40th Annual Meeting, Textiles Session, May 10, A Cautionary Tale: Mounting Flat Textiles – An Historical Overview, Christine Giuntini

Christine Giuntini gave a wonderful paper on the mounting of flat textiles in the mid 20th Century. The paper was in a way a tribute to the Textile Museum in Washington, DC and the quality work that they did to set the standards for textile conservation in the United States. The paper is based on the historic mounting methods presented in two articles that were published by the Textile Museum in the 1940s and 1950s. These two methods are the stitched mount and the pressure mount.

Conservation publications and focus today have moved away from the intense focus on complicated individual treatments in favor of overall storage and preventative conservation. When we do research and comment on early conservation treatments today, it is often due to the troubles that older materials and techniques have caused in retreatment. We have to remember that there is still a lot that we can learn from older treatments and conservation theory.

The Textile Museum in Washington, DC was the real center for beginnings of textile conservation in the United States. The museum opened in 1925 and was open by appointment only until the 1950s. The museum was founded by George Hewitt Myers was created for the preservation, study and display of historic textiles.

Mr. Myers was very interested in cleaning of the textiles and went so far as to say that patina on textiles is a synonym for dirt. He also felt that the dirt should be removed because it did not logically improve the art. One of the publications that Christine Giuntini highlighted in her presentation was “Cleaning and Mounting Procedures For Wool Textiles” written by Francina S. Greene, Preparator and Curator at the Textile Museum. (This article is available as a pdf at http://www.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/monographs/tm_work.pdf). Like Myers, Francina Greene was very conscience of the dirt on the artifacts and begins this article with “When ancient textiles are acquired they are often dirty, distorted, dry, dull in color and ragged. In addition to being dirty, many are stiff with grease, and stained. We find that some reveal crude attempts at cleaning, patching and mounting.” This publication emphasizes a number of textile conservation methodologies that are still used today. The textiles in the Textile museum were handled as little as possible due to their fragile condition. The flipping technique of sandwiching the textile between two rigid supports in order to turn it over is described. This technique is still used today. When stitching a textile to a support as few stitches as possible were taken due to the damage that they cause to the artifact. Lastly, Greene also described the pressure mount technique of mounting a textile by sandwiching it between two pieces of plexiglass. The Textile Museum used a number of cellulose acetate products (Protectoid and then Lumarith) as they were developed. Today cellulose acetate is not used in conservation or exhibition, but the practice of using a clear rigid support is still used despite the fact that the specific materials have changed.

The second publication by Mrs. Francina Greene was published in Studies in Conservation volume 2 and is titled, “The Cleaning and Mounting of a Large Wool Tapestry.” This article was the first detailed conservation treatment to appear in Studies in Conservation. There is a great picture in this article that speaks a thousand words. The image shows one conservator on top of a large tapestry stand and one conservator below the stand passing a needle back and forth through the tapestry. This treatment was a reconstruction of a very fragile and friable textile. Photographs were taken to scale of all of the textile fragments and the photographs were rearranged in order to determine the proper arrangement so the textile would be spared the extra handling. Greene also notes that curved needles were not used for this treatment, because of the stress they caused on the fragile fabric. This is why two conservators had to pass the needle back and forth to each other.

The death of Mr. Myers and the retirement of Mrs. Greene in the 1950s brought about a time of transition at the Textile Museum. In 1964 the Textile Museum started the first textile conservation training and internship program in the United States. They worked with a Chemist consultant in order to collaborate on cleaning methods. They created solid composite backings with perforations for better air exchange and the reversed mount was developed. One of the important students in this program was Nobuko Kajitani, who went on to work at the newly established textile conservation program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973. Nobuko developed the use of a window in the back of the peg board mounts and worked to develop the pressure mount for fragile textiles. Her focus was on the overall care of the collection and not on publishing individual conservation treatments. Nobuko was the first to emphasize that a conservation plan was of great importance. In a 1974 article she wrote, “Preservation of collections is a primary function of a museum… sound planning and preservation fitted to the requirements of the collection in exhibition, storage and study areas should be discussed and understood.” This is obviously a primary focus of the conservation world today. It is clear that the Textile Museum staff and the textile conservators trained in their educational program laid the foundation for the textile conservation program in the United States today.

During the question portion of the presentation a suggestion arose that Christine Giuntini should work with the conservators at the Textile Museum to further research the role that the Textile Museum played in creating the groundwork for the profession today. I think that this would be an excellent paper and hope that they decide to collaborate in this project.

One thought on “40th Annual Meeting, Textiles Session, May 10, A Cautionary Tale: Mounting Flat Textiles – An Historical Overview, Christine Giuntini”

  1. Just a quick note that Ms. Kajitani’s first name is spelled “Nobuko”.

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