.
The comparison of the treatments highlighted shifts in the ethics over time. Priorities during the last 20 years have changed in how textiles are viewed and treated.
The Effects of Long Term Display on Previous Treatments
Abby Zoldowski, Assistant Textile Conservator, Peebles Island Resource Center, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Waterford, NY
Ms. Zoldowski’s talk discussed two bedcovers at the Schuyler Mansion, which was occupied by the Schuyler family from 1763-1804 and was acquired by the state in 1911. Both bedcovers have undergone three previous treatments and faced a nearly continuous exhibition in-between. Ms. Zoldowski gave an in-depth look at the treatments over time and the effect the long term display had on them.
To begin with, bedcover #1 underwent a treatment campaign in 1976. An AT image was shown, and the initial condition was described as weakened, rotted, with losses and breaks. The records indicated a treatment with sodium perborate overnight, wet cleaning, extensive rinses, extracted, and then air dried with cheesecloth. It is not known how fibers reacted to this. Yellowing was probably decreased, but fibers were likely further weakened. The bedcover was placed back on exhibit after this treatment.
The second time it was taken off display was 1982-84. It was still described as weak and brittle. This time treatments were listed in 1982 as wet cleaning with Orvus, air dried (no drying cloth), crepeline overlay. Treatment was not finished at that time, so it was then again treated in 1984 with another wet cleaning with Orvus, air dried, (no drying cloth), and further stitching. Accumulated oils and surface grime were the reason for the second cleaning and stitching campaign. After treatment, it was requested that bedcover not be put back on display, but it was put back on exhibit anyway.
It was taken off display again for a third round of treatment in 2009. It was very fragile and prone to breaking when handled. It was surmised that the ’76, ’82 and ’84 cleanings may have altered the tension in the fibers. Conservators took off the crepeline overlay and tested the pH of the bedcover. The pH range was 5.1 (stuffed areas) to 4.8 (unstuffed areas) before treatment. Discoloration of the textile was treated with wet cleaning and this increased the pH to a range of 6.5 to 6.6 after treatment. However, it was noted that discoloration had not been altered significantly during this treatment. It was determined at this time that the bedcover could not withstand any more stitching, so it was rolled on a padded tube and finally placed in storage.
The first treatment of bedcover #2 in 1976 was almost the same as that of bedcover #1, with the addition of an acetic acid rinse in-between initial rinses and extraction. And, as was the case with #1, this bedcover was put back on display after treatment.
The second treatment occurred during the same time period as the first bedcover and included wet cleaning with water, air dried with drying cloth, local Stabilex overlays and local in-fills. Its condition was noted as fragile and exhibition recommendation was for 1 year, after which it should be placed in storage. However, it was instead left on display for 19 years.
The 2009 condition assessment of bedcover #2 noted that it was brittle from light damage and a number of holes were evident. Treatment was similar to that of the first bedcover. Discoloration was not significantly altered, nor was the pH range. However it was noted that the fabric had a softer hand after treatment. Bedcover #2 was also rolled on a padded tube and placed in storage.
An interesting observation was made Ms. Zoldowski at this point on the role of conservation and the conservator during the last 30 years. While recommendations for the removal of the bedcovers after the first two treatments were ignored, the recommendation after the 2009 treatment was followed. This suggested to the author that curators may be more willing to listen to conservators and pay more attention to object care today than they did 30 or even 20 years ago.
Evaluation of Costume Supporting Forms for Major Exhibitions: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and First Ladies
Sunae Park Evans, Senior Costume Conservator, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
Ms. Evans gave a very engaging talk discussing forms created for various exhibitions of clothing from historical figures. A suit from Benjamin Franklin and a uniform of George Washington’s were the first items discussed. The historical significance of both was covered. Franklin’s suit had been in storage for a long time and had light damage from previous display. In honor of his 300th birthday in 2006, a suitable support was created and it was exhibited for 3 months.
Washington’s uniform had a bit of a different history as it had been on display almost continuously. The uniform came to the Smithsonian in 1883 and an 1889 photograph showed a man modeling the outfit. When placed on exhibit, legs and a head were often not included in the mount. However, during the 60’s and 70’s full figures with heads were created for display purposes. For recent exhibitions, historical accuracy became an important aspect in displaying these artifacts. In 2000, Washington’s boots were recreated by a bookmaker in Colonial Williamsburg who pointed out that Washington didn’t like pointy toed boots and preferred them rounded.
Furthermore, a (somewhat humorous) account was given about the groin area of the uniform and the proper positioning of the mount for exhibition. Ms. Evans delicately covered the subject, mentioning that tailors at the time would have asked their customers which side they preferred and then tailored the pants accordingly.
On the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, a suit of his was displayed along side one of Mary Lincoln’s dresses. Due to their height differences, they didn’t like being photographed together, so creating forms for this was a unique opportunity to see them side by side. The fully supportive form for Lincoln’s suit was contrasted to an image of the suit displayed in the 1920’s where it was simply hung on a hanger, with his hat on a table.
And last, but not least, an exhibition of First Ladies’ dresses in the 1930’s quickly became a very popular exhibit for the Smithsonian’s American History museum. A special gallery to exhibit the gowns was designed to minimize light and environmental effects in 1992. A 6 month rotation was recommended, but the gowns were kept on display for 14 years due to their popularity. They were then again reinstalled on exhibit in 2008 after the expansion/renovation of the NMAH.
A few examples were taken from this exhibition. In 1992 forms for first ladies such as Martha Washington, Julia Grant, and Helen Taft were built that show the limitations of mounting materials of that time. Those mounts were created from fiberglass. Better fitting mounts were created from ethafoam in 2008. The ethafoam, it was noted, is preferred because it is inert and lightweight. Stress and strain in the outfits were analyzed to create the most appropriate form for each situation.