Posted on August 14th, 2014 by Rachel
There are due to be some amazing objects on display within our upcoming exhibit, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, one of which is the American flag Mendes made during his time in Egypt. The flag is an important part of our collection and has a great claim to fame, probably being the first American flag to be flown on the Nile. Though exciting that the flag will be on display throughout the duration of the exhibit, it was essential to undertake some conservation to ensure no damage comes to the flag.
Last week we had a visit from Michele Pagan, the textile conservator who is working on the flag. She has already done some great work, adding a new backing to the flag that is much lighter that what had been used previously. This layer will also act as a support to the fraying edges and will have a section sewn in to make display of the flag easier. Michele has also added a layer of red silk organza behind the red strips of the flag, giving back some of the color to the flag, without doing anything that could be potentially damaging.
Marvin Pinkert, Deborah Cardin and Michele Pagan with Mendes’ flag
At present the strongest area of the flag is the canton, the blue square, the fabric is in good condition and has lost little of the original color. In contrast the stars are starting to deteriorate, not surprising as they are only made with paper and attached with an adhesive. The stars are receiving some careful treatment from the conservator, a fine layer of silk organza is being sewn over the top of the stars, keeping them visible but offering a little extra support.. This approach is the simplest of the three options presented, but it is also the one which is least likely to prove problematic in the future.
One of the surprising things to hear from Michele was that this is possibly the most fragile flag on which she has ever worked, given that she worked on THE Star Spangled Banner, this is quite a statement! There are a number of reasons for this all of which relate to the conditions in which it was made. Mendes certainly didn’t plan to be making this flag prior to leaving America, it seems whilst travelling in Egypt his patriotism inspired him to create the flag. This means that unlike most flags of the time made of wool, Mendes had to make the most of what he had and so his flag is made of cotton.
The difference in the ways in which the materials have deteriorated comes from the quality of the cotton, the blue is of a higher thread count and was dyed prior to weaving helping it to retain its color. In contrast the red and white are of a lower thread count and it is probable that the dye was applied to the red after weaving resulting in its loss of color. We did wonder if perhaps Mendes had dyed the fabric himself, but based on this letter it seems not, dated May 3rd, 1832:
“10th day … Manfalout containing about 400 inhabitants – bazaars – apricots, cucumbers, apples (small) – purchased red, white and blue cotton to make a flag – returned on board and cut it out, my servant making it”
Packing the flag safely away again, ready for more conservation work.
The flag is a stunning piece so make sure you come and see the great work that has been done on the flag in The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, opening September 14th 2014.
A blog post by Program Manager Trillion Attwood.
Posted on June 11th, 2014 by Rachel
More than a dozen real artifacts will be included in The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit, ranging from small wax seals to the lap desk used by Mendes Cohen in his travels. Many are in great condition but a few need special care before display – and we need your help!
There are two very special items in our collection that need to be conserved. Please consider making a donation online (make sure to note Mendes Conservation in the notes field!) or by downloading this form and sending it back to the Museum. You can also call Sue Foard at 410-732-6400 x220 to make a gift over the phone!
Mendes’ Zouave-style jacket, circa 1830
We suspect that this vibrant red wool jacket may be the very one pictured in the portrait of Mendes with turban above. The jacket, which has retained much of its vivid color, requires special fabric conservation to deal with small tears and insect damage from its nearly 175 year history.
Hand-made Flag by Mendes Cohen, circa 1830
Mendes Cohen placed this woolen and cotton flag with paper appliqués on the boat he took down the Nile during his journey to Egypt. Earlier attempts at mending the flag need to be undone to allow contemporary conservation methods including the hand stitching of individual threads.
Please help us save these treasures! Our goal is $5,000 to conserve both of these unique and exciting artifacts. Gifts of $500 and above will be recognized not only in our annual report but in the exhibit next to the artifact of your choice – so if you choose to donate online, be sure to put “Mendes Jacket” or “Mendes Flag” in the notes field!
Posted on November 7th, 2013 by Rachel
If you are too young to know about Breck shampoo—or if you just want to reminisce about 1970s hair products—check out this Youtube video.
