Heritage, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2000 Page: 10
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Academy asked Fowler, who was famous
for her needlecraft skills, to develop a
method to repair that institution's timeworn
flags. After traveling in Europe, she
settled on a restoration
to that used for
the stabilization of
It involved placing
the flag to be treated
on a sturdy linen
backing and firmly
sewing it in place
using a special stitch Fig. 1
that Fowler had invented and patented.
When completed, one side of the flag was
hidden and inaccessible, while the stitching
made the other appear as if a net covered
it. Using this method, Fowler treated
more than 170 flags at Annapolis,
including the original Star-Spangled
Banner and the flag of the U.S.S.
By the time of the Texas contract,
Katherine Richey had taken over the
business from her mother and transformed
it into a lucrative commercial
enterprise. During the '20s and '30s,
Richey and her large
staff, at an average cost
of between $30 and
$50 per unit, had "preserved"
significant historic flag
in America. In promotional
material, she f
claimed the RicheyFowler
method would Fia. 3
"make the flags endure for centuries, and
beautify them for display in any way
Unfortunately, far from making the
flags "endure for centuries,"
caused severe damage.
The large threads that
comprised the dense
netting were sewn
directly into the flag's
fabric causing the rupture
of fragile fibers and
Even worse, Richey had no respect
for the flags as historical objects. If a flag
had become warped or misshapen with
time, she would often cut slits in the fabric
so it would lay flat or trim away whole
sections to improve alignment and symmetry.
Sometimes she added new, ahistorical
embroidery to make the flags more
pleasing to the eye. Flags received in
pieces and tatters were reassembled and
spliced according to Richey's whims with
no regard for the historical record (see
image, page 9).
Her treatment of
the San Jacinto flag
was typical. When
Richey received the
flag it was little more
than a pile of cloth
scraps in a box "with
no suggestion of a
pattern." She made
no attempt to locate
historical sources to
determine how the Fig. 4
flag looked but approached the project as
if she was working a
large jigsaw puzzle.
"Often, I would stop,
not knowing how to go
on," she wrote of the
restoration, "then in
the house or on the golf
course an idea would
come to me,... I would
dash back to the studio,
place a bit or two, and then wait again for
inspiration." Thanks to her inspiration, it
will probably never be known for sure
exactly what the original flag looked like.
During the following decades state curators
found it necessary to remove all the
Richey treatments and mountings in
order to save what was left of the flags.
Curators, however, did not abandon
the search for an effective preservation
technique. In 1965 state library officials
sent the flag of the Toluca Battalion, carried
in the assault on the Alamo and captured
at San Jacinto, along with several
others to a well-known textile expert in
upstate New York for treatment. For a
time Texans were pleased with the result.
The flag, in a beautiful heavy wooden
frame hanging high on the wall in the
San Jacinto Museum of History, made a
Unfortunately, the New York restorer
repeated many of Richey's mistakes. In
1999 when the museum staff closely
examined the flag, they discovered the
inscription on the middle stripe,
"Batallon Activa De Toluca," which
when viewed at a distance appeared to be
composed of rich dark
instead been drawn by
the restorer in paint
marker. This revelation
also solved the
mystery of how the
word Activo had come
to be misspelled on
the flag (see image,
By the 1990s
the art of flag preservation had become
more scientific and more history-conscious.
As stated in the Hippocratic oath,
the motto of the new breed of textile
preservationist was "first do no harm."
Careful technicians applied new methods
of stabilizing fabrics that did not damage
antique fibers and scrupulously regarded
flags as historical documents, not simply
display pieces. This meant preserving a
flag "as is," neither adding to nor remov
HERITAGE * 10* WINTER 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2000, periodical, Winter 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45388/m1/10/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.