Collections Textiles Are Safe at Home

RollingUp_72-7x5The New Mexico History Museum’s assistant collections manager, Pennie McBride, recently hit a major milestone, successfully rehousing the final object in the History Museum’s clothing, accessories and textile collection. It marked the end of a five-year effort that represented one of the primary reasons we needed to build a 92,000-square-foot museum: We needed a better place to store all our stuff.

McBride saved the biggest for last, pulling in collections and other staffers to help her unfold a 19×27’ 48-star U.S. flag and then carefully, with archival precision, re-roll it onto a custom-ordered 20’ tube. (To find one that large, she had to go to a construction-materials firm and adapt something usually used for creating concrete pillars.)

In 2005, an Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the museum a $140,000 grant to rehouse the 3,406 items in the textiles collection – a group that ranges from wedding dresses to purses to rugs. The grant lasted until 2009, though work continued into this summer. The grant helped hire a textile conservator and train staff, volunteers and interns how to handle, treat and rehouse the objects.

First, the items had to be moved from the old Armory Building to the Halpin Building and then, in 2009, to the new museum. How big of a job was that? We’re talking along the lines of 296 shoes, 275 hats, 20 parasols, 47 floor coverings, 153 pieces of underwear, 67 fans, 27 art samplers, 32 U.S. flags of various starriness and more.

With the volunteers, McBride created padded hangers, cut and pieced together boxes, built mounts for hats and fans, stuffed shoes and boots, and entered every item’s details into a new database—all of it a build-up to one giant flag.

“Everything went according to plan,” McBride said. “We could have opened that flag and found an infestation or a tear, but it went very smoothly.”

Next up: Photographing all 3,406 pieces. But first, a moment of relief.

“It’s a good feeling,” McBride said. “With 10 volunteers, interns and a textiles conservator, it was a real team. For the last piece to be the largest one in the collection, that was great.”