by Laura Libert, Curator
In 1829, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania received a very special gift from the Washington Benevolent Society of Pennsylvania: the Masonic apron of Brother and President George Washington. The apron has been in the possession of the Grand Lodge ever since, and is highly prized as an important piece of both American and Masonic history. Unfortunately, though, time has not been kind to the apron. Over the last 175 years, the ivory silk and embroidery became increasingly fragile and brittle, and incredibly sensitive to fluctuation in temperature, humidity, and light. The staff of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania decided something had to be done to ensure the continued existence of the apron.
In the summer of 2003, a team headed by Nancy Love, conservator of textiles and objects, and composed of Christina Carr, Dawn Heller, and Mary T. McGinn, began addressing the numerous concerns regarding the condition of the apron and its accessories. The surface of the apron was lightly cleaned using gentle vacuum suction and a new support made of acid-free and archival materials was constructed. The existing glass within the frame was replaced with a piece of Schott glass, which is shatterproof, non-glare, and safely filters ultra violet light. The gilded frame and reverse-painted glass mat were also cleaned and treated, as well as the original note written in 1816 by the legatees of the Washington estate concerning the apron.
Once the apron was stabilized, the Masonic Library and Museum resolved to have a custom case constructed, utilizing the most current methods and materials to protect and exhibit the apron. Dean Khan, founder of Dean Khan Art Services, designed a case that is both functional and pleasing to the eye. The climate-sealed display case shields the apron from variations in humidity through the use of silica gel, hidden in a sealed compartment below the apron. The framed apron was placed onto a fabric covered surface at a 15-degree incline and covered with a plexi-glass vitrine, increasing overall visibility. The base of the display case sits on shock absorbing feet to minimize the effect of building vibration caused by the underground regional rail lines that run adjacent to the Masonic Temple.
Thanks to the efforts of the conservators who worked on this project, the Washington apron will be available for the enjoyment of many generations to come. However, none of this would have been possible if it weren't for the generosity and foresight of the Independence Foundation, a private, not-for-profit philanthropic organization serving Philadelphia and its surrounding Pennsylvania counties. Founded in 1932 by steel maker William H. Donner, the Independence Foundation's mission is to support culture and the arts, health and human services, legal aid and assistance to the aged, disabled, or impoverished, and fellowship programs in public interest legal aid and visual and performing arts. The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is grateful to the conservators who worked on this project and to the Independence Foundation for providing the preservation funds necessary to undertake such an endeavor.
The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is a non-profit corporation incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is exempt from federal income tax as an organization described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Gifts and bequests are tax deductible under federal income, estate and gift law taxes. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 9 am - 5 pm; Mondays by Appointment Only. Saturdays 9 am - 12 pm (except July and August) Closed Major Holidays. Tours of the building are conducted Tuesday through Friday at 11 am; 2 pm & 3 pm and on Saturdays (except during July and August) at 10 am & 11 am. Please give advance notice for group tours.
Call 215-988-1917 for information.
Now on Display at The Library and Museum
Lean on Me: Historic Walking Sticks from the Collection of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania
Made in China: Wares for the Western Market
A Stitch in Time: Needlework from the Collection of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania
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