- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History announced yesterday that the eight-year project to conserve the Star-Spangled Banner is now complete and that there are now plans to build a new state-of-the-art gallery in which to display the flag.

The 200-year-old flag was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to pen the words of the national anthem during the War of 1812.

“The survival of this flag for nearly 200 years is a visible testimony to the strength and perseverance of this nation, and we hope that it will inspire many more generations to come,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

Conservation efforts of the flag began in 1998. In an environmentally controlled lab, conservators removed approximately 1.7 million stitches from the flag and cautiously removed a linen backing that had secured the banner since 1914, exposing a side of the flag not seen since 1873 when a canvas backing was attached.

Then conservators used nonabrasive cosmetic sponges to lift harmful materials off the face of the flag. Next, the flag was lightly brushed with an acetone-water mixture to remove the soils that were embedded in the fibers.

In order to stabilize the flag for future display, the conservation team realigned it to its true shape and sewed on a lightweight, sheer Stabiltex backing, fabric used for reinforcing fragile textiles and said to have good resistance to ultraviolet radiation, decay, bacteria, acids and oxidizing agents.

Also yesterday, Smithsonian officials announced plans for a major architectural renovation of the museum, which includes the building of the new gallery for the flag.

The museum will close to the public as of Sept. 5 as renovations begin. It is scheduled to reopen by the summer of 2008.

In the new gallery, the 30-foot-by-34-foot wool and cotton Star-Spangled Banner will be displayed in a specially constructed, climate-controlled room at the heart of the museum.

Through floor-to-ceiling glass windows, visitors will be able to view a side of the flag that was previously obscured by the linen backing, revealing its true colors.

The flag will be displayed according to U.S. flag code and at a horizontal orientation and at an angle not to exceed 10 degrees of elevation. Light levels will be low to protect the flag and evoke an atmosphere of the “dawn’s early light” in which Key saw the flag, still flying above Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814.

The renovation project also will include the addition of new entrances to lessen crowding, a grand staircase to connect the first and second floors, new restrooms and updated fire, electrical and security systems.

The renovation project is expected to cost nearly $85 million.

“The Star-Spangled Banner is one of our nation’s most treasured objects, a symbol of what this country stands for,” Mr. Glass said. “Its new surroundings are part of a strategic plan to ensure the long-term preservation of the flag and to revitalize the entire museum to tell the story of America and help future generations experience what it means to be an American.”

The Smithsonian has had the flag since 1907.

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