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tv   Preserving Chief Justice John Marshalls Robe  CSPAN  August 30, 2021 7:01am-8:01am EDT

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since 1911 preservation virginia has shared the chief justice's life and legacy. we are grateful to many descendents who have over the years returned books furnishing tableware and personal items. these objects bring the room alive and it doesn't take much to imagine the activities of the family the household and the many guests who visited. there are no artifacts that better define marshall's career than the robe he wore for his tenure as chief justice of the united states supreme court. the room is cared for by generations of descendents before finding its way into our collection. the robe is a witness object and if robes could talk what a story this one could share. john marsh award this robe is a
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prison guard -- presided over supreme court cases during which time the supreme court was elevated to an equal branch of the federal government and today the simple black robe is a recognizable icon at the american judicial system and as our curator collection put it this iconic image of the american giant has been carried on by everyone from chief justice john roberts to -- stories from its tailoring as marshall wrote the circuit from the days hearing arguments before the court cases like barbary versus madison which is perhaps his most significant president judicial review asserting the courts power and authority to the u.s. constitution. and stories of activities like the supreme court along with the robes of the other justices to the loving care received over
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the years by family members and virginia staff. and so to quote or ceo this object is the story of the early years of the supreme court and represents the tensile strength of the experiment in american democracy. we were able to successfully conserve this icon of her nation because of people like you and many of you are joining us today. your contribution have helped to ensure that the robe has been stabilized and set up to slow deterioration. in our her work leads to the next phase so we are providing ongoing education both physically and digitally. we welcome you to earn more. now it's my honor to introduce
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the preservation virginia -- but don't hold that against her but she is -- she graduated the with a bachelor's degree from the university of virginia and she earned her master's degree in american material culture. she joins preservation virginia at the 2019th from the cincinnati art museum and since that time we his lead virginia's historic sites at the most unusual times issued simultaneously manage our -- of the pandemic. so with that leah i will turn it over to you. >> thank you jan. it's been an amazing year with some change so i'm so happy that you guys have joined us today. this robe was one of the first projects we launched into when i started and it's been great to watch it come to fruition. i'm going to share my screen and
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sometimes this takes just a second so bear with me. there we go. preservation virginia has cared for john marshall's judicial world for 108 years now. 108 years as the core object in our collection of 108 years of frequent display and 108 years of unintentional amount damage from caring about the spread of garment so much. why do we care? weibring the karen act section will scale of howard who stabilize this silk survivor. before i turned turn it over to howard on how the accomplish this feat it's important to look at the history of the robe. this is the story that has been repeated throughout the 20th century when marshall assumed his role as chief justice and the justices wore brightly robes.
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marshall was in the practice of wearing a simple black world promoting offensive impartiality and this is the image of the judge that lives on today. marshall's robe, this robe is the iconic root of that tradition. like many good stories it's a bit more complicated than that. in two weeks time on may 19 i joined to the next webinar which featured -- matthew is the associate curator at the supreme court and has just published in round breaking article the topic of how judicial robes change in time but he's been working on this for over 20 years and it calls into question a lot of the assumptions that we have made about the supreme court in the early formative for public year so please don't miss the next webinar on may 19. i don't want to steal matthews -- so let's suffice it
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to say the shift from colorful to black robe is less about symbolism and more about good old-fashioned practicality. the first chief justice john jay initiated a very elaborate design for the supreme court justices wrote in a shown here in this portrait bison wilbur stuart as well as his surviving robe which is at the smithsonian. ours is one of very few that does survive. this is described in the period as partly and as justices rotated off including jay it was difficult to match these rather unique garments. black is comparatively easy to procure and achieve a sense of uniformity so it's probably not a symbolic move and we think it had already happened by the time the marshall took the helm of the court in 1801. it's not like the black robes to an already exist.
