Exhibiting Textiles

Exhibition poses several dangers for fragile artifacts, and textile items are among the most vulnerable.  Light deteriorates textile fibers over time.  Exhibit cases and custom-built mounts must be constructed from preservation-appropriate materials, otherwise the risk of acid migration is high. 

While many museum textile collections show evidence of damage by both light and pollutants, examples from two county historical museums in North Carolina are particularly instructive.

Years ago “Museum A” framed a 130+ year-old silk flag and hung it for display.

Lovely, damaging, natural light flooded the galleries, and the flag’s silk ground gradually disintegrated.  (Notice the dark loss areas on the piece’s proper left.)  Sadly, this flag should be retired from exhibition and Museum A should take measures to control light in its galleries in order to protect other textile pieces (shown in the frame’s reflection).  There is still hope, however, for Museum A’s exhibition goals.  Digital technology now generates high quality reproductions.  This museum should reproduce its piece to maintain its current exhibition and perhaps distribute the facsimilies more broadly.  In addition, the museum has recently instituted an “Adopt An Artifact” program and the flag is up for adoption.  If conservation funds materialize, the original artifact can be stabilized and stored safely.

 “Musuem B’s” textile tale also contains elements of degradation and hope.  During the 1990s Museum staff retrieved a beautiful appliquéd quilt from storage, dating circa 1825, with a strong local provenance.  In order to prepare the piece for exhibition, Museum B spent more than a thousand dollars to send the piece to a New York conservator for stain removal.  At the same time, Museum B found a place inside its historic house to display the quilt permanently and had a case custom fabricated for that purpose.

Unfortunately, staff or contractors placed inadequate barrier layers between the case’s wooden frame and the quilt.  After more than a decade, acid migration stains from the wood’s off-gassing mar the piece.  Current staff members at Museum B are aware of the problem, are seeking funds to send the piece out for further conservation, and are planning to design (with a conservator’s help) “permanent” housing for the quilt, using carefully selected materials.

 These local stories highlight the need for continuing accessible training in collections care across our state.  From Currituck to Cherokee (C2C), our team is traveling around regularly to teach preventative conservation methods in order to avoid this kind of damage to our state’s artifactual treasures.



About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on August 30, 2011, in collections access, collections care, Connecting to Collections, Exhibitions, historic houses, museums, workshops and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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