Monday, July 14, 2014

Conservation of The Peoples Choice: Alexander Spotswood's Waistcoat

Wilton House Museum's collection includes a small but significant number of historic textiles and costumes associated with historic individuals. The majority of these rare surviving textiles came to the museum as donations from descendants of the item's original owner - relics preserved from generation to generation with varying histories and levels of preservation. One such item is a section of an eighteenth-century gentleman's silk waistcoat donated to the museum in the 1930s by descendants of Alexander Spotswood with a family history of the coat having belonged to their illustrious ancestor. 

Alexander Spotswood served as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 1710 until 1722. During his administration he advocated for more enlightened treatment of the Native Americans, trade regulations, and western expansion. A granddaughter of Alexander Spotswood married a son of the builder of Wilton, Peter Randolph. Spotswood descendants cherished the waistcoat for generations and at some point, possibly to share the relic among heirs, the coat was cut into quarters. It was one front half of the coat that was given to Wilton House Museum. 

Noted conservator Loreen Finkelstein is expertly handling the conservation of the item. The fragile fabric will be removed from the acidic backing and frame, the object carefully cleaned with gentle textile vacuum and brush and after cleaning, the item will be stitched onto a mounting fabric before being placed in a protective new frame. 

The Virginia Association of Museums awarded the conservation needs of our Spotswood waistcoat it's People's Choice Award in 2012 in connection to the Association's Top Ten Endangered Artifacts conservation awareness program. Donations and well-wishes in support of its conservation arrived from individuals and organizations from around the country. It was even featured in a creative Youtube video

"The textile collection at Wilton House is of particular interest" observed costume historian Mary Doering "both regionally and nationally. Textiles provide tangible evidence of the daily lives of the occupants of Wilton House and their circle of acquaintances. Textiles tell fascinating tales."