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Civil War Battle flags from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield sits just outside of Republic, Missouri and is part of the National Park Service.  A visit to this Civil War Battlefield is “a must” for any historian or Civil War enthusiast.  It preserves the site of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, also known as the Battle of Oak Hills. Fought on August 10, 1861, it was the first major American Civil War engagement west of the Mississippi River. The Confederate’s failure to exploit their victory here resulted in keeping Missouri in the Union.

Spicer Art Conservation, LLC was entrusted to care for three battle flags from the Wilson’s Creek site.  Each flag required conservation treatment as well as an archival pressure mount for display.

Conservation of Civil War Flag, National Park Service Wilson's Creek Battlefield, Republic Missouri, repair and restoration of historic battle flags, flag and banner conservation, textile conservator, Spicer Art Conservation

Each of the flags had specific needs and no two flags were alike. As any textile expert will tell you, the fabrics of a flag have much to do with the way the flag survives through history. Whether a flag is composed of silk, wool or cotton will have much to do with the possible damage it may suffer.

The first flag, called the “Lyon Flag” is a 34-star wool flag commissioned in 1861 after Kansas became the 34th state. The flag was quite stained overall and had small holes scattered throughout, as well as loss where the canton (aka the field) pulled away from the hoist (see image below). It also had numerous repairs to both the stripes and canton.

Historic battle flag, Civil War flag repair, preservation, conservation, framing, pressure mount, textile expert, conservation by professional conservator


Close-up of canton of Civil war flag showing damage and previous repairs

It was carefully cleaned. Below the dirt and debris is wicked away and captured in the cheesecloth material.

Wet cleaning of historic civil war fragile wool battle flag, restoration, repair, preservation of historic textiles.

The flag was conserved and pressure mounted. See image below.

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Civil War “Lyon” Flag after treatment. Image courtesy of NPS – Wilson’s Creek National Historic Battlefield, Republic, Missouri

The next flag, The G.A.R. Flag, or also referred to as the “Mack Flag” is also composed of wool, but with cotton stars. The GAR flag features 38 stars arranged in concentric circles with a large central star. This particular flag was in poor condition with stains, numerous weak areas, and losses overall, including tears, holes and vertical slits. The canton in particular had losses to the cotton stars which were quite brittle.16-2_bt_02

The flag was cleaned, stabilized and pressure mounted. The weak fly end of the flag in particular received careful attention as the losses were jagged, and could possibly cause additional loss to the surrounding threads.

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Closeup of the losses at the lower fly end

The flag was pressure mounted and prepared for display in a unique way; the canton appears in the upper proper left corner. It was determined that it would be displayed so that the words stenciled onto its surface could be easily read.  It was prepared for shipment back to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, where it will be displayed.

Pressure mount of historic battle flag, Civil War flag, 38 star flag, preservation of flag, repair of antique textiles, conservator and textile expert Gwen Spicer
The G.A.R. Flag after treatment.

The final flag treated was the very large (114″ long!) 34-star National flag composed of cotton and featuring a unique canton with red and white stars.  Overall the flag was quite dirty with dark liquid tide-lines present. The previous owners were smokers and it was the many years of exposure to smoke that gave the flag a dark yellow haze over the surface.  The image below shows how the flag arrived at the studio; the long fly-end was folded behind and the flag was sewn to a cotton backing.

29th Missouri flag before treatment, conservation, preservation and archival mounting, pressure mount of historic battle flag from the Civil War

The condition of the hidden stripes was unknown. Once released from its backing, the long fly edge could be examined. Surprisingly, even though they had been protected, the hidden stripes were not much brighter, (i.e. they had faded similarly to the stripes that had been exposed).

29th Missouri flag after treatment and mounting. The flag is a civil war flag owned by NPS Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

The flag (as photographed above) is displayed at its full length in a custom manufactured pressure mount and is exhibited at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

Each of the Wilson’s Creek flags was professionally conserved by textile expert, Gwen Spicer, principal conservator and owner of Spicer Art Conservation, LLC.

The flags featured above are the property of the United States National Park Service, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Republic, Missouri. No images contained herein may be reproduced without the permission of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield or the National Park Service.

PRESS RELEASE – “Rare War of 1812 Battle Flag is Conserved”

Just completed, a rare historic battle flag of the Tennessee Volunteers under the command of John Williams.  The flag has been owned by the Williams family since it was made by Polly Williams.  The flag was carried into battle by Sam Houston (first Governor of Texas) and was carried at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, where Colonel Williams troops fought with Andrew Jackson.  The flag is a significant piece of American history.

The flag was conserved and framed using a pressure mount at Spicer Art Conservation, where Gwen Spicer is an expert in the conservation of Historic Battle flags and banners.

Read the full release here: PRESS RELEASE – Historic 1812 Battle Flag is Conserved.

Civil War “Battle Honors” Banner

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Before treatment image of banner


This unique banner serves as a record of conflicts that the 136th New York State Regiment was involved in between 1862 and 1865. The banner is quite long, measuring nearly 10 feet. When it arrived at the studio, it was quite dirty, had several liquid tide marks,  several tears, and several linear inches of tape attached to the top and bottom hems. The textile was also quite brittle.

Reverse of banner before treatment with detail of tape.
Reverse of banner before treatment with detail of tape.

The goal of the treatment was to clean, stabilize and frame the banner along with its original rod and brass rings. Read more about the banner in our blog post, “An Unusual Civil War Battle Record”

After treatment image of banner and rod in custom archival frame.
After treatment image of banner and rod in custom archival frame.

