Conservation in Action: Preserving Gloves at the MFA Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Improving the safety and accessibility of the Textile and Fashion Arts collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Conservation in Action: Preserving Gloves at the MFA Boston
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is improving the safety and accessibility of the Textile and Fashion Arts collection with the design and construction of custom storage mounts for costume accessories. Accessories are often fragile, three-dimensional forms with multimedia components. Because they are at higher risk of damage from handling, custom mounts are crucial for their protection. In addition to offering support, they reduce the need for handling because the accessories can be viewed in their proper orientation while in storage, greatly increasing the long-term preservation of these fragile materials. In 2001, a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services funded the design and construction of mount prototypes for the accessories. The prototype mounts were later used as models for the systematic re-housing of the accessories collection, an initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Glove collection at MFA Boston

The MFA’s collection was started when New England was the center of the US textile industry. Today the Museum owns more than 40,000 examples of the textile and fashion arts ranging from American needlepoint to European tapestries, Middle Eastern rugs, African kente cloths, and haute couture fashions.

The collection of gloves numbers about 200 and ranges from the 17th century to the 21st.

Storing gloves and wristlets
In most cases, gloves are paired together and positioned wrist to finger tip to maximize available space. Placing one glove face up and the other face down allows both sides to be shown, and this increased visual accessibility reduces the need for handling. Gloves are contained within lined and padded trays made from archival board. The trays are not only handling devices, but also serve as safety catches if parts become loose or separated. Custom inserts were placed inside the gloves to support their shapes and allow the gloves to be easily lifted out of the tray. The inserts are covered with materials appropriate to the situation, such as cotton knit when friction is required, a low friction silk to pair with leather gloves, or the smooth surface of Tyvek for sliding over heavily textured weaves.

Leather gloves stored in custom-fit tray

1/3: A design sketch to illustrate the storage of gloves.

Leather gloves stored in custom-fit tray

2/3: These printed leather gloves are stored in a custom-fit tray made of 4-ply mat board. The tray is lined with Volara foam, and small rectangular bumpers pin the gloves in place.

Leather gloves stored in custom-fit tray

3/3: Woven silk is used for its low friction to cover the mat board inserts, which fit into the palm of the glove and extend beyond the wrist for easy handling.

Silk embroidered evening gloves stored in in a low custom-fit corrugated tray

Silk embroidered evening gloves are paired together in a low custom-fit corrugated tray lined with Tyvek. Rag board inserts have a woven silk fabric covering and a lifting loop made from twill tape. The inserts fit into each glove from the palm and extend back beyond the outer end for easy lifting.

Black lace wristlets stored in a low custom-fit corrugated tray

These black lace wristlets are also positioned side by side and tip to wrist in a low custom-fit corrugated tray. Lifting inserts made of corrugated board are covered with one layer of batting and silk knit fabric.

Knitted evening mitts stored on lifting boards

These knit evening mitts are mounted on individual lifting boards padded with polyester batting and wrapped in muslin. A twill tape loop is attached to each lifting board. To save space in the storage drawer, the mitts are stacked in their handling tray. Small stops of foam at the corners of the tray keep the top layer elevated.

Wristlets stored on padded lifting boards

1/2 The same technique can be applied to wristlets. Padded lifting boards are stacked in the tray, and foam stops ensure the upper mount does not come in contact with the wristlet below.

Wristlets stored on padded lifting boards

2/2: Finger holds are included in the upper mount for easy lifting. This second wristlet is positioned face down to allow both sides to be viewed without handling.

Wristlets stored on e-flute trays

For wristlets that don’t require padded supports, e-flute trays are constructed with dividers and lined with PhotoTex tissue. The wristlets are paired and stacked with an interleaving of PhotoTex.

Identification numbers for each pair are written on the tissue to minimize handling. If it is necessary to remove the wristlets from the tray, the same numbers written on the side of the tray ensure the objects can be easily returned to their correct locations. Specific groupings of wristlets and gloves are approved by curators in an effort to store objects from like regions and time periods together.

White leather gloves stored in prefabricated trays.

Pairs of white leather gloves are stored in prefabricated trays made of acid-free board and lined with PhotoTex paper. The 4-ply mat board dividers keep each pair separate.

