The conservation team at Historic New England has been working on a project to preserve the hooked rugs at Beauport, and at the same time correct problems in the locations of rugs which have crept into the collection over time. The team initiated the project due to the window work funded by the Save America’s Treasures program. As many of the windows were completely removed for conservation services, the collections team was required to move or remove a number of objects in front of the openings, thus providing a good opportunity to work on a number of different things at the house.
With respect to the rugs, the collections team wanted to install a new conservation pad beneath each rug, using a technique developed by textile conservator Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation. The rug pads use conservation approved materials, provide protection for the rugs and prevent slippage. Since the rugs needed to be taken to the conservation lab in Haverhill in order to make the pads, the team also decided to carry out minor treatments, including a thorough vacuuming and mending of small losses and tears.
There are over a hundred rugs at Beauport, and as the funds did not allow producing pads for each rug, a detailed survey was needed to determine which rugs were in the direct path of public tours. Before retiring, the Senior Curator performed an exhaustive survey of the entire collection and determined that a number of rugs had ended up in different locations than originally chosen by Henry Davis Sleeper. In some cases, the second owners of the house, the McCann family, had moved or replaced rugs, and in other cases, rugs had been moved out of concern for condition, or for other, unidentified reasons.
Over the years, a number of the most interesting rugs at Beauport have been reproduced by chapters of the American Traditional Hooked-Rug Association (ATHA), and in some cases, both the original and the reproduction were on view. The staff had identified a number of photographs in one of the Beauport photo albums in Historic New England’s Album Collection in the Library and Archives as having been taken in the 1930’s, near the time of Sleeper’s death. Using these pictures, as well as the inventories made at that time, and later McCann pictures, the conservation team began the painstaking task of determining which rug was where in which room. This involved photographing and measuring each rug at Beauport, including those in storage, and recording the information as well as current location. Contemporary images were then compared with early photographs to determine where each rug should be placed in the house. A few of the Sleeper rugs no longer exist at the house and a number of others are in such poor condition that they can no longer be placed on view but will be replaced with reproductions when funds become available.
The rugs have been returned to: the Pine Kitchen; the South Gallery; the Strawberry Hill Room; the Central Hall; the Mariner’s Room; the Pineapple Room; and the Indian Bedroom. Some of the rugs that have not been returned to these rooms yet are awaiting repair or reproduction. The next rooms we will work on are the Octagon Room; the Belfry Chamber; the Byron Room; and the Nelson Room.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to John Childs, Historic New England Conservator, for the content in this post!
August 2010 Update: We recently received a reproducation hooked rug from the ATHA Orange Coast Classics Chapter- see photos here.