8:00 – 8:30 a.m. Conservation of a Felt Sculpture
Erin Eslinger, Intern to Senior Textile Conservator Beth McLaughlin, Midwest Art Conservation Center, Minneapolis, MN
The treatment of Robert Morris’s 80″ x 142″ untitled minimalist sculpture, on display at the Walker Art Center was used as an example of an simple and successful interventive conservation treatment that still incorporates the artist’s intent. The artwork consists of 8 layers of cut and layered wool felt, hung from metal (brass) grommets at the top corners in a loose manner that creates a swag effect. Although the artist intends his work change over time, the weight of the hanging felt layers has cause tearing and distortions around the two metal grommets from which it hangs. After consultation with the artist, he agreed to the complete replacement of the metal grommets. The grommets were cut and pulled apart, revealing tears, holes and severely distorted felt around the grommet areas. The felt was locally humidified and flattened in these areas.
Needle-felting was chosen to add additional support to the grommet corners. As compared to adhesive, needle-felting is non-invasive and reversible. Erin explained that in chosen a support material, the higher the wool content, the better the bond. Also, it was essential that the color and width of the support material match the original as closely as possible, as the patches would be slightly visible. This material and attachment technique also allowed the original felt layers to still drape in a natural fashion.
I thought this talk was very clear and neatly presented, and was a good example of a conservation treatment that worked at stabilizing the object so that it could still be publicly displayed while still maintaining the desires and intent of the artist.
Click here for more on needle-felting
8:30-9:00 a.m. The Conservation of Three Hawaiian Ahu’ula
Beth Nunan, Assistant Conservator, American Museum of Natural History and Aimee-Ducey-Gessner, Object Conservator, Frankfurt, Germany
It’s a little strange blogging about my own talk, but at least I know I’ll get all of the details right for this one!
I presented a paper on the conservation of three ahu’ula or Hawaiian feather cloaks in the collection of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. An IMLS grant in the summer of 2007 brought Aimee and myself from our respective graduate programs to work with object conservator Valerie Free to research, stabilize, and prepare new mounts for three of the 12 cloaks in the museum’s collection. The three cloaks are labeled the Chapman cloak, the Joy cloak, and the second Joy cloak (after their collectors/donors). Originally worn by members of the ali’i or ruling chiefly class as battle garments, they later developed into symbols of status and prestige. It was the goal of the conservation department to stabilize the entire collection of 12 cloaks so that the exhibit can be rotated. That would allow the public to see the wide variety of cloaks in the collection while at the same time help to preserve the cloaks by exposing them to shorter periods of display.
The manufacturing technique for the cloaks are very similar. All three cloaks are comprised of sections of netting made from olona, a plant endemic to Hawaii and one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. The netting uses variations on a simple fisherman’s knot, with gauge sizes varying from section to section as well as within design areas. Larger feathers conceal more netting, allowing a larger gauge (and therefore less cordage) to be used.
The most common feathers used on the cloak are red and yellow, obtained from the o’o, mamo and i’iwi birds. The Hawaiian o’o feathers are wispy and lemony yellow in color, and are lonely located under the wings and rump of the birds. The mamo’s feathers are shorter and warmer in color, described as crocus yellow. The i’iwi feathers are read and are from all over the bird’s body, allowing more feathers to be collected per bird. Of the three, the i’iwi is the only bird of the three that is not extinct.
The cloaks were in varying states of condition, as a result of numerous travels, usage before entering the museum collection, and extended display periods as museum objects. The Chapman cloak had a number of undocumented losses that may have been a result of use as a battle cloak, or at some later point in its life. All three cloaks had numerous tears and previous repairs, many of which had resulted in uneven stress on the netting and distorted feather layers visible on the front. Unstable or unsightly previous repairs were reversed and redone, aligning the tear edges evenly to prevent feather distortion. Nylon netting was used to add strength to some areas, particularly on the Chapman cloak, where the netting was sewn to the upper 2/3rds of the cloak to provide strength.
A new mount was designed to provide a more cultural appropriate form for the cloaks. Previous mount techniques included attaching the cloaks flat to the exhibit wall, or attaching the cloaks directly to a felt covered foam form using Velcro. The flat display did not allow the design to be correctly ‘read’ as it should be viewed in a three-dimensional shape, where the later design added uneven stress the netting during mounting and removal. The foam forms were also very large and took up valuable storage space. The new mount uses collapsible arms (similar to an umbrella) to which hook-side Velcro tabs have been attached. Hook-side Velcro tabs were also sewn to the back of the cloaks, and the cloaks were each laid onto a thick polyester liner, which acts as the ‘soft’ Velcro attachment. The liner can then be stuck to the mount. This relieves stress to the cloak as the liner itself is pulled on and off the mount, while the cloak remains fully supported. The liner can be kept with the cloak in storage.
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. The New York State Battle Flag Preservation Project – 10 Years Later
Sarah Stevens, Associate Textile Conservator, Peebles Island Resource Center, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Waterford, NY
In 1863, New York State sent a call for the return of battle flags with the promise that they would be cared for by the state. Over 2000 flags were collected, rolled up and stored at the capital in Albany.
In 1997, the Department of Military and Naval Affairs began working with conservators at the Peebles Island Resource Center to learn how to best care for these treasures, resulting in hiring textile conservator Sarah Stevens to begin documentation, stabilization, and accessible storage – a process that will involve using the same mount for both storage and exhibition.
Sarah presented a series of treatment examples to show the wide range of condition issues that she has been facing while she has been treating over 500 flags in the last 10 years. Additionally, she is able to use this opportunity to examine the affects of treatments conducted in the 1960s and how they have influenced modern day approaches.
The first treatment example consisted of a large 19th century silk and wool flag. She began humidification of the flag using a traditional table-top humidification chamber but found that she lost all humidity while trying to work on the textile, making the process time consuming and cumbersome. Creating a large humidification chamber from an outdoor car garage allowed her to work within the humidified space with less risk of continuous drastic ups and downs in RH. She did mention that it takes about 1 day for the chamber to reach optimal humidity (>90% RH).
Painted flags presented an opportunity to work with paintings conservators to determine treatment of ‘bloom’ on certain paint areas – they advised reduction of the bloom using vinyl eraser gently rubbed across the surface.
Stabiltex ‘band-aids’ as Sarah referred to them (Stabiltex backed with BEVA) allowed her to make mends on the flags, as the small, light, transparent patches spanned the breaks in painted areas. Painted flags with extensive structural damages were lined with Stabiltex/BEVA.
In the 1960s, a number of the flags were “preserved” by lamination – resulting in what is now a yellow, heavy film encapsulation. A first removal attempt with heat was tried, but solvent ended up work best. Acetone was applied and the film slowly peeled away.
Another 1960s treatment consisted of net encapsulation – approximately 650 flags were treated in this way between 1961-76. This treatment consisted of a machine stitched line spaced every 1 inch apart holding a scratchy net to the surface. The edges of the netting were also stitched. A sample section of the netting was removed, revealing disfiguring stitch holes and netting impression in the flag, making complete removal of the netting not worth the risk to the flag. In areas of painted silk, the netting was removed from the painted area to place ‘band-aids’ to stabilize the tears, and the netting was placed back over.
At this point, about 500 flags have been treated, leaving over 1500 to go. New York State has recently cut funding, so they are looking for grants to help fund the project’s completion.