An Interview with Tina Kane and her work on the Burgos Tapestry Project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Recently a customer (thank you!) pointed us to an amazing YouTube video. It is called “The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation” and chronicles the restoration of Christ Is Born as Man’s Redeemer by the Textile Restoration Team at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the video, the tapestry was fourth in a series of tapestries called The Story of The Redemption of Man.  The project was started by A. Alice Blohm, Jane Hutchinson, and Nobuko Kajitani who was the Head of the Department of Textile Conservation at the Met in 1973.

Burgos Tapestry Project

It turns out that Mirrix Looms were used in the restoration process (see 4:35 and 9:33 in the video). We contacted Tina Kane, who joined the restoration in 1978, and she agreed to do an email interview.

Burgos Tapestry Project

Name/Website/Any contact information you’d like to share:

For a description of the Burgos Tapestry project please see:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf3usSyHVXs.  For my private business, see: http://textileconservator.pair.com/  

When we completed the Burgos tapestry restoration the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a three day tapestry conservation symposium which is on the Metropolitan YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoxyJBV3M30

For anyone interested in tapestry conservation this is a discussion that considers the relative values of conservation, or stabilizing, and restoration.  Also discussed are various methods of support, installation, display, dye analysis, and cleaning, among other topics.

Anything you’d like to tell us about yourself?

I retired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010 after completing the Burgos Tapestry project and now manage an independent conservation business in upstate New York, which I have run since 1973.  I became extremely interested in all aspects of tapestry as a result of working at the Met.  I team-taught a course on Medieval tapestry and narrative at Vassar College for a number of years, and  also published a book: The Troyes Mémoire: The Making of a Medieval Tapestry (Boydell Press, 2010) which discusses how tapestries were made in the middle ages, and how they were designed.  For more on that, see:  http://www.americantapestryalliance.org/Members/Feature/FeatureKaneT/KaneT_Memoire.html

Tell us a little about The Burgos Tapestry project:

The Burgos tapestry project was one of the first major conservation projects undertaken by the newly formed (1974)  Textile Conservation Department at the Metropolitan.  In a way, this project was seminal in that it required funding, space, equipment, materials, and a methodology of conservation. The Head of Textile Conservation, Nobuko Kajitani, used this project, among others, to elevate textile conservation to the level of a profession.  My generation of conservators learned through experience.  Now, conservators have excellent graduate programs where they receive formal training.

How did you get into tapestry restoration?

I was working towards a PhD in Comparative Literature at Berkeley in the 1960′s.  After I finished my MA I visited the Southwest and met a young Navajo (or Diné) student at St. Johns University in Santa Fe.  I had become curious about some Navajo rugs in a collection I had seen and the young man’s mother was one of the weavers of the Diné people.  He showed me how to set up a warp in the manner of his people.  It was a transformative day for me.  I had never encountered anything like that and it changed the course of my life.  I learned to weave tapestry, and also to restore, and was fortunate to join the Textile Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum in 1978.  The restoration of the Burgos tapestry was my main project.  As I mentioned before, I also managed a private textile conservation service while working at the Metropolitan part-time for thirty years.

How did you attach the new pieces of tapestry? 

My colleague A. Alice Blohm and I each wove 26′ of upper and lower borders for the Burgos tapestry. We attached the new borders by hand sewing them to the tapestry through a cotton support on the reverse. 

Why did you choose a Mirrix Loom to repair the borders?

We needed a small portable loom so we could work next to the tapestry at times, and also in our private studios.  The Mirrix looms were ideal for this project. They had a shed changing mechanism, and, because of the steel frame, we could maintain an even tension as we worked our way up the long warp. To see how we worked, and how we stored the newly woven border, please see the Burgos video on Metropolitan Museum YouTube (above).

Have Mirrix Looms been used to restore any other tapestries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art ?

Not to my knowledge; however, they are used as sample looms by restorers.