Known mainly for his colorful paintings and abstracted paper cutouts, Henri Matisse is a name familiar to art enthusiasts and casual museum-goers alike. Perhaps not as well-known is Matisse’s deep and life-long connection to textiles and fabrics. When The Center recently encountered an example of one of the artist's textile designs, we knew there must be a story behind it.
Traditional and simple, yet beautifully constructed, the style of this Shaker bonnet may lead you to think that it is at least a hundred years old, if not more. Though reminiscent of styles popular in the mid 1800s, according to the owner, “This bonnet belonged to one of the last surviving Shaker sisters at the Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire. It was sold after she passed away, many years ago.” The last Shakers at Canterbury Village might not have passed away as long ago as you think. Eldress Bertha Lindsay and Sister Ethel Hudson, the last two Shaker sisters at Canterbury Village, passed away in the early 1990s; only about 25 years ago.
Made of delicate fibers, folded, and carried in the pockets of soldiers, Japanese “good luck flags”, commonly known in Japan as yosegaki hinomaru, were parting gifts for soldiers deployed into battle. These flags are evidence of a long standing tradition among Japanese servicemen. The Japanese National Flag, commonly known in Japan as hinomaru, was used to facilitate these messages of prayers and well-wishes from loved ones, so that the soldier could endure the difficult times ahead; yosegaki, refers to the gathered writing, often inscribed in a pattern radiating from the center of the flag. A yosegaki hinomaru experienced only a fraction of the harrowing perils of war experienced by the soldiers who carried them to the front lines. It is remarkable that these flags have survived to continue the story of the soldiers who brought them into battle.
Much like newspapers, advertising materials have a definite and distinct shelf-life. Products come and go, and for those companies that do stick around for many years, marketing slogans and styles will change with the times, thus deeming periodic updates to advertising campaigns a necessity. As a result, vintage advertising materials were not made to last for very long: they were constructed with low cost materials and quick reproduction methods that make their survival a rarity. That’s why it is so astounding when items like these banners make it decades remarkably intact. Here’s a look at four advertising banners that have come through the doors at The Center over the years.
When extraordinarily fragile pieces are treated by The Center, often the conservators recommend handling the pieces as little as possible to preserve their longevity. So when Gloria Diaz brought in a delicate lace mantilla and expressed that she would like it to be functional for future ceremonies, we knew we had our work cut out for us.
At the time Gloria brought in her mantilla, it had been used by three generations in twenty-four weddings, ten baptisms, on “Taking of the Veil,” and one First Communion. Since the lace garment had been both well-loved and well-used, it exhibited inevitable signs of wear. As Gloria noted, “I realized that the mantilla was near the end of its life if we did not do something to improve its condition. Because of its special place in our family, we wanted the mantilla to be something that existing and future generations would use.”
One of the misconceptions concerning work performed at an art treatment facility such as The Conservation Center is that an object or a piece of art must have significant value on the market to qualify for professional care. This is simply not the case. While many of our clients have high-end pieces that belong to large-scale collections and museums, our conservators also specialize in treating family antiques and heirlooms that have sentimental value.
Family heirlooms connect generations in a deep, personal way. From the handed down bible and grandmother’s knitted quilt, to a late 1800s baptismal gown and photos of a relative going off to war—anyone who has found or kept historic pieces in the family knows how moving they can be. These treasured items, passed down through the decades, provide insight into the lives of our ancestors and a richer understanding of our family's history.
The weather's heating up, but there are no signs of slowing down at The Conservation Center. From intricate conservation projects to private tours, our staff is hard at work in West Town. To celebrate the new season, we are bringing back our popular "A Day in the Life" photo series. With our camera in hand, we wandered around the lab and captured some amazing images to share with you.
There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean. And while spotless living spaces make a house a home, many of us unfortunately have to use harsh chemicals and solvents to achieve that goal. The application of products found under the kitchen sink can lead to chemical reactions on the surface of art objects that can prove to be quite serious, resulting in detrimental losses that are usually so much greater than the reward of a home cleaning approach. When it comes to caring for your art and antiques while freshening up around the house, we strongly advise our readers to adhere to the “DDIY” rule—Don’t Do it Yourself—and leave the job to professional art conservators.
It is not very often that the Textiles Department at The Conservation Center resembles the racks of a high fashion atelier, so when Columbia College Chicago contacted us regarding an iconic piece of French fashion from its Fashion Study Collection, our interest was immediately piqued. Instantly recognizable because of its cone-shaped corset top, the dress, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, arrived at our laboratory with a damaged zipper that posed a threat to the integrity of the outfit as a whole. Because this dress belongs to an academic institution and is used as part of an active study collection, even something as seemingly minute as a damaged zipper could render it useless as a teaching device. As our textiles conservator began to work, she quickly understood that, due to the very technical method in which it was hand-tailored, repairing the zipper was not going to be an easy task.
They say “fashion is cyclical”—trends from each decade have re-emerged one way or another on the major runways around the world. The 1960s, in particular, featured a number of diverse trends. It was a decade that broke many rules and traditions, mirroring social movements during the time. In the middle of the decade, the modish (and not terribly functional) culottes, bikinis, go-go boots, and PVC clothes were all the rage. And what about those “Paper Capers”? One such rare, never-been-out-of-the-box Butterfinger paper dress from 1966 was recently unfolded at The Conservation Center, and our textiles conservator collaborated with our custom framer to properly showcase this très chic item from the Swinging Sixties.