Jeff Morgan, (515)
to strong public demand and a wildly enthusiastic response to its recently opened
Museum Vault Tours, the State Historical Building is opening its Battle Flag Preservation
Laboratory to the general public for tours.
Beginning Saturday, January 15,
2005 at 1:30 p.m., the State Historical Building, located at 600 E. Locust Street
in Des Moines, will offer Battle Flag Tours in its subterranean, climate-controlled
preservation center. Tickets are $20 per person, and $18 for members of the State
Historical Society of Iowa. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the work involved
with stabilizing and preserving Iowa’s historic battle flags, each tour
will be limited to 10 participants age 12 and older. The tour will be offered
the third Saturday of every month. Reservations can be made by calling the State
Historical Building’s museum store at 515-283-1757.
In January 2000, Fonda Thomson,
a nationally known conservator, examined the battle flags and offered an initial
assessment: “the silk flags are brittle but conservable, to save them they
must be removed from their staffs and laid flat in a controlled environment, the
silk flags are deteriorating each day they remain in their present environment.”
Her examination found the flags
had accumulated dust and dirt while excessive lighting and the stress of hanging
in display cases gradually weakened the fabrics so they no longer support their
Museum staff and other experts removed
the flags from display cases and transported them to the Battle Flag Preservation
The flags in most need of stabilization
and preservation are U.S. national colors, regimental flags, banners and Calvary
guildons from the Civil War that were housed – some for more than 100 years
– in four display cases in the Capitol rotunda. Most are silk flags with
painted decorations and gold fringe.
Rather then preserving the flags,
the conservation treatment of the 1890s, which included machine sewing a layer
of cotton gauze on each side of the flag for support, caused additional damage.
The gauze is brittle and fractured and no longer provides support but adds more
weight, and therefore more stress to the flag fabrics. Some flags appear to be
relatively intact while others are severely fractured with large areas of loss.
Left unchecked, this damage eventually would have been greater than what the flags
endured in battle.
Battle Flag Preservation Laboratory
staff will offer an entertaining and educational presentation how the flags are
meticulously assessed, stabilized and preserved for storage and future display
The Iowa Historical Foundation,
the private, non-profit fundraising arm of the State Historical Society of Iowa,
has established a restricted account to receive contributions for the flag project.
Individuals, veteran's organizations, and many Civil War living historians have
already made contributions to the project. For information on making a contribution,
please contact the Iowa Historical Foundation, 600 E. Locust, Des Moines, Iowa
50319, or call 515-281-5111.
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