Incorporating original objects from the JMM permanent collection in exhibitions—especially traveling exhibitions—is an important way to bring the focus to Jewish life in Maryland. This was particularly true with Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. Maryland was truly a boarder state during the Civil War and Jews were as divided as other groups when choosing sides. While I knew about his role on the pulpit in Baltimore, I was surprised to learn that Rabbi Benjamin Szold was asked to intercede on behalf of Private George Kuhn, a young Jewish Union deserter. Although Szold was unsuccessful, he remained with the young man until he was executed.
You can see an original copy of this Harper’s Weekly depicting the aforementioned execution in the Passages through Fire exhibition.
In addition to the trunk that Szold used when he emigrated from Breslau, the Museum also owns the black velvet hat he wore at about the time he was recruited by Temple Oheb Shalom in 1859. This artifact was perfect for the The Minhag America section of the exhibition, explaining the diverse practices in each Jewish community at the start of the Civil War.
1998.115.2 A portrait of Rabbi Benjamin Szold
Unfortunately, the hat was in poor condition and could not be exhibited without conservation. As evidenced in the photo below, the velvet was completely split, and falling off the hat to expose a yellow/brown padding structure beneath, which too had tears, soiling, and damage. In addition to holes, the shape of the hat was distorted and crushed, and there was a considerable amount of dust accumulated across the surface!
Demonstrating that the black velvet is literally being held on by a thread.
It looks like a toupee!
Conservation work can be time consuming and expensive—which is why the JMM only conserves select items, usually in conjunction with an exhibition. The American Institution of Conservation website was helpful in identifying specialized conservators by location. After we approved her treatment proposal, textile conservator Julia Brennan worked on Rabbi Szold’s hat. In her treatment report Julia explained the process of her work:
· The hat was humidified over several days in an enclosed chamber to slowly introduce moisture into the fabric. This made the hat more malleable, and throughout the humidification process it was gradually manipulated from its collapsed shape to its original shape. As the hat softened, it was gently filled out with tissue to hold the shape.
· The hat really took its original shape and the velvet is much more relaxed and supple.
· Large, split areas of the hat were lined with black cotton for stability. The split edges were then re-aligned and hand sewn to the black cotton with hand stitching, using a color-matched Skala thread. It was necessary to have the supports, as the velvet edges are too brittle to attach to each other.
Left, a split, broken area lined with black cotton. Right, the area stitched back into place. A small seam of the cotton is visible.
· In a large area where the velvet was missing entirely, a new piece of carefully matched black velvet was inserted and stitched into place with hand stitching. This fills the hole, and makes the hat more complete and attractive.
Left, a large hole in the hat. Right, the hole with new black velvet inserted to mask the hole.
Our biggest concern with the Szold hat was whether it would be stable enough for exhibition after treatment. In addition to conserving the hat, Julia built a custom support to keep it in its original, stable shape. The support consists of four parts:
1. A “donut” made of cotton stockinette and batting, exactly fitting the main body of the hat. This will prevent the velvet from the stress of collapsing, which contributed to the original splits.
2. A small, dome shaped piece made of ethafoam and batting, covered in a non-abrasive black stretch fabric. This supports the center of the body of the hat, which the donut does not support.
3. A flat disc made of ethafoam, batting, and black stretch fabric fit to the exact dimensions of the hat brim. This keeps the brim straight, preventing further wrinkling and making current wrinkling less obvious.
4. A second, taller disc for the entire supported hat to sit on, also made of ethafoam, batting, and covered in a cream colored stretch fabric. This elevates the hat when its other support pieces are in place so the brim does not touch the resting surface. It can also be used for display purposes. Or not.
Right Side Up
The hat has undergone a complete transformation! It is no longer limp and torn. It’s gone from Flat to Fluffy.
In the “Results and Recommendations” section of her report Julia cautions that the velvet is still extremely brittle, an irreversible problem. Some small splits remain in the velvet because the repair process is so stressful to the fabric that repairing them would cause more harm than good. The hat must be handled with extreme delicacy and caution, or more splits will occur, and current splits may get larger. The hat should be kept in a carefully monitored environment with low light. Cleaning should only be done by a conservation professional due to the delicacy of the fabric.
I got this travel sized Breck shampoo when I stayed at the Channel Inn in DC for the MAAM conference in October. It really makes your hair fluffy! Just don’t use it on historic artifacts.
Rabbi Szold’s hat is on view in the Passages through the Fire exhibition on view now at the JMM. Funding for this important project was made possible by the Associated.
A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi click here.