Thursday, April 3, 2003

Glory restored to 142-year-old battle flag

[photo] The restored 10th Infantry flag
(Museum Center photo)
| ZOOM |
The battle flag of the 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a mostly Irish-American regiment led by William Haines Lytle, will be among the items displayed in Liberty on the Border: A Civil War Exhibit.

The 142-year-old flag, made of green silk, with gold embroidery and red highlights, needed extensive work to make it presentable. About 40 percent of it was missing, and the rest was in many small pieces. Cincinnati Museum Center paid $13,000 (half of which was covered by private fund-raising) to Maryland-based Textile Preservation Associates Inc., which specializes in flag conservation. Here's the process:

• Documentation. Fonda Thomsen, Textile Preservation's director, says the first task was to determine if what now exists matches the flag's reported history. "Everything matched."

• Stabilization. This is the most tedious process. "The silk was extremely weak, fractured throughout, lots of little pieces," Thomsen says. Using glass plates, workers flattened the pieces and determined where each belonged.

Then the flag was sandwiched between two layers of a special green sheer polyester fabric that is made only in Switzerland. Using threads from the special polyester, a technician sewed the top sheer fabric to the back sheer fabric, painstakingly sewing around each flag remnant while taking care not to sew through the brittle silk. Result: All the pieces are held in place.

• Pressure-mounting and restoration. Workers made a special, rigid-back frame and a 11/2-inch thick soft panel. A green fabric - intentionally different in color from the flag, so as to distinguish its missing parts - was laid on the panel. Then the flag was laid on the panel, a sheet of ultraviolet filtering plexiglass was placed over the flag, and the outer frame was attached.

"When you look at the flag, you want to get the impression of what it looked like, the beauty of it," Thomsen says. "And when you look closer, you can see 40 percent of it is missing."

John Johnston

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