behind-the-scenes

South Façade Restoration Project

South Façade Restoration Project

The Old State House is currently covered in scaffolding and green scrim. In this post, go behind-the-scenes with our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation to learn more about the work that is going on to restore the south facade of our building.

A Return to Beauty: Conserving the Price kerchief

A Return to Beauty: Conserving the Price kerchief

A good deal of careful and detailed work goes into returning an 18th century textile to its former glory. In this post, learn more the process of conserving the Price kerchief, which was damaged by a water leak in 2015. 

To Preserve and Protect

As Collections Manager, I care for boxes of Elizabeth Bull's belongings. From baby caps adorned with microscopic lace and worn by her six children to a metallic embroidered shawl that must have stunned in candlelight to the grandest item - her wedding dress. Young Elizabeth made a wedding dress in 1730 without so much as a potential suitor on the horizon. She was married in 1734 to Roger Price of King's Chapel and set the dress aside until it passed to the bride of one of her sons. And although seams were ripped, hems cut, and drinks spilled in celebration, it was still saved. Bull's wedding dress is an exemplary piece of what is often referred to as school girl embroidery. The term invites us to reflect on the skills affluent young girls were expected to master.

The Bull petticoat, now on display
During conservation of the wedding dress, the petticoat was removed. Hidden for years under a protective layer, the embroidery on the petticoat is even more vibrant and indicative of Bull’s extraordinary talents than the dress. The petticoat, now on display in the museum, allows Elizabeth’s needlework to shine, and shows how even the people who altered the gown still honored her beautiful handiwork.

The Elizabeth Bull exhibit has been supported by the talents of Madelyn Shaw who carved the dress and torso form for the artifacts. Because historic garments were specially made, dress forms in standard sizes definitely wouldn't cut it for exhibit purposes. Etha-foam - an inert foam material - needed to be carved to each garment’s exact dimensions replicating the body of the original wearer. What is more, all exhibit materials that come into contact with historic textiles need to be inert or inactive so that they won’t cause further degradation.

The Bull wedding dress,
packed for storage
For preservation purposes, we have given the dress and the petticoat a separate six month display run in our gallery. The dress and petticoat have been embroidered with a rainbow of colors that can fade when exposed to light. We’ve mitigated exposure through controlling gallery light levels and using specially coated glass on our display cases that hinder exposure to UV light. Thankfully organic dyes are sturdier than synthetic dyes, which became more popular in the 19th century. All of this has eased my mind considerably and has allowed for accessibility to beautiful 18th-century items such as this one.

Despite everything we’ve put in place to protect these items, the mere handling of 300 year old silk increases potential for damage. Collections handling is tricky and although it becomes easier with practice and adhering to basic standards, it is a daunting task. The process usually requires multiple hands to support the garment and collections managers and specialists handle items only when they need to be displayed, conserved, or studied. It is also important to let items rest between these events. Earlier in January, the wedding dress was returned to storage for a good nap and the petticoat was put on display, where it will remain until June. Stop by the Old State House to examine this exquisite artifact in person.

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager


Sharing two treasures from our collection

Staff members Amy Nelson and Elizabeth
Roscio show collection pieces to Colin Meloy
Our library had a special guest earlier this week!  Grammy-nominated band The Decemberists were in town for a show on Wednesday, September 23 and singer/songwriter/guitarist Colin Meloy stopped by the Old State House for a tour of our galleries, a trip up to the tower, and a visit to the library to see some of our 18th-century archival treasures.

Colin had limited time at the library, so I pulled two of our most important items out of storage to share with him.  The first was our copy of the Declaration of Independence, which I wrote about in a previous post.  The other was our copy of Paul Revere's famous print, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment.  This print is one of only about 25 versions still in existence, and we are thrilled to have a copy in our collection.  Revere engraved and distributed this print which depicts the event that would become known as the Boston Massacre.  Revere’s interpretation takes a patriotic approach, and below the image are eighteen lines of verse beginning with "Unhappy Boston! See thy Sons deplore, Thy hallowed Walks besmeared with guiltless Gore."