For more information on our care of historic flags and banners, click here

Theater Curtain, O’Keefe Opera House


This hand painted theatre curtain came from the Johnsburg Historical Society. It had been used at the O’Keefe Opera House during the early 20th century, and was being treated in preparation for display at the Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek. The central section, which featured a waterfront scene and advertisements, had had a primer and ground layer applied at the time of fabrication. However, the painted drapery had no such ground, which resulted in the light bound media leaching into the cotton fabric and thus creating a very powdery, almost pastel like paint.


The powdering paint in this section needed to be consolidated which was achieved with an airbrush that created a gentle and thin layer of adhesive. Following consolidation, the surface was lightly cleaned. Distortions in the fabric were removed with the introduction of moistureand then tears and holes were repaired after realigning fibers. Following repairs, the curtain was prepared for hanging by having Velcro attached to webbing and then sewn onto the curtain with a herringbone stitch.

Hunzinger Chair re-tufted with magnets

An upholstery conservation treatment of this Hunzinger chair was prepared for an exhibition The Fabrics of the Home that opened April 2009 through August 2009. The goal of the treatment is to return the current square seat to its original profile with a deep tufted seat. The methods used to create the deep tufting in the seat was presented at the North American Textile Conservation Conference, Quebec City, Canada in September 2009. In order not to disturb the original lashing ties and springs, Rare Earth magnets were used in replacement of the buttons. (more can be read about the use of magnets in conservation here).



The Hunzinger Chair before treatment, with the show cover and seat cake removed, and during treatment.  

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A matching Hunzinger Chair owned by the Brooklyn Museum of Art on the left.

Collection Storage & Environment Survey, Long Island Museum


Spicer Art Conservation, LLC surveyed the storage and environment of the collections at the Long Island Museum, in Stony Brook, NY, a renown carriage, art and history collection. The project was funded by NEH Preservation Assistant grant. During a two day site-visit all of the collection areas on LIM’s campus were surveyed. A preservation plan was prepared to update their collection storage, displays and environment.  (Read more about the storage of saddles on our blog, “Inside the Conservator’s Studio”.)

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Carriage storage and Gwen Spicer with museum staff examining historic structures on-site. 

4th Regiment USCT Civil War Flag , Maryland Historical Society

The 4th Regiment was from Maryland, consisting of troops who were about half free men and the other half comprising of liberated and fugitive slaves. This flag is one of fewer than 25 flags from US Colored Infantry Troops to survive the Civil War. (More on the flags of USCT can be found on our blog)

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The flag, in Maryland Historical Society’s collection, is remarkable complete. The canton is made of two-layers of blue silk fabric. The hoist is wool damask with pink silk ribbon ties. Gold silk bullion fringe remains along the upper edge.


After the flag was cleaned, humidified and encapsulated between layers of fine net, the flag was positioned onto the prepared pressure mount. A custom window was positioned to fully show the painted eagle on the reverse side.

Oil on Paper

The paper support of this small oil landscape was quite weak and was easily torn. The owner had made several attempts to repair the tears and losses using various types of tape. During one of these repair campaigns, the face of the window mat was also painted white. 

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Before treatment obverse
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Before treatment reverse

The photo below shows detail of the damaged corner and the owner’s attempt at repair with two types of tape. The large loss had also been backed with colored paper.

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At the conservation studio, the window mat was removed before the careful removal of the many layers of tape. The tears were realigned and then secured with archival materials. The loss was filled and the surface was textured before inpainting.

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After treatment image

Large Cast Paper Work of Art

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An overall and damage of the corner with the signature.

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The plainer deformation of the work of art.

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The unsupported edge during and after treatment.

 This large cast paper work of art is inherently unstable had little structure to support beyond two horizontal wooden members. The result was extensive tears and planer deformations throughout the art work. It was humidified overall, the tears were mended and the outer edges were backed. A solid support was custom made for the art work.

Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle’s Banner Collection

The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC), founded in 1882, has produced a banner every year to celebrate the culmination of each years graduating class. This unique and diverse collection represents artistic and fiber arts technology over the course of a century and a quarter. The inclusion of mottoes also reflects the thinking of the time. This collection continues to expand. The banners are hung on the walls of Alumni Hall and are carried in the annual Recognition Day Parade.

Spicer Art Conservation, LLC began assisting the Banner Committee in 2000 with a survey of the banners’ condition. The environment of Alumni Hall was monitored as part of the development of long-term recommendations for the proper care of the collection. The focus of the project quickly moved from individual treatment to proper storage and preventive care for the collection. Policies and procedures needed to be developed that addressed the use of the collection.


Gwen Spicer, over several years, gave talks and conducted workshops to train the committee members on the care and storage techniques that were specially developed for the collection. This enabled the Banner Committee to divide the banners into groups that included inactive, soon-to-be inactive, and active banners. The active banners remain hanging on the walls of Alumni Hall and are carried in the parade. 


The Chautauqua Institution expanded their Oliver Archives Center to include a room for the storage of the banner collection. The storage was designed for the inactive and soon-to-be inactive banners.  The facility was designed for each banner to have its own shelf (using InterMetro Industries shelving) and supported on a sturdy handling tray. Each shelf unit was given a dust cover and placed on caster wheels (see photos below). The next phase of the project will be to design a display system for the collection.  To read more about this type of storage and others to compare, read our blog post at Inside the Conservator’s Studio.