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they had been used in england especially in lower courts and by lawyers and in the united states in late 18 centuries judges don stark robes on the bench. george with was a prominent lawyer and statesman and we know that he favored the black robes look. in 1772 he ordered from a merchant in london quote a robe such as worn by casa, the better that i had which was scandalous and i couldn't figure out what was so scandalous about the first show but a black robe is customarily worn and hopefully was a less scandalous choice. and i haven't pinned down the exact moment when marshall starts giving credit for bringing the black robe and to our national economic graffiti but i suspect it was in the early 20th century perhaps
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around 1901 in the celebrations of his appointment as chief justice. it inspired a flurry of newspaper articles and speeches and dinner parties like this one here that was held in england. regardless of its voracity the icon of the martial robe has taken on a life of its own. these are just a few quotes from supreme court justices. there is power in symbolism and in the story. after all marshall did define the powers of the court and he insisted on uniformity in other ways. for example justices live together in boarding houses and they mostly issued rulings. so whether or not he instigated the use of black robes he's totally in keeping with his approach to jurisprudence. so turning from the myth of the object let's look at the object itself. marshall may have had more than
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one robe over the course of his 30 four-year term on the court that this is the only one that survived and there's nothing that really points to a particular date within those 34 years in terms of construction and the materials and the only unusual aspect of the design are the seems and the fulton pleats. perhaps it was a personal preference, we just don't know and the ham and the residue around the caller it it was present in normal moments. marshall worked through five different presidents and the press often noted his black robe. this photo by chester irving the
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robe witnessed great injustices like marshall's repeated denial of african-american -- we don't know exactly where the robe went after john marshall died in 1835 but it was likely pass to his daughter who inherited most of this property. although she owned the john marshall house which is marked in green on a map she and her household lived a few blocks away and use it marked in red and the robe was probably stored at that location for period of time to the next time we have a confirmed sighting of the robe is 1888. annie fischer harpy when it her daughter so one of marshall's granddaughters loaned the robe
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to the exposition. by 1892 annie and her sister were back at the john marshall house living there. for years it had been rented out but they were back in the family residence in one of the nephews dr. hat lee norton mason recalled that the robe was tucked away in a box in the cabinet in the parlor. this is a picture of the parlor in about 1890 and we now interpret this as the small dining room space. in the far back corner you will see a couple of doors and i think that's the cabinet he is referring to so if you can see with your x-ray vision through both stores that's where the robe is. he recalled how his mother, it is 12 years older at the time draped this robe over him and pranced around the house.
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the marshall house was transferred to the stewardship of the association for the preservation of virginia antiquities down on this preservation virginia and in 1913 the house opened to public and on that opening weekend the star attraction was the robe on loan from the harpy sisters. when emily died in 1920 the robe became part of the permanent collection. since that time the robe has been extensively conserved. one major conservation campaign to place in 1962 which took over 600 hours. you remember dr. may simple little boy he was prancing around the house in 1892, while on vacation of his 1962 conservation campaign he came back to the house and he put the robe on again. he did not try on the road this time. he was not the original. the robe has been exhibited in various spots in the marshall
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house. it's shown on some mannequin in its travel ban exhibition such as this one in 1967. the many years of display and stress on the fibers has all -- the fragility of this remarkable robe. it's been off a few and it's only been pulled up for special events and for visitors. here is john showing the robe to associate justice sonya sotomayor. in 2019 re-start in partnership with the john marshall center with constitutional civics to save the robe campaign to support the conservation of this object. thanks to the daughters of this project in the works by howard sutcliffe this robe can be safely and responsibly share. it's my honor to pass it on to jen who will now introduce howard.
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>> thank you leo. there are a lot of things in there that i don't think i have ever seen so that is excellent. thank you so much. now it's my pleasure to introduce howard sutcliffe. howard is the conservator and director of river region conservation and has a private practice in alabama. howard has previously worked as the head conservator at the detroit institute of arts in the textile conservation studios at the philadelphia museum of art and the american textile history museum in u.s. senate national ecm's in his native uk is in professionals as a member of the american institute for conservation of historic and act as works and is the current board member of the north
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american textile conservation conference. howard received a bachelor of design and constructed textiles with honors from jordan sten college of art and the university of dundee in scotland received a postgraduate textile conservation with credit from the textile conservation center hampton court palace and affiliation with the institute of bard at the university of -- and he received a masters of the arts in museum and gallery management with merit from the school of cultural policy from the city of university in london. howard it's an honor to have you join us. welcome and thank you so much and now i will turn it over to you. >> thank you. that all makes me sound really old with all that stuff but that may share my screen.
