The Society recently undertook a survey of its textile collection. The Society was fortunate to work with textile expert Julia Brennan. Three days were spent reviewing a portion of the collection. Julia has worked in the field of textile conservation for over twenty-five years. She serves private collectors, galleries, museums, and institutions. During her five years as Assistant Conservator for Exhibitions at the Textile Museum in Washington, she prepared over 30 exhibits, and was the guest curator of a contemporary textile show on Faith Ringgold. Julia frequently lectures to historical societies and collector groups on the care and display of textiles and costumes. She does regular contract work and maintenance of textile collections for The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, The Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Smithsonian Institution Museums.
The following is from the report from Julia to the Board of Directors.
- The Society has over 4,000 physical artifacts in the collection. At the Hume School site, there are about 450 historic textile accessions. (More in overall number as some accessions have multiple items.) The collection is a wide assortment, representing personal clothing, clothing accessories, household and decorative textiles, flags, hooked rugs, and quilts. The collection ranges from the mid-1800’s up to the 1960’s. The largest part of the collection is women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and uniforms, numbering about 240 accessions. A majority of the personal clothing dates from the late-1800’s through the mid-1900’s. Overall, the textiles are a relatively large collection for a small organization.
- Most of the textiles have been donated by Arlington families, and members of the Historical Society. Some of the textiles have provenance to older Arlington families and founders of the Society. A majority of them are unsystematic donations, from multiple Arlington residents over the past fifty years. Most of the textile items bear only the provenance that they were donated by Arlingtonians. On a piece by piece basis, some of the textiles are interesting and valuable historical examples of their type, but they do not represent any particular Arlington historical event or associations beyond local provenance.
- The three day on-site assessment of the textile collection was conducted from October 20th to 22nd, 2008. A third of the collection was examined from a conservation point of view. In addition, overall storage housings, materials, environmental conditions, and storage space were evaluated. The purpose of the survey was an evaluation of the overall conditions of the textile collection in order to establish a working baseline and blueprint for future preservation efforts.
- The survey covered a random sampling of the collection which was selected to represent the overall collection. The survey attempted to examine a range of conditions – from textiles in very poor condition to those in good condition.
- The collection overall is in fair condition. There has been minimal professional collections care over the last sixty years and at least two significant infestations. These factors combine to put the overall collection at risk from pests, environment, exposure, poor storage and handling. Based on the condition sampling of the collection, about 40% of the textiles need some sort of treatment, and 13% are in very poor condition and require extensive treatment. A systemized plan to properly upgrade the care of collections is a big challenge. It is particularly difficult without trained and consistent staff, and the commitment of adequate funds. In short, the responsible stewardship of a fairly large textile collection is a challenge and a potential burden to the Society.
- It is a large collection considering the size of the site and storage area. The current storage space upstairs appears too small to properly accommodate the entire textile collection properly housed, along with the other artifacts currently stored there.
- The collection is in need of a serious commitment to a systemized rehousing plan, and a long-term care and maintenance plan. All the textiles need rehousing, monitoring and reorganization in order to augment overall conditions.
- The textile collection is at risk from environmental factors.
- The most distinctive problem with the textile collection is simply a lack of care. There appears to be no organized program of collections maintenance in place. There is no trained collections manager charged with the tasks of maintaining and monitoring the collection. There is no professionally trained collections manager who can address the overall needs. In addition, there has not been much attention devoted to the interpretation or study of the textile collection. This means that it has been left alone, undisturbed, with undetected problems.
- The designated storage area for textiles and other artifacts appears over crowded. Large boxes are needed for delicate and fragile 19th century dresses and bodices, uniforms and quilts. Fragile items will need to be housed individually. Additional padding to prevent permanent creasing and splitting will expand the size of the textiles and, consequently, the overall storage needs. Proper rehousing will spread the overall collection out into more boxes, of different sizes, as well as some rolls. In addition, there needs to be a handling or work area adjacent to or within the storage area.
- Systemized rehousing requires a detailed plan, budget and the commitment of the Board and at least two people for implementation. It is time consuming and exacting work. Many items need to be carefully vacuumed to remove insect carcasses and dust. Cloth accession tags and registration/catalogue records should be fully updated in the process. ID photographs of the item should be placed in sleeves on the outside of the boxes for easy identification.
- The most critical first step is to continue a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management Policy and tackle current infestation.
- The second most important step is the implementation of a sound Collections Maintenance Policy. In order to implement a collections action plan, it is advisable to consider hiring a collections manager, with experience and training for a period of a year.
- As part of the Collections Maintenance Policy, the first task is to properly rehouse the collection of 450 items.
- A first step in the Collections Maintenance Policy is a thorough cleaning of all the storage and display spaces. Floors need to be cleaned with Lysol and alcohol to combat the infestation. This first overall cleaning will take time to do well. But after that, maintenance of these spaces will be more manageable.
- Increase the signage and education of visitors so that conservation concerns are part of the visitor experience. Audiences are much more sympathetic to limited access and security if they are involved in the process.
- For long-term preservation, it is recommended to explore the option of off site storage. If the collections could be transferred to a fully operative storage facility, the daily care burden would be lifted from the Society.
- The deaccessioning of artifacts needs to be considered as well.
- Make a five year and ten year projected plan for treatment priorities.
- Devote curatorial expertise to study and publish catalogues of significant aspects of the collections.
- Allocate sufficient funds to develop acceptable conservation standards for the exhibits.