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Tuesday, May 30 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Textiles) From the Top Down: Dressing the Historic Bed—Developing Mounting Systems from a 21st- century Conservation Perspective

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This paper describes custom mounting systems created for historic bed hangings belonging to two New England institutions: the Woodlawn Museum, Ellsworth, Maine, and Old York Historical Society, York, Maine. Each institution had a primary goal to safely display recently conserved bed hangings within an institutional context—one in a historic house setting and the other in a modern gallery setting. The 1827 "Best Bed” at the Woodlawn Museum's Black House features an original bedstead with dimity and silk-fringe-trimmed hangings, displayed in the bedroom for which they were made. Because the bed hangings remained relatively untouched for 200 years prior to this conservation campaign, they offer scholars rare insight into the original methods of tacking hangings onto lathe and posts. In contrast, Old York's famous wool and linen crewel-embroidered bed hangings worked by Mary Swett Bulman between 1735 and 1745, have been removed from their historic setting and are no longer associated with the original bedstead. The textiles have been on and off display in a museum setting since 1908, using various hanging methods, including tacking, applied Velcro, and a modern looping system. The two case studies compare the criteria that guided curators in making their decisions regarding the conservation and dressing of each bed. The paper focuses on the relative technical concepts, auxiliary materials and hands-on procedures that evolved during the process of preparing these two rare and intact full sets of bed hangings for display. Preserving the current condition of each set by meeting strict requirements for vertical support and environmental protection was paramount during the conservation process. Conservation treatment applications are described as related to long-term display. In both projects, methods of supporting and securing the hangings were developed using a combination of magnetic and supportive stitched extensions, as well as some full fabric supports. Each project offered specific structural challenges relative to the bedstead and lathe supports. The primary mandate for the Woodlawn bed was to preserve evidence of all previous tacking campaigns by developing a mounting system to secure the textiles on an auxiliary frame support without intervention or mechanical fastening onto the original structure. The Old York project allowed a variation on the original mounting design using fabric and magnetic supports that were incorporated onto a modern bedstead, produced based on a period prototype. One critical criterion that guided the use of a magnetic mounting system was its flexibility to allow quick removal of the bed hangings in the case of an emergency. Each case study describes techniques used to achieve an effortless upholstered appearance of each set with minimal intervention and simplicity of assembly. From the perspective of the conservator, the mounting system design offers ease of handling for the dressing and undressing of the beds. Both projects offered unique opportunities to initiate a contemporary methodology for mounting historic bed hangings, with results that synchronized both conservation and curatorial goals.

avatar for Deirdre Windsor

Deirdre Windsor

Conservator, Windsor Conservation
Deirdre Windsor is an independent textile conservator, Principal of Windsor Conservation in Dover, Massachusetts where she has worked on the conservation of textiles and fashion arts since 2002. She was formerly the Director and Chief Conservator of the Textile Conservation Center... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 5:00pm - 5:30pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom C Lobby Level, West Tower