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here we go. hopefully you can all see that. so, thank you jen and thank you leah. i have not seen some of those photos either and it was really interesting to see the photo of andrew jackson's inauguration as i also worked on some artifacts for that better in the tennessee state museum so it would be kind of interesting if both the robe and andrew jackson's top hat were in the same spot at the same time. very cool. my involvement in this project goes back to january of 2019 which seems like a very long time ago now but i flew up to richmond to basically spend a
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morning at the house examining the robe and just really kind of coming to grips with its current condition. i don't think anyone had seen it for quite a while. it was just very fragile and people had wanted to take it out so i spent the morning carefully folding it documenting its current condition and after that i wrote up a treatment proposal for virginia and that's basically a document that outlines the condition and also goes through what i suggest for the treatment step-by-step and gives the client time and cost estimate and so as leo mentioned
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there was a period of time grazing and we had quite a few days on the calendar to go to richmond to look at the robe and various world events kind of took over last year and eventually we made it up there in mid-june to get the robe and bring it back down to my studio. these two photos basically show the robe front and back front on the left and -- and that the back on the right before conservation and basically to just run through a description, it's a very simple construction that is two panels on the back and two smaller side panels and
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two panels on the front and you have a front and back panel on each sleeve. the robe is made from black silk satin and satin is a -- and they are much finer than the wife's in this case and its a loom and each panel of fabric is about 2 feet wide. the panels are stitched together along the edges and they are drawn together at the top. this is a photo that you will see a little bit later on but this is after conservation but
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it shows you very clearly those panels and so you have the two in the center back the two differently sized small side panels and in the front panels and it is really interesting that the construction of the robe is a little bit not exact i think would be a polite term. you can see where the center back does not line up. there is a lot of excess material so i think the thought is whoever constructed these was maybe working from a description and maybe was not the most talented of seamstresses and obviously did you then have issued this leaves being backed
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up front as well. but all that fabric -- there is a lot of fabric there -- is brought together around the oak with really is fleecing. it's amazing how they have done all this fabric together to fit around the neck and you can see from these two photos that it is very very finally done. i'm not sure if you can see on the right-hand image the top pleading -- pleating and the sleeve back there. we want to see that slides to you do get a good view of that. those are just my soap talk plates held in place using twine silk rap cord and i think those
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pieces are about 2 inches long each and then there's the lovely silk wrapped a wooden button at the end of each of those. in this photo you can start to see the splits and the condition issues at the robe has. there were some interesting other little construction things going on particularly around the neckline. there had been a panel added almost like a caller that was obviously done fairly early on. it was probably contemporary to john marshall in the creation of robes but it's added on almost
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asymmetric so it sits like a caller on one side and then it comes down as an overlay. that sets up the neckline and makes the way that the robe lies on the body a little bit strange. i don't know whether that was done because he wasn't happy with the neckline or it got damaged. there are a number of different reasons why that could have been done but it was definitely added temporary can dish in her repair typical of the 1800's. so let's move on and here are a few photos of the robe. which really shows some of the condition issues that it has.
