Collaborative treatment for a Miami robe with silk ribbonwork and metal decoration

Mika Takami, Susan Heald, and Jessica Johnson


The textile and object conservators at the National Museum of the American Indian often collaborate on treatments, but the treatment of this piece called for a more interdisciplinary approach than usual. A woman’s robe, it is made from a large, rectangular, black wool trade cloth (164 x 165cm) richly decorated with numerous white metal buttons, ring brooches, ball and cone danglers, as well as silk ribbonwork all around the side and bottom edges. The Eiteljorg museum in Indianapolis requested the loan of the piece for their new permanent exhibition on Woodland Indian Culture, which includes the Miami Indians who are originally from northeastern Indiana. The local Miami Nation of Indians has worked with the Eiteljorg on the exhibition and they are excited to see many of their pieces returning to the area.

The major problem with the robe was copper corrosion on the white metal components and associated staining on wool and silk. There were also tarnished silver components. The conservators suspect that the metal was cleaned with a proprietary polishing compound and then coated with a lacquer both of which left residual staining on the wool around the decorated areas, although no previous treatment records exist. Staff conservators and interns in both objects and textile specialties worked together to establish the treatment strategy. Nearly the entire conservation department assisted in the time-consuming cleaning of each individual metal component. The collaborative effort led to successful reduction of corrosion and removal of lacquer without damaging adjacent textile components. Localized solvent cleaning using a hand-held, vacuum suction plate also successfully reduced associated staining of the wool fabric. Creases in the silk ribbon fringes as well as in the wool fabric were flattened in a separate treatment phase.

The NMAI conservation staff felt that the return of this Miami robe to a museum near the Miami community, justified the exceptionally long hours required for this successful collaborative treatment.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9