The Gabriella and Leo Beranek Textile Conservation Laboratory is responsible for the care and exhibition of textile-related material from every curatorial department at the Museum, including approximately 45,000 objects from the Textile and Fashion Arts collection. In the bustling environment of the lab, activities can range from examination of ancient Egyptian linen to repair of contemporary quilts and runway fashion. Work is carried out on a vast array of costumes, fiber art, accessories, and contemporary and historic textiles.
The lab’s conservation and collections care specialists work together to provide comprehensive care for the objects. This includes preparing newly acquired pieces for storage, maintaining carefully monitored storage environments, designing and constructing mounts to support textiles, accessories, and costume, and examining works for acquisition, exhibition, and technical study. For objects included in exhibitions, conservators carry out treatments on those needing stabilization or visual improvement, create mounts to support their display, and oversee installation in the galleries. Often, projects take staff around the world as they travel as couriers to unpack and install objects. Conservators are involved in all aspects of the care and handling of textiles from the MFA collections, performing duties essential to their preservation and display and working diligently to bring new art objects and existing collections to the public.
Documentation of each object is a central part of the process. Conservators use several techniques to study objects and record their condition, including examination under visible light, ultraviolet fluorescence, and infrared reflectography. Magnified images of weave structures, fibers, and surface embellishments are captured with various microscopes, and fiber identification and microchemical testing can provide critical information. Further analyses, such as dye identification and organic and inorganic particle analysis, are conducted by the Scientific Research Laboratory.
Textile conservators routinely custom dye support fabrics for use in repairs and linings, utilizing a dye station with a cooktop and an exhaust system. Sewing repairs are carried out on custom tables equipped with small removable sections that allow the needle to be passed back and forth. Conservators collaborate to develop cleaning systems for individual artworks and often assist each other when working with large textiles such as quilts and rugs. An oversized deionized water wash tank is available for careful washing of these textiles. The lab also houses a suction disk for precisely controlled stain removal.
In costume conservation, damage to garments as well as past alterations are documented to inform conservation treatment and care decisions. For display, the construction of a garment and how it was worn in a given historical period guide the design and fabrication of supportive mounting systems, which often require creation of historically accurate undergarments and missing costume elements. The wide-ranging objects in the MFA collections also mean that the lab is responsible for the stewardship of contemporary textiles and costumes, which can involve artist interviews, documentation of ephemeral works, and the conservation of experimental artist materials.
Design and construction of custom storage mounts to protect fragile costume accessories