Lace glove stored in simple tray

For this lace glove, an insert is not possible and a padded tray is not necessary. Instead, a simple tray lined with PhotoTex tissue supports the glove and contains any loose parts.

Wrist covers stored in tray lined with PhotoTex paper

1/2: A tray lined with PhotoTex paper protects these wrist covers. The tissue paper supports that are underneath the gloves allow space for the cuff and lessen pressure on its surface. Tissue paper is also inserted between the folded cuff and wrist to help prevent migration staining from the gloves’ metallic elements.

Wrist covers stored in tray lined with PhotoTex paper

2/2: Mat board inserts have a Tyvek soft wrap covering and a lifting loop made from cotton twill tape.

Hunting gloves stored in tray

1/2: These hunting gloves are stored in a low custom-shaped corrugated tray. This saves drawer space and highlights the cuff design that meets in the center. Polyethylene foam blocks are covered with PhotoTex paper and elevate the gloves underneath the hands, allowing room for the cuffs to rest below.

Hunting gloves stored in tray

2/2: The inserts, padded and covered with Tyvek, fit in notched spaces carved in the foam. Twill tape loops are sewn to the inserts for easy lifting.

Ecclesiastic gloves stored in enclosed box

1/2: Because these ecclesiastic gloves contain metallic threads, they are enclosed in a box made of Corrosion Intercept board designed to trap pollutants. A corrugated board, padded and wrapped in cotton knit fabric, sits at the bottom of the box. Stitching the fabric down around the gloves makes a shallow depression that keeps the gloves positioned properly. An interleaf of PhotoTex paper is cut to shape and serves as a barrier under the gloves to prevent snagging. Mat board inserts, with Tyvek covering and twill tape lifting loops, fit into the palm of each glove and extend beyond the wrist to ease handling.

Ecclesiastic gloves stored in enclosed box

2/2: Since the Corrosion Intercept box must be kept closed in storage, a label with the gloves’ numbers and image is attached for identification.

Chain link leather gloves are stored in a custom-shaped corrugated board tray

These chain link leather gloves are stored in a custom-shaped corrugated board tray. There is a bottom layer of poly padding covered in Tyvek, and the wrist cuffs are supported with polyethylene foam cradles wrapped with Volara foam. Foam inserts inside each glove are also covered in Tyvek and help hold the cuffs straight, relieving the folding and creasing of the leather at the wrist joint.

Explore other exhibits that highlight similar work by MFA textile conservators with fans, handbags, hats and shoes.

Credits: Story

Authors
Written by Karen Gausch and Joel Thompson.
Drawings by Karen Gausch.

Karen Gausch earned a BFA in fine art from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, in 1983 and has been working in the museum exhibition field for more than 20 years. She has worked with private and corporate collections, among them the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum and PepsiCo. Her experiences in fabricating mounting systems span an array of collections, from ancient to contemporary, fine and decorative arts. Gausch joined the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1995 where she became Exhibition Preparation Collections Care Manager, Objects. In 2006 she became Chief Preparator of Collections Management at the Harvard University Art Museums.

Joel Thompson received her Masters in Art Conservation from the Art Conservation Department of the State University College at Buffalo in 2000. She has worked as Exhibits Conservator at the Field Museum of Natural History and as Textile and Objects Conservator at the Chicago Historical Society. Thompson is currently Associate Conservator in the Textile Conservation Lab at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Acknowledgments
The authors would like to acknowledge the generous funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services that made this project possible. Several individuals gave generously of their time and expertise in sharing their ideas including Chris Paulocik of the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nobuko Kajitani, Lucy Commoner of the Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Glenn Peterson of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Susan Heald of the National Museum of the American Indian. Many aspects of the prototype mount designs are not unique to the MFA, but built on the inventive work of others; the authors extend appreciation and recognition to these people. Thanks are due to Meredith Montague, Head of the Textile Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for leading this project from inception to completion. The authors also thank Arthur Beale, former Chair of Conservation and Collections Management for his guidance, encouragement, and support of these efforts. Finally, tremendous thanks are due to the many staff members who not only brought these projects to successful completion, but also enriched the initial designs with their collective knowledge and experience. These staff members include Claudia Iannuccilli, Becky Fifield, Maryann Sadagopan, Elizabeth Hill, Allison Hewey, and Allison Sloan-Murphy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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