The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library

Cedar Rapids, Iowa
By Gabrielle Tieu, Associate Conservator of Objects

(Above) Staging Area for Triage Operation

As a consequence of the massive flooding of the Cedar and Iowa rivers that occurred in Iowa last June, The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids was surrounded by 15 feet of water, well above any historical level. As soon as the water started to recede and the building was safe to enter, The Conservation Center sent a five person disaster response team to assess and recover the textile collection that was located on the first floor of the museum and thus totally immersed during the flood. This portion of the textile collection encompassed approximately 1,000 traditional Czech and Slovak costumes and garments, many with detailed colored embroidery, glass beading and metallic thread decorations.

The textiles were in nearly devastated condition, lying soaking wet on the floor and soiled by a black putrid mud that was covering the entire interior of the building. In addition to the intricate and hazardous mess inside caused by the collapse of showcases, mannequins and sections of walls, there was no electricity. Fortunately, due to exceptionally dry and breezy weather following the receding of the water, mold outbreaks remained very localized.

After general assessment of the situation was conducted under the direction of Gail Naughton and the restoration company Steamatic, a triage of the wet muddy textiles was put in motion in order to stabilize their condition before shipping them to Chicago. An entire washing station was improvised in the parking lot of the museum including rows of laundry tubs and 8 x 4 drying racks. Prior to rinsing, the muddier textiles were gently washed off. They were then gently rinsed in successive baths of clean water, separating the whites from the colors to avoid dyes bleeding and discoloration. Mud deposits were removed with soft paint brushes. The textiles were then patted dry on tables with towels, soft sponges and blotting tissue and then spread on drying racks. The textiles were regularly turned and reshaped (especially blouses and large pleated skirts) until fully dry. At this point, the textiles were packed and shipped to our facilities in Chicago. Upon arrival, a close examination and inventory of the textiles was undertaken in order to determine the future necessary conservation treatments.

This operation consisting of triage and stabilization was possible due to ideal weather conditions and a dedicated skillful team of volunteers. Some leather accessories and jackets, as well as a series of dolls were frozen in situ because it was not possible to ensure proper controlled drying, and these objects were at risk of developing mold; they will be thawed and treated later.