By Robin Croskery Howard, Conservator
Back in autumn 2018, the Museum was fortunate enough to receive as a donation a sash that purportedly belonged to Osceola. It is believed to be one of the many articles of clothing that was taken from him during his imprisonment. Our Collections Manager, Tara Backhouse, has written several posts and articles that include the background of this object and how it made its way into our collection. For more background, check out the blog post “An Incredible Piece of History Comes Home” by Tara Backhouse from December 2018.
As the Museum’s conservator, I am tasked with taking care of all of the objects in a tangible way: through storage, monitoring and managing the environment, and also treatments which may be as simple as adding extra support in a box or as intricate and delicate as some surgeries. This sash came to the museum after having been stored in a brown paper bag for almost 100 years.
Paper, unless it undergoes a special process, is inherently acidic; the wool that is the primary fabric is also inherently acidic. Together, this overly acidic environment caused extreme brittleness of the actual fibers of the textile. It was so brittle, that when I started to carefully remove it from the bag, some of the long tassels were already broken off from the body of the sash. Therefore, it was really important that this sash undergo a special set of baths to try and neutralize the acidity and thus allow the fibers to relax back into place.
Anytime textiles are stored for a long period of time, the way in which it is folded (or in this case, crumpled) will create a memory in the fabric. It will continue to want to stay in that position, even after you have unfolded it; this is why clothes end up with lines on them if they stay folded for too long. So, to try and help get some of the folds out, I straightened out the piece as best I could, placed it under a large piece of acrylic, and put weights on top of it. The sash stayed like this until we could find a specialist to help treat this object.
After talking to other conservators, we were able to work with Howard Sutcliffe – a textile specialist – to treat this very delicate object earlier this year. It takes years of training to be able to become a conservator, and even longer to specialize in a single area of conservation. The treatment was straightforward, but not easy. Howard was able to bathe the textile, clean the beads, mend some of the tears, and stabilize the object overall to a point where it can be stored or displayed with relative ease.
Even though the Museum is closed to the public, the Collections staff worked with Howard to ensure the safe return of the sash late this spring. When it arrived back at the Museum, we were all thrilled with the amazing work Howard completed, and our ability to now safely store and exhibit this unique object. Please enjoy some of these in progress photos. I hope that once the Museum is able to re-open, that this object will get the fanfare it so richly deserves.