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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Ready for a Closeup? Hawes’ Flag Dress

by Obie Linn, Textile Conservator


textile conservation , Elizabeth Hawes , Flag Dress , before and after , CAMConservation , textiles

There are few things more satisfying than seeing some really dramatic “before and after” photos when a conservation treatment is complete! Conservation of Elizabeth Hawes’ “flag dress” or Geographic (1940) has wrapped up, and now you can flip through a whole album of “before/after” pairs showing the transformations of many of the flags that cover the dress. (See slideshow.)

Can you spot the treatments? Sometimes it’s easy. (I’m looking at you, flag of the Union of South Africa.) Sometimes it’s almost seamless. (Doesn’t the flag of Brazil look great?) Sometimes it’s a trick question because what you see is a new reproduction. (The flag of Poland is reproduced from mere fragments!)

Choosing the best treatment for an object is a big part of being a good conservator, and we are always learning and adjusting to do better for the objects in our care. The flag dress is an interesting conservation case because I used so many different techniques over such a long span of time, allowing each flag’s treatment to be adjusted based on what I’ve learned as I worked on each flag’s unique needs. Flip through the album of “before/after” pairs for a close-up look at the different treatments and ponder which worked best!