August 17, 2001
CW conserves one of America’s most historically significant textilesGeorge Washington’s Revolutionary War tent liner prepared for exhibition
Gen. George Washington did not sleep under it, but he did plan the victory
at Yorktown under it. The ceiling liner for the dining marquee used by
Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War is undergoing conservation
in the textile lab at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Collections
and Conservation Building. The Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown,
Va., which is part of the National Park Service and owns the artifact,
has contracted with Colonial Williamsburg to carry out the treatment.
"We feel privileged to work on this object, which is of national
historical significance," said Ronald Hurst, vice president of collections
and museums for the foundation. "Within the walls of this tent, Gen.
Washington prepared the strategy that secured the victory at Yorktown,
which was the last major battle of the American Revolution."
"Working with the textile conservation facility at Colonial Williamsburg
has been a rewarding experience," said Colonial National Historical
Park superintendent Alec Gould. "The expertise of the Colonial Williamsburg
staff has led to a treasure trove of information, which will greatly assist
in the treatment and interpretation of this unique artifact."
The 18th-century worsted wool ceiling tent liner is comprised
of eight long rectangular pieces with 16 pie-shaped pieces at each rounded
end. Microscopic analysis of the textile has revealed new information
including the presence of human hairs, tea and blood stains. Also, the
color of the tent liner, which today is mustard yellow, appears originally
to have been green.
Treatment of the liner by Colonial Williamsburg textile conservator Loreen
Finkelstein began with removal of a fabric backing that was attached to
the 18-foot by 30-foot textile during a previous conservation treatment
in 1975. Finkelstein then humidified the liner to remove wrinkles, a process
that took nearly four weeks.
The National Park Service consulted with Finkelstein on the next step,
which was to determine how to patch holes in the liner. Instead of hiding
them with dyed-to-match wool fabric, they decided to use Stabletex®,
a sheer polyester fabric, to stabilize rather than mask areas of loss.
Finkelstein’s textile conservation lab contracted with Janea Whitacre
of Colonial Williamsburg’s fashion trades department to make a full-scale
muslin copy of the liner. Using 100 yards of muslin, Whitacre and Finkelstein
constructed a copy of the tent to be used to design a support mount for
display purposes. The Colonial National Historical Park hopes to display
the tent liner at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Yorktown
in April 2002.
In recognition of its special place in American history, the conservation
of George Washington’s tent was recognized as an official project of Save
America’s Treasures, a program of the White House Millennium Council dedicated
to identifying and rescuing the enduring symbols of American tradition
that define us as a nation. Funding for the project was provided by a
generous grant from Save America’s Treasures with a match from the Commonwealth
of Virginia. For more information, contact the National Park Service at
(757) 898-2409 or via the web site at www.nps.gov/colo.
Colonial Williamsburg's DeWitt Wallace Collections and Conservation Building
is one of the nation’s largest collections preservation complexes. The
facility includes approximately 17,000 square feet of workspace for object
analysis and treatment laboratories.