Category Archives: Textile

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.



Curtain Survey, Harry S. Truman Home, NPS

Spicer Art Conservation, LL examined the textile window curtains used in the Harry S. Truman home in Independence Missouri. Each curtain in the house was fully surveyed, conditioned, storage solutions proposed, prioritized and possible reproduction fabrics identified. The work was performed both in the house during opening hours and in collection storage. 

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Here is a view of Harry and Bess Truman’s home today and with Mr. Truman in front. Possibly our last Citizen President. Harry and Bess on their wedding day. The couple lived in the home with Bess’s mother and extended family. It was not till after they moved back from the White House did they lived in the house alone.

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The survey of the curtain collections occurred in both the house and in storage. During the full week we had the best helpers from the site. Each of the curtains were photographed overall. Those in good condition could hang. However, the ones in poor condition were all documented flat on large worktables.



Suitable replacement fabrics were found for each of the room’s curtains.

Philip Johnson’s Brick House

Spicer Art Conservation, LLC examined and proposed treatments for the textiles in Philip Johnson’s Brick House adjacent to his private home, The Glass House. This is part of a house wide preservation project for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Glass House complex is a registered National Historic Landmark, considered one of the most significant architectural resources of the Modernist period. A video of the Brick House and the site can be seen on YouTube.


The Brick house is divided into two rooms, a large guest room with walls covered in Fortuny Fabric and a study or reading room. The fabric is a cotton twill that is dyed, printed, and highlighted with printed gild work. The interior design of the bedroom lead Johnson to use similar architectural elements in later projects. He placed the same pink and gold Fortuny Fabric (pictured below) in the woman’s bathroom of the Four Season Restaurant only a few years later. Johnson also placed Fortuny Fabric on the walls of the dining room of the Beck House designed in Dallas TX.

Detail image of the cleaning of the Fortuny Fabric.

Gwen Spicer gave a talk “Decoding the History of the Fortuny Fabric at Philip Johnson’s Brick House Interior” at the New England Conservation Association held at the Shelburne Museum in September of 2010. A summary of the talk can be read in the blog Inside the Conservator’s Studio.


Above left: View of the Brick House from the inside the Glass House. Above right: Front of Brick House with Art Gallery in the distance.   

Gwen Spicer examining textiles from the Glass House.


Maine State Flag Collection

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Maine’s large flag collection had been displayed in the Capitol’s rotunda from 1871 until 2003 when a new, permanent, climate-controlled space, was allocated was opened at the Maine State Museum. Each of the flags in the collection were placed on their own individual fabric covered aluminum panel (pictured below) that was used for both display and storage. This holistic project approach provided public access to the collection, while achieving a collection wide preservation plan. More can be read in a condensed version published in NemaNews and on our blog, Inside the Conservator’s Studio


The mounting and treatment of the entire flag collection was performed with the oversight of Gwen Spicer. She trained two talented workers during the three years of the project (photo below). Prior to the mounting and treatment, a condition survey of all of the flags had been performed. 

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Below, the mounted flags are housed below the display level. The flags stored in the racks below are then in place for future rotations. The rotations are slated three times a year and can be seen at their website

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Dining Room Fabric Wall Covering at Wilderstein


Spicer Art Conservation, LLC cleaned and stabilized the original wall covering in the dinning room of Wilderstein, an elaborate Queen Anne style country house with views of the Hudson River.

The interiors of the house were all designed by New York City decorator, Joseph Burr Tiffany in 1888. The Dining room is in the English Renaissance style with a coffered ceiling, carved woodwork, and a plaster frieze. The wall covering is a wool, silk, and cotton fabric with large golden chrysanthemums woven into the design.

Here the treated and cleaned wood is visible at the top of the arched areas. It is in great contrast to the untreated wood. The wall covering treatment is also quite visible. The lower area is cleaned, while the upper area is to be cleaned.

Over the years the wall covering has become covered with a thick layer of soot, disfigured by water stains, and has pulled from its attachments.

Read more about this, and our other wall cleaning projects, on our blog Inside the Conservator’s Studio.


In the image above, Gwen Spicer examines a section of the wall covering that had pulled away from the wall.

Herter Brother’s Smoking Room at the Victoria Mansion


The restoration of Victoria Mansion‘s Turkish Smoking room transformed the small 9 x 9 foot room. This is the first documented smoking room in a residential house. The reproduction fabrics used in the upholstery, and all of the trims were carefully reproduced, from the vast and thoroughly saved documents and examples in the collection. The upholstery fabrics and trims were all applied using tackless conservation upholstery techniques.

Before image of the long sofa.
After image of the long sofa.

More can be seen at their website.

Wide Awakes’ Campaign Transparency

A rare Campaign Transparency from 1860 is constructed of a wooden box frame and covered with printed cotton fabric on two sides. This artifact, is from the collections of the Columbia County Historical Society, was made for and used by the Chatham branch of the Wide Awakes at political rallies. It retains is original pole and metal braces. Follow the treatment on Facebook. This unique artifact will be on display in their up-coming Civil War exhibition, “Civil War Panorama, Columbia County 1860-1865”, which opened in July of 2012. More on the project can also be found in our blog Inside the Conservator’s Studio.

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An oil lamp would have been secured in place on the base inside the fabric box. Ghost marks survive and nail holes are present at the center of the wooden base.


The two lost sides of the transparency are going to be compensated with new cotton fabric in a color that blends. Diane Schewchuk, curator came to assist with the selection of the fabric. A protective cover was constructed to be used for storage.


The Wide Awake transparency was on display at the Columbia County Historical Society in their Civil War exhibition, “A Civil War Panorama, Columbia County 1860-1865”. 


Read more about Object Conservation at Spicer Art Conservation.