- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

When your job is to restore a piece of history, it is easy to get attached to it.

For Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, that piece is none other than the original "Star-Spangled Banner," which is being restored at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

"There has to be a personal commitment in saving a national heritage," says Miss Thomassen-Krauss, who oversees a half-dozen conservators restoring the flag. "There has been 200 years of people caring for this flag. Once it is lost, it can never be recovered."

The flag restoration, which has been ongoing since 1982, has attracted more than 7 million visitors, who have walked by the museum's 50-foot-long glass wall to see the flag laid out in all its faded glory. Thousands are expected to view the flag tomorrow during the museum's Flag Day Family Celebration, a free patriotic festival.

Miss Thomassen-Krauss and her crew of four work eight-hour days staring very closely at this special cloth, removing "historical dirt" and documenting and scrutinizing under a microscope any particles they remove.

She says there is a delicate balance in conservation of historical artifacts between doing too much, altering the artifact, and not doing enough. They call it conservation, not restoration.

"Part of your training is to be able to step back from the object and assess and see what needs to be done," says Miss Thomassen-Krauss, who has worked at the museum for 12 years. "You have to try and document everything that has happened to the object in its history and restore it at the same time."

About only 300 people in the United States are recognized as textile conservators, a discipline that combines knowledge of chemistry, art history and fine art.

The first step in the banner's restoration was to remove the linen backing, which dates from 1914, because it was heavily soiled and did not adequately support the flag. It took more than a year to remove about 1.7 million stitches and to completely remove the backing.

After the banner has been cleaned completely, a lightweight fabric will be attached to its back so that the flag can be displayed. The conservation project is expected to be completed by next year.

"It has been an incredibly interesting and challenging project," says Miss Thomassen-Krauss. "It is a tangible reminder of the beginning of this country."

The conservator also has been involved in restoring George Washington's tent and Thomas Jefferson's writing desk.

In the War of 1812, the banner was flown at Fort McHenry in Baltimore during a British bombardment on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. Francis Scott Key described the flag in his patriotic poem, which was later adopted as the national anthem.

The original size of the flag was 30 feet by 42 feet. It now measures 30 feet by 34 feet. About eight feet were lost during the battle at the fort, and a few pieces were cut off to give to veterans of the battle.


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