Flag Conservation

Battle flags in the rotundaBattle flags & drums in the rotunda

Originally, the Adjutant General’s office of the Minnesota National Guard was responsible for the care of each of these historic flags.  In 2007, the responsibility to conserve, preserve, and exhibit these state treasures was transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Many of the flags – already heavily damaged from battle or with pieces removed by soldiers as souvenirs after the war –had only a few ribbons of the original banner left when placed here in 1905.  Each silk flag, wrapped tightly around its wooden staff, continued deteriorating due to age, light, unstable environmental conditions and the way it was displayed.  Silk, a very brittle material as it ages, littered the floor of the capitol cases under each flag.

Restoration work in 1963 included washing the flags, sandwiching the remnants of each flag between two pieces of nearly invisible silk netting, and zigzag stitching the pieces together with monofilament line.  Sections of the netting were then painted to recreate the original appearance of the emblems or wording that was once a part of each flag.  These restored flags were then displayed attached to their staffs.  Allowed to drape unfurled from their flag staffs, light continued to fade the material and the weight of each flag – naturally pulling the fibers toward the floor – continued to degrade and shatter the silk.

A new effort to conserve the flags began in 2008.  The Minnesota Historical Society was awarded a prestigious federal grant from Save America's Treasures through a partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. A match for the grant was provided by the Minnesota State legislature. A grant from the Tawani Foundation has provided additional resources to continue conservation work.

Minnesota Historical Society conservators painstakingly cleaned each flag with a small brush and vacuum.  After each flag was delicately humidified, panels of Plexiglas were used to flatten and straighten them and prepare them for their meticulous storage and display mounting process.

Each flag was secured to a custom-made handling board to provide support and will be displayed on a rotating basis in the State Capitol rotunda.  No longer crowded into the cases and hanging by their shattered silk threads, only one flag and its staff will be placed in each case at a time.  The case lighting has been upgraded to minimize further degradation, and each case will have its environment buffered so humidity changes in the building have less effect on the flags.

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Conservation Procedure
Welter Studio History