Colin takes a close look at Revere's print
This 1770 print is from the second state, in which the clock on First Church reads 10:20 rather than 8:10 as in its first state.   Even though it is 245 years old, it is in great condition!  There has been some paper repair in the corners, but the colors are still very vivid. One of my favorite things to point out about this print is that since they were hand colored, each version differs slightly from the others.  For example, there is a small dog in the foreground of the print, standing amidst the fray.  In our version, the dog is very detailed but it has not been colored in.  In most versions, the dog is painted brown, and in some versions it also has spots!  

Our library and archives are open by appointment only, but you don't need to be a famous musician to conduct research in our collection.  Appointment requests can be sent to me by email. If you can't visit us in person, be sure to follow along on our blog, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see glimpses into our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

A look at the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress

A few weeks ago we introduced you to the love story of Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price and the wedding dress that Elizabeth began working on before they even met.  Have you had a chance to stop by the Old State House to see this exquisite dress in person?  Our visitors have delighted in the opportunity to examine this craftsmanship up close, but if you can't stop by, we hope you'll enjoy this virtual look at the wedding dress and an explanation of  the conservation work that went into making it exhibit ready.

The gown is a circa 1730 wedding dress within the collections of the Bostonian Society. It was originally constructed by Elizabeth Bull, who was born in 1717.   It was acquired by the Society in 1910, gifted by Francis Erving Weston who was the granddaughter of Olivia Price Hall, who was the niece of Elizabeth Bull’s daughter, also named Elizabeth.  According to Francis Erving Weston, Elizabeth worked this dress while at school in 1731.

The garment incorporates a variety of embroidery methods, called crewel work which is typically done in wool on domestic items. The resulting work is intricate and beautiful, and the process highly instructional.

The wedding dress was conserved in 2012. It was dry-cleaned meticulously by hand and vacuumed using mesh as a guard and a low pressure machine. Portions of the dress were stabilized with mesh and the sleeves were fitted with a new silk overlay. A specialty mount was hand carved from inert foam for both the dress and the petticoat. The petticoat was removed from beneath the main skirt during conservation.

We chose conservation rather than restoration. Restoration would have dramatically altered the dress returning it to the original 1730’s silhouette. Serving as a palimsest for succeeding generations, the dress indicates the many Bull women who owned, wore, and cherished it, and this was a story we wanted to tell.

The Elizabeth Bull wedding dress will be on display in the Council Chamber of the Old State House until November.

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator

A Peek Into Storage

My name is Alli Rico, and I’m a graduate student in Harvard University’s Museum Studies program. Currently, I’m interning at the Bostonian Society where my project is to help Collections Manager Tricia Gilrein document, condition report, photograph, research, and otherwise process a portion of our collection that was, until recently, housed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. In November 2014, the offsite collection was moved from the Navy Yard to a new offsite storage facility that allows us to better access these materials.

More than 20 years ago portions of the museum collections were moved to buildings in the Navy Yard. The National Parks Service provided help in determining preservation measures for certain artifacts, as well as identifying items that would be most useful for interpretation in the museum galleries. They then assisted in moving items that fell outside these criteria to various facilities in Boston. The Bostonian Society continues to assess all the collections for their potential for exhibits and research. As such, it has been a major goal to revisit these artifacts.

Different perspectives have also arisen regarding collections care, for instance: deaccessioning. Deaccessioning artifacts means that the museum will assess our needs against those in Boston’s museum community and heritage sector. Some of these items might better serve the missions of neighboring organizations. We’ve maintained that one of our project goals will be to contribute to our colleague’s goals as well as our own.

A look inside the cornerstone box
Between hands-on observations at the new storage facility and research based on the collections records back at the Old State House, I’ve found some pretty fascinating stuff! We came across a cornerstone box from the old Post Office building, which was given to the Society by the U.S. Sub-Treasury in 1932; it will be brought to the Bostonian Society Archives so that Library and Archives Manager, Elizabeth Roscio, can take a look at it and tell us what’s inside (a future blog post to follow!).

