Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Webcast will show how North Carolina conservator restores life to old uniforms

A textile conservator at the North Carolina Museum of History will explain how she prevents further damage to Civil War uniforms during an hour-long live webcast beginning at 6 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Lt. Col. Ruffin coat (NCMH)
Paige Myers will take e-mailed questions as she explains the conservation of two, perhaps three, uniforms in the museum’s collection. A curator will talk about each item’s history.

“I will be demonstrating what conservators do,” Myers told the Picket on Monday. “It seems mysterious to some people. People want to know why they (uniforms) are exhibited in the dark, why they are up only six months.”

Among the pieces is a frock coat worn by Lt. Col. Thomas Ruffin of Franklin County, mortally wounded in a Virginia battle, Auburn's Mill, on Oct. 15, 1863.

Ruffin, a congressman and attorney, served with the Ninth North Carolina (1st Cavalry) Regiment at the time of his death. Months before, in a fierce cavalry charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, he received a serious saber cut on the head, but shot and killed the Yankee officer who had inflicted it, according to NCpedia.

Blood remains on his coat, most of it visible on the inside and on the back, said Myers.

She will explain the balance conservators must play in preparing something suitable for museum display while protecting it from further harm.

The Ruffin coat needs additional work because of the concern of what the dried blood will do over time. Insects are drawn to the protein in blood and other body fluids.

“Blood is full or iron and blood can act as a rusty nail. It can eat through the fibers over time. If we want it to last another 150 years we have to minimize the risk of damage.”

So conservators may remove some, but not all, of the blood.

"We cannot remove the history,” Myers said.

Thomas Ruffin (LOC)
The museum has about 100 uniforms and 100 flags, almost all from North Carolina units. Many of the uniforms are woolen frock coats. Conservation can take up to 200 hours per item and may include repairs on previous attempts to contain damage.

Myers will discuss a different problem and remedy on the moth-eaten frock coat of Col. Dennis D. Ferebee of Camden County. He survived the war.

She also will show an acid-free box, the preferred method these days for safeguarding textile products.

This is the first webstream for Myers, who has served two stints at the museum, totaling six years, and a longer one at the Smithsonian Institution.

Officials expect Civil War re-enactors and staff members of smaller museums to be among those pre-registering for the event. They stress each uniform must be handled in a unique fashion. “These techniques should not be attempted at home,” a press release says.

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