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By Julia Doyle and Richard White
If you are a frequent visitor to the Tennessee State Museum, you may notice a few artifact changes within the galleries in the coming weeks, especially with our textile collection.
A consistent rotation schedule for textiles is a necessary preventative measure to reduce exposure to environmental factors that can deteriorate fabric. Textiles are particularly sensitive due to their organic nature, so frequent rotation can slow deterioration and help keep objects in a stable condition for longer.
One of the most frequent inquiries we receive from visitors to the Museum is why the lighting is so low in certain areas. The reason has to with textiles on display in those areas and light exposure – the most common and damaging environmental factor. While lighting is essential for visibility in museum exhibitions, the damage it can cause is irreversible and accumulates over time. Damage can be caused by both natural and artificial light and often takes the form of fading dyes, discoloration, and weakening of the material. Light damage is a combination of both intensity and time exposure, so one of the most effective ways to minimize light damage is keeping light levels low and frequently rotating textiles. A rotation can help limit the amount of time an object is exposed to light to slow the process of deterioration.
The rotation process also allows museum staff and conservators the opportunity to examine the condition of the object and take preventative or conservation action. Taking textiles off display allows them to be closely reviewed by museum staff, who can identify early signs of damage and take preventative measures or, if necessary, seek conservation services. This treatment enables objects to stay in a stable condition for a longer time.
Curator of textiles, Julia Doyle, assesses a rug's condition for exhibition in "Painting the Smokies"
A recent textile rotation in the Art Before 1900 gallery is a blue dress from the 1890s, replacing a green taffeta dress from the same period that had been on display since the gallery opened in 2018. The new dress was worn by Ms. Feamster Taylor (1860-1947) and was from her 1890 wedding trousseau. Laura Ann Taylor was the daughter of Sarah Ann Craig and Joseph McClung Feamster, of Hamblen County. She married Franklin Walter Taylor (1854-1919) of Cheek’s Crossroads, Tennessee. The dress came from a collection of artifacts related to the Taylor, Graham, Nance, and Bell families of Morristown, Knoxville, and Cheek’s Crossroads.
The dress features many of the characteristic elements of 1890s fashion. The bodice of the dress is close fitting and highly structured, showing the corseted silhouette typical of 1890s fashion. Puffed sleeves were also in fashion through the 1890s, ranging from the small puff sleeves featured on the Feamster dress, to large leg-of-mutton sleeves. The intricate pleating, pattern matching, and asymmetrical buttons on the dress show the careful attention to detail and level of craftsmanship in dress making at the end of the 19th century.
Installation view of a blue dress work by Ms. Feamster Taylor (1860-1947), c. 1890s (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2021.2.1-2)
In the Civil War and Reconstruction galleries we have rotated two large flags. The flag of Company H, “Lebanon Greys,” 7th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A., on display in the Tennessee Time Tunnel at the entrance to the gallery, will be replaced with the flag of the 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. The flag of the 20th Tennessee Infantry, on display with the Battle of Fort Donelson exhibit, will be switched out with the flag of the 18th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A.
Flag of the 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Tennessee State Musuem collection, 2016.86.1.1)
The flag of the 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A., was constructed by ladies in Memphis, Tennessee, and presented to the regiment in the summer of 1861, while they were stationed at Fort Wright. Originally formed as a militia regiment in Memphis, in 1842, the regiment received a charter of incorporation from the Tennessee General Assembly on March 22, 1860. They were granted the privilege of adding "Senior" to their original militia regimental number, becoming the 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry, and having the distinction of being the first Tennessee regiment raised for service in the Confederate States of America.
The men were from Shelby, McNairy, and Hardeman counties, and were mustered into Confederate service in August 1861 under the command of Col. Preston Smith. This flag was carried by the regiment until early 1863, when it was replaced by a new banner. The regiment would go on to serve until the end of the war, earning other honors on other fields.
Painted on to the flag are battle honors added after the flag was made, including the engagements the regiment took place in leading up to the flag being retired. The battle honors included, "BELMONT, SHILOH, RICHMOND, KY, PERRYVILLE, and MUFREESBORO." The inverted crossed cannon image, present after three of the battles, signifies that the regiment captured an artillery battery during those engagements. The letter, sewn to the flag, is a copy of General Orders No. 26, issued by Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, authorizing the placement of battle honors on the flag. Following its retirement, the flag was kept by Private Jacob Lyman Cook and his family.
Flag of the 18th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2008.388)
This Confederate First National Pattern flag belonged to the 18th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A., and likely Company C of that regiment. The maker of the flag is unknown, but it was presented to the regiment in May 1861, when the unit was constituted.
Formed with men from Rutherford, Cannon, Davidson, Cheatham, Bedford, and Wilson counties, the regiment was placed under the command of Col. Joseph B. Palmer. The unit served in Kentucky before being transferred to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River and was surrendered there with the garrison on February 16, 1862.
Three flags were "captured" from the 18th Tennessee, but more likely, they were discovered within the regimental camp, following the surrender. This flag likely belonged to Company C, the regimental commanders original company. The flag was captured by R. F. Larimer of the 14th Missouri Infantry, Birge’s Western Sharpshooters, later re-designated the 66th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, U.S.A.
For more information regarding our textile collection at the Tennessee State Museum, please review our online collection records at TNMuseum.org. For more about our Civil War flag collection, please refer to the recent publication Civil War Flags of Tennessee published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2020, and our Thousands of Stories blog.
Julia Doyle is the Tennessee State Museum curator of textiles
Richard White is the Tennessee State Museum curator of 18th and 19th century history