In November, Claudia Walpole, a textile conservator came to ZSR Library and did a conservation assessment of our Philomathesian banner. The Philomathesians were a literary society on the old campus. Claudia discovered the banner was painted by abolitionist David Bustill Bowser (1820-1900) because she found his name was on a small shard of paint that had fallen off the banner. It turns out that Bowser, a free black man, was a cousin of Frederick Douglass whose home was on the underground railroad.

Bowser was a portrait painter, who painted banners during the Civil War for black regiments as well as for other organizations as an income. ZSR Archivist, Rebecca Petersen, researched this and discovered this banner was purchased by women from an early sister school of Wake Forest, Oxford Female Seminary (first President was also Samuel Wait). The Oxford Female Seminary’s Clio Society purchased this banner as a gift for their brothers at Wake Forest. The banner was painted on both sides of a piece of silk. Over the past 100 years, the silk has started to decompose and tear. The paint on both sides of the banner have cracked off into scattered pieces of a jigsaw-like puzzle. The serious preservation issues are self evident, and it doesn’t seem like all the king’s men and all the king’s horses can put them back together again.

Philomathesian banner menioned

-excerpt about the banner from the Philomathesian ledger

In March, 2014, Wake Forest Magazine did a piece called “Finding A Piece of History” about this banner. The banner was also named as one of North Carolina’s Endangered artifacts by the North Carolina Preservation Consortium.

Philomathesian banner in archival box for safe storage

-the Philomathesian banner in the new box

I recently began work on an over-sized archival box (46×46″) to store this banner. I ordered a pre-made box, but after Claudia Walpole, the conservator visited, she advised including the wooden rod with the banner in the box. When the box arrived, I enlarged the box, to create space to accommodate the wooden rod, and also made a holder to keep the rod in place. I lined the box with six layers of thin foam padding, topped with a layer of muslin and archival tissue. After the banner was carefully placed in the box, the same layers of padding was placed on top. The Philomathesian banner will be stored in an Archives storage area for now. Cozy as a bug in a rug, this banner now awaits restoration.