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there are a lot of conditions that contributed to its degradation. it's a 220-year-old objects so it has age going against it and considering it is 220 years old it's amazing there so much of it but first of all it's made from silk which during and certainly during this time the would have been subjected to wilting. soak is sold by the weight at this point so when you start off with the little silk cocoon those of oil down and they are boiled down to release and
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collect the filament thread so during that process a little bit of gum is lost in the gum is quite heavy so to counteract that the dealers would then soak those threads in a heavy metal solution to impart the -- none of those chemicals are great for its preservation itself so they contribute to the general degradation. you also have the structure going against it because you have certainly with this one you have six, seven actually threads crossing over every thread so it's a little uneven. it's worth threads are much
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finer so you have that difference in weight and you have all those works on the surface that could be easily abraded so they are quite easily damaged. you also have the fact that it is dyed a lack so at this time it's possible that they used iron gold guide which could have been incredibly expensive and i think it's probably in more likely that it was dyed using -- none of those things are great for the preservation of the robe itself and then generally with it just being silk, silk of all the natural fibers silk is very
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susceptible to environmental damage such as uv lights and fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. the fibers can undergo a process called acid hydrolysis in the presence of uv so they basically just start to break down and become more brittle and you will see the splits and breaks start to fall which you can see on this photo. what is happening in the center they are is a lot of breaks in the warp threads and you can see the floats and again you can see that in the photograph on the screen as well. also as leah mentioned there is going to be mechanical damage. all obviously there is contact
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with sweat and things on the body at that time some none of those would have helped it also just wear and tear three use. there was damage along the hemline from maybe dragging on the ground and the cuffs may be from writing and resting on the probe in the long days of court. so those are very nice indicators of use and things that we want to try to preserve to show it was an object that has received heavy use. and then another contributing factor to the damage that the robe received is also the fact that it has been displayed in the past and quite a lot
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actually so hanging it up and having it on vertical display on mannequins probably hasn't helped over the years especially the weights hanging. it's not particularly well supported on the mannequin and let's move on. one of the major things that really i had to deal with was the fact that the robe has been subject to a lot of frustration and conservation work in the past and so in these two slides you can see the interior on the left front with numerous different campaigns of stitching that have been done there so you have patches and black crippling
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patches and areas where it is just adds to itself and you have black patches there as well. and here are some more photos along those lines. on the left you can see a small repair that was made using silk and another patch that's been added on top of that to reinforce that in there were quite a few of those and then in the top left photo you can just see the very intense stitching that the robe underwent during the 1962 restoration. some of those areas have 16 rows of stitching per inch. it's very very intense.
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so really the process to take a sidebar here another part of the project was to create three replica robes. the whole process really started with mapping the robe, really understanding its construction and working that all out. for the robe reconstruction part of the project i worked with my friend ryan whom you see there in the red and ryan is the curator of the alabama department of history and montgomery and she is a costume maker. that is not my forte so was the natural choice to recruit ryan
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to help me with that. you can see it's been an eight-month process and lots of meetings and looking at samples and you can see one sample their. and obviously we had discussions of what to replicate and whatnot to replicate and so we replicated the neckline contemporary to the early 1800's and so ryan pretty much made a complete trial run with the very fetching shade of lou polyester before launching into the expensive black silk that the replica is made of. so in addition to all of that i
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had worked with a lady in maryland before on another project where needed reproduction and it was button works in maryland at may the reproduction buttons for the replica is and then we were having a hard time trying to find the replica parade. it's not like you don't walk into fabrics and find this stuff so eventually one of my very good friends in the uk is at textile conservator and she came into conservation from a background in theater costuming and design and she really wasn't doing much last year because of
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the pandemic because all the museums in the uk pretty much closed and are still closed. she sat at home kind of twiddling her thumbs and i was like i have this great project for you so she was able to make the production of the camp braids and ship them across. the replica that been a global affair and the replica silk came from anil in the uk as well. so the actual conservation process and we will kind of work through some of these photos. the first thing that i started out doing was surface painting using lower powered construction and that's a fancy way of saying that i vacuumed it.
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using a very fancy vacuum so everything was surface cleaned and i was also able to capture all the dirt and silk fibers they came off during cleaning which is something that is not super useful in this case but it's done a lot certainly with the archaeological textiles because you look at soils and it's a tipping point where textiles come from if their documentation is not great. it's also done a lot with the american civil war pieces because you can pinpoint particular battlefields looking at the grass seeds or pollen that you find as well.