U.S.S. Maine plaque
We also came across quite a few plaques from around the Boston area. One of them is a duplicate of the plaque currently mounted to the anchor at the USS Maine memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. After talking to the cemetery’s Command Historian (they are a military cemetery, after all), we determined that the anchor at the memorial came from the Boston Navy Yard, and so the plaque must have been made here as well and we ended up with a duplicate. It’s a fascinating piece of history and took some detective work to piece together!

Already, we’ve found new homes for several headstones at the Historic Burial Grounds Initiative: a city initiative that deals in conservation and repatriation. A few historic water pipes from Boston’s first water systems were transferred back to the city via its archives where they will inform the study of early Boston infrastructure and public works. While the process will take a while, we are hopeful that by the end of the year, we will be well acquainted with this collection and its interesting and surprising connections to our fine city.

This project will take place over a year, meaning we have plenty of time to become familiar with the collection. Undoubtedly, we’ll find some pretty interesting objects and facts along the way – stay tuned!

By Alli Rico, Collections Intern

Time Capsule Opened!

We opened the time capsule yesterday! Materials won't be removed until next week, but in the meantime, we wanted to share some behind-the-scenes photographs from yesterday's event. Amy Nelson, one of our staff members, was buzzing around the studio taking photographs, and we're thrilled to share some of them here - be sure to click on the image to see the larger version!



Watch this space for updates on the contents of the time capsule!

Old State House restoration has begun!

The long wait is over! Our much anticipated West Façade Restoration Project is officially underway. Last weekend Commodore Builders delivered and set up the scaffolding on a busy Saturday. The project includes full re-pointing of the façade, repairs to the chimney, restoration to the windows and some wood elements, and repainting of the woodwork.

While the majority of the work is focused on the west façade, there will be work taking place on the east end of the building as well.
The Society has also been fortunate enough to have raised funds for the restoration of the balcony and the Lion and Unicorn statues. The work on the east façade will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks and will include a crane for the removal of the statues for their restoration at Skylight Studios in Woburn.

The Old State House will be open throughout the work and readers of this blog are encouraged to stop by and see preservation and restoration in action. We will be posting updates here throughout the project, so check back often.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

Conservation of the Thomas Barnard Sermon

Our new exhibit A British Town: The Council Chamber in Boston before the American Revolution features two items from our archival collection, including one item that needed some conservation before it was exhibit ready; a sermon preached by Thomas Barnard in honor of the anniversary of the election of Francis Bernard as the governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay, a document that was printed in Boston by Richard Draper in 1763.  To our museum visitors, this item looks like it is in good condition, but that was not always the case.  When we were considering this item for inclusion in the exhibit, I pulled it from storage and noticed that the paper was dirty, the edges ragged, and the binding in poor condition.   Anne Bentley, Curator of Art and Artifacts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, graciously conducted an assessment of the document and determined that it just needed some cleaning and mending before it would be ready to exhibit.  Anne also determined that this was work that could be done in house, and I was eager to undertake this task with her continued assistance.

The title page before (left) and after (right) conservation
Individual pages air drying after soaking
The sermon is 45 pages, which are separated in 6 signatures (a signature refers to a number of sheets of pages that are stacked and folded together, it can also be called a section).  To work on the individual pages, we began by separating each of the signatures from one another, which required that we removed any adhesive or string that was binding them together.  Once the signatures were separated, we were able to detach each individual page which was then soaked in distilled water to remove any surface dirt or remaining adhesive.  The pages were then laid out and air dried after the soaking.  The next step was to reinforce any tears and creases in the pages with Japanese paper, which was adhered to the original paper with wheat paste.  Japanese paper was also used to fill in any large gaps where the original paper had been torn away.  These repaired pages were then pressed for a few days to give them the smooth appearance they have today.  After the pages were mended and pressed, they were folded and nested back together into their original signatures.

Since this is a printed document from 1763, it can only be on display for a limited time before it is replaced with a facsimile.  Once the sermon is removed from display, it will be rebound using a pamphlet stitch and returned to storage.

Being able to do a bit of paper repair was an exciting opportunity for me, and I hope to learn more about it and work on other items from our archival collection in the future!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager