Textile Conservation Lab
The Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine was established in 1981 with a mission to conserve two sets of 17th century tapestries that were early gifts to the Cathedral. Under the direction of Marlene Eidelheit since 1992, the professional staff of conservators have undertaken exhaustive work on the Barberini Life of Christ set and have begun work on the other, The Acts of the Apostles.
In addition, leading museums, institutional and corporate collectors, galleries and individuals with personal collections bring textiles of all kinds to be conserved. The generous space of the Lab, located inside the Ithiel Town Building on the Cathedral’s Close, means conservators are able to treat objects of any size and type. Since the beginning, the Lab has been committed to training the new generations of conservators and continues this work through a robust internship program. Many former employees have gone on to head conservation labs around the world, and interns frequently move on to museum positions.
The Lab was founded with start-up grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kress Foundation, the Getty Grant program, and the Municipal Council for the Arts. Today, grants fund continuing work on the Cathedral’s collections.
Every textile that comes to the Lab for treatment is carefully analyzed for its conservation needs. The goal of the Textile Conservation Lab is to preserve the integrity, provide stabilization and support, and minimize further deterioration of each object.
Research is undertaken to understand context and ensure the accuracy of the conservation work. Conservators consider the fibers, structural stability and test a variety of cleaning options to gather information on the materials and permanence of dyes.
Potential methods for removal of soiling and stains, and environmental issues are taken into consideration. Larger pieces may be surveyed on site and fragile collections viewed in situ to assess their condition.
Following the American Institute of Conservation Code of Ethics, proposals are made based on best practices and the needs of the textile. Information gathered during examination determines the suggested course of action.
This may include preventive recommendations, such as supportive storage or environmental guidelines, interventive conservation from surface to wet cleaning, stabilization through stitching or adhesive treatments, or hanging/mounting options.
Discrete restoration may be considered where appropriate. Treatment options, time, and cost considerations are included in a written report for each client. All projects are completed with a commitment to quality and attention to detail that these beloved objects and textiles deserve.
Select Clients and Projects
Recent clients have included:
- The Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York, where the Lab worked to survey over 600 pieces from MAG's collection and advised the museum on creating new, appropriate storage.
- Washington National Cathedral, where the Lab converved their Mackrille Advent Frontal.
- The Harvard Club, New York City
- Jasna Polona, Princeton, New Jersey
- The Anni Albers Foundation
- The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City
- Wrights Ferry Mansion, Pennsylvania
- Lichtenstein Foundation
- Fashion Institue of Techology
- Brooks Brothers
- New York Public Library
- Maymont Mansion
- Bronx Family Courthouse
- Brooklyn Museum
- Free Library of Philadelphia
The Lab conserves and cares for the Cathedral's two sets of 17th century tapestries, the Life of Christ and The Acts of the Apostles as many objects that are used in the Cathedral every day including:
- The AIDS Memorial Banner
- The Advent Frontal, made of fabric from Queen Elizabeth II's coronation
- The Pulpit Coat of Arms
- Frederick Franck's Banner of Humankind
- the Pax Gaia banner
To help support the Lab in their work conserving the Cathedral's treausres, you can donate online.
Meet the Team
The Lab is made up of dedicated conservators who have years of experience in museum conservation. Learn more about them in the Staff Spotlight.
The Textile Conservation Lab was established in 1981 by The Very Reverend James Parks Morton as a way to conserve the tapestries that were already in the Cathedral’s care as well as serve the community by training future conservators. From the start, the Lab began taking in work from other museums and over the years has consistently grown in reputation in the conversation community. The Lab continues to advance one of its core goals—to train new conservators—with its robust internship program.
Learn more about the history of tapestries at the Cathedral on our blog.