Treasured Artworks at the Texas Capitol
Congress Avenue at Eleventh Street
James Henry Beard, San Jacinto Battle Flag
James Henry Beard, San Jacinto Battle Flag, 1836, silk and linen backing, 56.75 x 65.25 inches, 1989.68. Collection of The State Preservation Board, Austin, Texas.
The flag is believed to have been painted by artist James Henry Beard in late 1835 as a gift for the Newport Rifles, a 52-man company of Kentucky volunteers led by Captain Sidney Sherman. The rifle company was formed to help Texans battle the Mexican Army. This banner is thought to be the only Texas battle flag at the April 21, 1836 confrontation where the Republic of Texas army surprised Mexico's General Santa Anna and won the War of Independence. The tattered silk flag was given to the State of Texas by Sherman descendants in 1896. Representative Anderson secured funds in 1931 to have it restored in 1932-33 by flag conservator Katherine F. Richey, In 1933, the flag was hung in the Texas House of Representatives Chamber. The off-white flag with yellow silk fringe on three sides was conserved again in 1989-1990 by renowned flag conservator Fonda Thomsen of Maryland.
Ms. Thomsen's analysis of the previous restoration treatment found that the flag was backed with a linen fabric and the silk fly attached to the linen with a four-sided stitch, forming a series of squares that resembled a netting. The painted silk fragments were arranged then attached first to a thick silk gauze, then to a heavier linen fabric with shellac. It appears that when the figure was being assembled, an attempt was made to fill in the missing areas of the skirt by painting a similar image on another piece of fabric with an oil-based medium, then cutting up the image and inserting pieces in the missing area. This must not have been considered to be successful because it appears to have been abandoned and the entire background and parts of the skirt over-painted with the oil based paints. The completed painting was placed in the center of the linen and attached with horizontal, parallel rows of couching stitch using a silk embroidery thread. This was either carried out before the paint underneath was dry or affected by the exhibit environment because the stitching threads were stuck to the fragments. The silk thread used for couching had been dyed to match but had faded and no longer matched the color of the painting underneath. The gauze holding the painting fragments was brittle and broke when touched. The stress produced by the sewing threads badly fractured the painting into smaller fragments.
About 10% of the silk fly remained in 1989 before treatment, but it was in fragments. The silk was so degraded the fibers crumbled when touched. They were dark from having been coated with shellac. The remnants of seams in the flag fabric were not aligned in their original positions. There was a section of vertical seam under the painting and sections of horizontal seam in the painting. Mrs. Richey had removed the fringe from the silk fly and re-attached it to the perimeter of the linen.
During the 1989-1990 conservation, it was discovered that
the same image is painted on both sides of the flag. Prior to this most
recent conservation treatment, the center female image faced to the right.
During this conservation treatment, the stitching through the remaining
painted silk fragments, shellac, new pieces of fabric painted to look like
old fragments and non-archival framing were removed (all done in the 1930s)
and the flag was turned over to the other identical side (figure facing
left) for display because that side had not been over-painted. An elaborate
and time-consuming method was designed to hold each flag fragment within
a stabiltex netting by sewing the netting around each fragment. This made
it possible to secure the pieces without putting holes in the fragments.
In order to present a "complete" image, the conservator filled
in the missing gaps with matching colored fabrics that meet archival standards.
The flag was then archivally framed to the strictest possible standards.
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