Flag Conservation Exhibit at Winter Building

Civil War flags from MDAH’s collection are featured in a special exhibit at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building through October 29. This before-and-after exhibit features six historic flags along with photographs and descriptions of conservation techniques used on the fragile and deteriorated banners.

Flag conservation is a painstaking and costly process carried out by skilled professionals. “The goal is to clean and stabilize the flag, not make it look new again,” said Cindy Gardner, director of collections for MDAH’s Museum Division. “When all the work is completed, though, we have a preserved flag in a protective frame that is ready for display to the public.”

After cleaning, if the flag is sturdy enough it is stitched to a backing material stretched on a frame for support. Holes in the flags are not repaired. Instead, a patch dyed to closely match the color of the missing piece will be sewn onto the backing material underneath the hole, and any missing letters are added. The conservator alters the replacements so that they are not mistaken as original pieces. The colors always differ slightly, and the letters are of a different width.

The six flags in the exhibit are made from wool or silk. Some were in relatively good shape and required little more than cleaning, mounting, and framing. Others were seriously deteriorated and began to disintegrate during the conservation process. Loose fragments had to be painstakingly put into their proper places and affixed to backing material.

The exhibit highlights the flags of the 4th Mississippi Infantry, 33rd Mississippi Infantry, and 41st Mississippi Infantry, the flag of Company K, 18th Mississippi Infantry—also known as the Burt Rifles, the flag of Company E, 22nd Mississippi Infantry—also known as the Liberty Guards, and the headquarters flag of Confederate general Winfield Scott Featherston.

Many individuals and groups have donated funds toward the conservation of the department’s one-hundred-fifty-five flags. The largest contributor, Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, has raised $125,000 for the conservation of sixty-four Civil War flags, including all six in this exhibit.

The flag exhibit is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The William F. Winter Archives and History Building is located at 200 North Street in downtown Jackson.

One of the most significant flags in the MDAH collection that is also in need of conservation is the historic United States Twenty-Star Flag. The flag flew over the young country only in 1818, the year after Mississippi became the twentieth state. The banner has been adopted by the Mississippi Bicentennial Commission as an official project of the state’s 2017 bicentennial commemoration. The Foundation for Mississippi History is raising funds for the conservation of the fragile flag that remains in storage. The estimated cost to preserve and exhibit the flag is $50,000.

“There is a significant waiting list for the flag conservator who will do the work, and we need to get on that list as soon as possible so that the flag will be ready for the state’s bicentennial and the opening of the new Museum of Mississippi History,” said Trey Porter, director of Community Relations, MDAH.

As part of the fund raising campaign for the Twenty-Star Flag, a special incentive for flag enthusiasts has been developed. With an annual donation of $25 or more, donors will receive access to in-depth, quarterly articles through the Foundation for Mississippi History’s Web site. Written by leading flag expert Clay Moss, each article will examine one flag from MDAH’s historic flag collection.

To make a donation, or for more information about the project, visit www.mshistory.net or call 601-576-6855.

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