Preservation: more than just showing the flag

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Preservation: more than just showing the flag

September 1, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey

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Fonda Thomsen, a textile conservator, stitches a Civil War flag to a muslin covered backing board prior to reframing in the Fort Ward Museum. The flag was made by Horstmann Bros & Co. in Philadelphia for the U.S. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps. Photo Credit: Fort Ward Museum.
A faded scrap of appliqued silk, a checkered fabric ragged with age, a braided cord, a cotton stocking patched on heel and toe, half of a man's vest--these are examples of textiles found in the archaeological sites of Alexandria. They are just snippets of the clothing and fabric items once used by historic Alexandrians.

Discarded and lost items in the ground must survive the decades to be discovered by archaeologists. Glass and ceramics have the greatest chance of surviving. Metal, wood and textiles require special environments to survive the stress of changing temperatures and humidity.

Thus, museums and homes are the caretakers for historic textiles. Quilts, samplers, uniforms, baby clothes, table linens, laces and wedding dresses all survive because we take care of them. But how do we care for our precious textiles?

One of the Fort Ward Museum's preservation lectures will give you the knowledge to begin. Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss will present a slide-illustrated lecture entitled "Care of Textiles in the Home" on October 29. She is the senior textile conservator for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. You may bring one textile for consultation.

This lecture is one of a four-part series on Saturday afternoons beginning October 15. Each lecture is $5.00, a series ticket costs $17.00 Be sure and call Fort Ward Museum at 703-838-4848 as soon as possible to make your reservation. The annual series is very popular and registration fills quickly.

By visiting the Fort Ward Museum you will see excellent examples of textile conservation. One of the most interesting is the flag of the U.S. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps. The flag survived the Civil War and then went through more than 100 years of environmental stress. When Fort Ward Museum acquired the flag it was mounted in a frame and glued around the edges to an acidic material board.

Using conservation funds from the Institute of Museum Services, the Museum staff hired Fonda Thomsen, a noted flag conservator. You have probably admired her work before, since she conserved the huge American flag at the Smithsonian's American History Museum.

First, Thomsen used a scalpel to remove the flag from the acidic backing. Next she removed the dry glue by soaking, and then painstakingly picking off the pieces with tweezers. Next the flag was sewn onto muslin covering an acid-free backing. Lastly, the Museum staff remounted the flag in its old frame.

Visit Fort Ward and Museum on Braddock Road, and begin to preserve your textiles, paper, photographs and furniture.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.