Aid for Spanish Civil War banners!

I recently had the pleasure of treating a set of Six Spanish Civil War banners in the Textile Conservation Studio the project was undertaken for the Marx Memorial Library in order for the banners to go on display at an exhibition at Islington Museum and was funded by the Textile Society and GFTU educational trust Most of the banners were made from cotton canvas with a ground layer and water based paint, they were used by the Communist Party Hammersmith to raise funds to help civilians fleeing the conflict. I spent between 5 and 15 hours on each banner depending on what each one required. Two of the more complicated banners are featured in this post and demonstrate quite different conservation problems.

Arms & Justice for Spain during conservation People's History Museum

Arms & Justice for Spain banner during conservation

The first banner I want to highlight is entitled Arms and Justice for Spain it is very striking image featuring the recognisable symbol of unity in a handshake between three men in this case. The style is reminiscent of Picasso with the expressive figures drawn in profile. Water-based paint has been used and it was well bonded to the canvas ground in most places apart from the area of upper text which had become cracked along fold lines from previous storage. This required a stabilisation treatment to ensure that no more paint was lost using an adhesive which had a matt appearance to match the quality of the paint. I undertook a series of tests to find a suitable adhesive using samples to experiment with before treating the object. Isinglass (fish glue) was found to be the best choice in this instance because the bond strength was good and it did not appear shiny when applied to the paint.

Arms & Justice for Spain after conservation People's History Museum

Arms & Justice for Spain banner after conservation

The second banner is different to the rest of the group as it was made with oil paint it is entitled International Brigade and features the single figure of a Republican solider against a background of swirling flames. The image is a little difficult to read because a lot of the paint is loose and in some areas it has been lost completely. It was also clear on first inspection that there was a ghost image of text underneath the top layer of paint. Further investigation revealed that the banner had been once used as a book shop sign and then recycled as a banner and it is likely that a weak bond between the old and new paint is what caused much of the current damage.

Underlying text Peoples History Museum.jpg

International Brigade banner highlighting the underlying text

Due to the extent of the damage most areas on the banner required treatment to prevent further loss occurring. This time I used an adhesive called Beva which is safe for oil paints and provides a strong bond to secure the loose paint. We aim to preserve what remains of the original material rather than trying re-touch/re-paint areas of loss, so the banner does not look like new but the paint is much more stable, it is able to hang safely and is more accessible for visitors and researchers.

International Bridage during conservation People's History Museum.JPG

International Brigade banner during conservation

Each banner was also fitted with a white cotton sleeve for display which provides even weight distribution when suspended from a pole. The banners will be on display from the 5th of May to the 8th of July 2017. Spanish Civil War Exhibition A5 leaflet

International Brigade after conservation.jpg

International Brigade banner after conservation



‘The Plague!’ and other sketches

Another blog post from our Exhibitions Assistant Josh Butt.

The PlagueAs part of the Hidden exhibition we are asking visitors which hidden history you would like to see re-imaged. So far we have had several interesting sketches drawn on our blackboard including the above image which looks like it was inspired by the grisly bits in the Peasants’ Revolt scene!
Despite this sketch being basic in nature it is very similar to Red Saunders’ initial sketching process which is also fairly basic. The image below is an example of a sketch that features in the Evidence Room section of the exhibition. You can see how Red is starting to think about clothing, poses and props for the Peasants’ Revolt scene.


Match Girls StrikeWe have had several other imaginative sketches drawn on our blackboard including the inevitable dinosaur scene. It seems that every young child’s fantasy is for a T-Rex to come back to life! One of the better (and more relevant) sketches is pictured below, entitled “The Match Girls’ Strike”. The sketch is in reference to the strike at the Bryant & May match factory in 1888. Women and girls working at the factory were inspired by Annie Besant to go on strike after being treated horrendously by their employers with poor wages, unfair fines, 14 hour days and the health risk of working with Phosphorous. The strike was successful and was a great early triumph in the fight for the rights of women workers. Follow this link to learn more about the Match Girls’ Strike. The museum hosted an event to remember the 125th anniversary of the Match Girls’ Strike on the 6th July.

To browse the works on display in the exhibition visit As well as collecting people’s sketches we are also asking visitors which historical events or figures they would like to see re-created so you can add add your vote here.