The Textile Conservation Laboratory of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York >>>

On 21 december 2015 an interesting article ‘Inside The Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine NYC’ by AFineLyne was published on in the Arts & Culture page of Since I did my internship at the Cathedral way back in time, it was great fun for me to see the pictures of how the Laboratory looks today and read some about the history of the place.

I quote:’ Follow the pathway between the Cathedral of Saint Saint John the Divine and the Biblical Garden and you will find a Greek Revival building – the oldest existing structure in  Morningside Height. It is the home to the Cathedral's Textile Conservation Laboratory. The Lab was established in 1981 to preserve the Cathedral’s collection of 17th century tapestries.One year before construction began on the Cathedral in 1891, a donation of twelve 17th century Italian Barberini tapestries were purchased by a congregant, Mrs. Elizabeth U. Coles, and donated to the cathedral. The tapestries were acquired from a collector who purchased them from Italian Princess Barberini in 1889.In a handwritten note to the cathedral dated May 20, 1890, Mrs. Cole wrote “Dear Sir, Many many thanks for your very pleasant note respecting the Sacred Tapestries I have been able to procure for the adornment of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It gives me great pleasure that others share with me in the appreciation of the Tapestries.” The estimated value of the Barberinis tapestries in 1891 was $75,000 (Cathedral Archives). This set of Barberinis were originally woven under the direction of the nephew of the Barberini Pope, Uban VIII.

Currently on view, Adoration of the Magi and 
The Map of The Holy Land
In addition, the Cathedral has a collection of Raphael designed tapestries. These are woven from Flemish trained English loom operators, following ‘cartoons’ created by the artist Raphael. They depict scenes of the Acts of the Apostles drawn from the New Testament Book of Acts. Nine Mortlake tapestries were donated to the Cathedral by another congregant, Mrs. Margaret Louise Brugiere in honor of her late husband. She also donated an 18th century Flemish tapestry of unknown subject. They were gifted in 1954.

A close-up from "The Life of Christ" giving keys 
to Saint Peter from the Barberini collection
Tapestries were often created as a way to depict scenes from the Bible and life as they knew it. The process is an intricate and time consuming one. It could take up to a year to complete a tapestry, with a couple of inches of hand weaving completed each day. As one of the most well known and well respected families of weavers, the House of Barberini benefited greatly  with the uncle of Francesco Barberini as Pope. The family made tapestries for not only homes, but also for the Vatican. It became clear that with this large collection of treasured tapestries, the Cathedral would have to give thoughtful consideration to their care and cleaning. And so the Textile Conservation Laboratory opened its doors, with the primary focus being the conservation of the Barberini collection. The Cathedral began an apprentice program for people living in the neighborhood, teaching them not only the art of textile restoration, but also the art of stone work – to be used to restore the Cathedral.Throughout the 1980s, the Textile Conservation Laboratory gained prominence as museums began using their services. Today, the lab has both professionally trained textile conservators and conservation students. It receives projects from around the world in areas ranging from tapestries, needlepoint to upholstery and costumes.’We were pleased to gain access to the Textile Conservation Laboratory, open on rare occasions, and view some of their current projects. (....)’

View of the Textile Conservation Laboratory some twenty years ago. Detail of Aglauros's Vision of the Bridal Chamber of Herse, from the Story of Mercury and Herse, woven ca. 1570, Collection Metropolitan Museum, New York
During my internship I mostly worked on a tapestry from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum: Diana and Acteon, woven late 17th, early 18th century, by Jean Jans the Younger, made at the Manufacture Nationale de Gobelins. The tapestry is made of wool and silk and measures some 330 x 462 cm. It shows a bathing Diana and the moment when Acteon is turned into a stag by the Diana, after she discovers him watching her bathe.

Diana and Acteon, end 17the, begin 18th century, Jeans Jans the Younger, Manufacture National des Gobelins, Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession number: 64.208
The treatment existed of the dying of conservation materials, removing old repaires and closing slits. Holes were filled in by placing new warps on a linnen patch, dyed in a matching color,  attached to the backside of the tapestry and by reweaving the lost motifs with a spacious weft. The tapestry got support straps and a new backing so it good be safely exposed. When I visited the Met two years later my heart jumped up when I saw the tapestry I worked in one of the galleries. Besides the work on this tapesty I assisted amongst others with the cleaning of textiles  on the large wash table with its movable bridge where one can lay, face-down, and easily work on  each place of the tapestry.

Wash table with movable bridge. On the table an
 Aubussontapestry, 18th century, from a private
I learned a lot about the chemicals and dyes used in conservation, on working with the suction table, about ethics in the conservation world and so on. I visited the textile conservation labs of almost every museum in the city, had the joy of meeting Nobuko Kajitani and undergoing her barrage of questions, marvelled at the collection of the Fashion Institute of Technology. I realized I was going to have a great and unique profession as a textile conservator!