Our graceful Grecian couch is about 200 years old and is believed to have been made in the workshop of Duncan Phyfe in New York City. In its time, this couch was considered the best piece of upholstered furniture in a well-appointed parlor of a sophisticated New Yorker. Although these couches seem to be designed for reclining, they were not intended for repose. They were used by fashionable ladies and gentlemen, who sat in a rigid, upright position. Today, we would find sitting on this couch very uncomfortable.
It is amazing that such a specialized piece survived intact into the early 20th century, when it was acquired by The Henry Ford. This is perhaps due to the flamboyant design of the back and foot rests, which makes it an exceptionally elegant, almost sculptural, piece of furniture. The couch was last reupholstered in 1954 by Ernest LoNano, a well-known furniture restorer of the time. Since then, the upholstery had become quite dirty and worn.
In the past few years, the Conservation Department has worked on a number of historically important flags from Michigan, including several Civil War battle flags.
This flag dates from the end of the 19th century and was used by a G.A.R. post in Lyons, Michigan. The G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) was a Union veterans’ organization formed after the Civil War and there were posts in almost every town in Michigan. This flag would have been used in parades on patriotic occasions in Lyons. In 1917 the flag was donated to the town “to raise at funerals of G.A.R. or veterans of any war.” It was displayed for many years in the Lyons-Muir Historical Museum. Its caretakers recognized the need to preserve it and brought it to Textile Conservator Fran Faile.
Over the course of several months, the flag was humidified and flattened to reduce distortions in the weave. It was stabilized and protected by encasing it between layers of sheer nylon tulle. Hand stitching secures all the small fragments of fabric from moving or being lost. The Historical Society is presently having a protective case built that will enable the flag to rest flat rather than be stressed by continued hanging.
Years of use and display had made the silk fabric very fragile.
The painted lettering was especially brittle.
All the fragments were flattened and arranged between the layers of tulle.
The paint was humidified and flattened.
Ready to be installed in its new case!
Fran Faile is former Textile Conservator at The Henry Ford.