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so once surface cleaning have big done i did a thorough a tidy wish and of the previous repairs and really figured out what was safe to keep and the criteria all doing good thing that they were intended it to stop further damage. some were more easily dealt with than others. all of that incredibly intense stitching from the 1960s was very stable and removing any of that would have done a lot more damage so most of that stayed. a lot of the patches, if the stitches were large i was able to trim them down which are some of the brown patches there and
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the patches along the hemline were all clunky so i was able to remove those as well. so there was a lot of cutting and clipping and pulling threads out for many days. and then after that the robe was humidified to something we do just to impart some water vapor into the fibers just improve their condition and with this the robe is nice and flat so you can use gore-tex sheeting. gore-tex from winter coats a semi permeable membrane. you lay the dry side against the textile and the moisture slowly wakes into the fabric underneath
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into itself so it's a very controlled process. it was going from panel to panel doing this we can see on the right hand of the screen there once each panel was humidified i was able to greenlight everything. ready for the structural support. the whole world basically rather than doing little patches here and there that had begun in the past each of the panels were fully aligned using a crepe ginza from a conservation company in the uk. here you can see we just laid it out measuring things.
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you don't really need those in place. so those panels were pinned in place on the reverse just to hold everything and then the robe was turned over and you can see there on the right hand of the screen i stitched in gridlines basically that i was then able to follow for the actual supports stitching. if you look in the bottom right of that image on the right you can see that darker area which is one of those 1960s repairs that's just -- it's amazing. the time that it took to do all of that is insane but it's so heavily stitched. here i am using these new
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stitches tote -- so to support all the damage i used lines of lathrop catching in the threads that i used for silk threads pulled from the organza. you go from the top to the bottom and then you come back up and patched those threads down a centimeter or so. basically you are pretty much doing this over all of the areas of damage certainly and then in between those lines i used another, baggert reverse running ditch just to hold the lining in place. so here these are photos of
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aligning the fabrics along the yoke and then repeating the process of stitching the damage along the sleeves there. and there we have the robe and you can see how big it is. my tables are about 8 inches wide so it's quite a large object and definitely filled the studio. here you can see the support materials that i hadn't trimmed down yet. and then there we have the robe front after treatment and here we have that interior shot again so most of the interior was
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completely lined and the sleeves as well. i did leave the panel there that you can see on the left-hand side. there was actually an area that was in good condition so didn't need any conservation work. i left that there so in the future researchers and scholars came to see the fabric. without having to undo any conservation work. here is the back of the robe after conservation. in the last stage of the treatment is dealing with the display. here i am using a very thin plastic tracing around the edge of the robe to make basically the display. we decided to display the robe clad a little bit splayed out
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and carried out of bed for a little bit of latte. the pads are made from several layers of polyester batting covered in needle felt and a black cotton jersey so the main body as you can see there. you can see in the background a bunch of long black sausages so there were a lot of pads used to fill the robe and then we lowered it into a case and with the case closed. that brings us to the end our presentation so i will stop
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sharing and go back to jen for questions. >> thank you howard. that was a wonderful presentation and i have to say for everybody listening howard was such a champ working with us. when he came to install the robe we put into the ringer. we had photographers and he had to do interviews. andy worked with us every step of the way to make sure it was safe and it was done just exactly how should have been and is looking at doing a webinar with us. it's been an absolute pleasure working with you. so, we will get down to some questions and one of the most commonly asked question is do we
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know where the silk satin fabric was originally made? >> i think at that time it was probably from the far east and probably from china. i don't know where it would then died. i think it may have been died in china. it's more than likely to have been died at the point of where was woven in europe so at that point it was coming out of central america. the nation of belize was -- with the love of plantations there so it's likely that you have this meeting and the raw materials coming together. france was a big silk center and
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also lied in the -- london and the northwestern uk and that trade was fairly heavy between the fledgling united states and the uk so i suspect it was probably british but certainly materials would have come from china. >> that's fascinating. >> japan wasn't open at that point. >> so does that mean the robe was likely construct did in europe as well do you have any idea? >> i think it was probably done in the united states. >> leaning that way as well in part a cousin of some of the awkward construction techniques that were used. london had if we go back to 1772 through john norton that are
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from england there were people who were specialists in that trade and there's a wonderful trade card that features all of these images so i feel like whoever was making this in the united states was maybe not as familiar with the inscription. beyond that we don't really know. the original ones maybe matt will talk more about in terms of where they came from. it's a very colorful robes so i won't spoil all of that. >> actually some of the later i'm american pieces that i worked on in detroit which has a collection so you have instances of european-style coats that were made by native makers here used to working with hides and
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things like that and creating trade blankets and not as familiar with the materials so there was some like really funky construction methods so it's interesting. it may be that they were just working from a description or an great image where you only see one side of something and you are left to deal with the rest of it by your own imagination. >> it's a interesting to look at the close-up of john j.'s and you do see that same stitching style that you see in marshall's work. it looks like we have a couple of questions.
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howard you did an amazing job and it's going to mean more conservation in the future so what do you expect the next round of conservation will focus on? >> well, it's kind of interesting. one of the main ethos of conservation is trying to make things as reversible as possible so this constant improvement in techniques and materials and certainly when i look back at the conservation and the description what of what was done in 1962 and they added formaldehyde and certainly things like its we wouldn't even think about doing things like that today but hopefully this
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latest round of conservation will last for a long time. i think a lot of it will eat preventive conservation and not moving it to much and making sure it is well supported and well housed going forward, what it is. i really don't know. i think the materials being used this time around will last for a long time so there is going to continue to be a breakdown of the regional silk just during the install. every time you move it there or silk fibers that break off and litter the case.
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we had the vacuum everything out very carefully before we close the case. i think going forward the main problem will be the care of handling and just making sure that it's as stable as possible. >> kind of delaying the inevitable and hopefully delaying it for a very long time. >> we designed a special piece for the robe and howard can you talk about some of the features of the case that will allow the road to be preserved? >> i'm happy to jump in on that. as was mentioned we wanted to make sure that it could lay flat as putting it on the mannequin and hanging it was putting a lot of pressure on it so that was part of the reason why the case is very large.
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it's about 6 feet by 7 feet and dominates the gallery. part of it scale is those allowing it to be spread out in not lay on itself and part of it is the insert and that helps relieve pressure on the fabric itself and everything in there is conservation approved. we are always learning new things about materials but at this moment it is top-of-the-line and it's also sealed from the outside so you aren't getting a lot of exchange with air in the room which keeps out pollutants and it also helps us keep stable temperature and humidity. there is in desiccant better in a department said the case that help us regulate the humidity level. the class itself is
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extraordinarily thick and is tempered and has uv protection built into it and light is one of the greatest threats to textiles and something we pay a lot of attention to when we designed this case so there is motion activated lighting inside of the case. l.e.d. your world we call foot candles is at a low light level and through all of those things and through keeping the room itself at stable temperature and stable humidity and keeping the light out we are doing everything we can to make sure that it's a happy, happy rhodes. >> was or anything else howard that you can think of? >> that's about the extent of it, yeah. c this question is for howard.
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what part of the conservation process was the most difficult? >> you know there's always that beginning part like oh i'm working on this 220 or project that is a one-off kind of thing so what you get is an advanced project and happens with every project. it's formulating what you are going to do and then went to figure out that is going to work you can relax and get into it but for this it was great because you have large areas of robe and it was nice and flat and that was easy to deal with. once you're getting towards the
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top and you are dealing with splits and pleads that are very very crispy those are more difficult to deal with. once you have done one or two you have to get ready for the next 200 that you have to to do. so he yeah it's tiptoeing into the project is the scariest scariest bit and then you settle down but uis have in the back of your mind the importance of what you are working on and you have to keep pushing that away.
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