Restoring history

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, November 24, 2010

PORTSMOUTH—Franklin resident Paul Ballance, a senior project manager for a textile restoration company in Chesapeake, was involved with a project at the Jewish Museum And Culture Center, which had experienced smoke damage from an adjoining building.

In early November, Great Bridge Certified All-Textile Restoration Experts was asked to restore early century textiles from the museum. Heavy smoke and soot was evident throughout the structure.

Upon arrival, Balance and Richard Jamin, president of the restoration company, learned the significance of the job and the history of each piece. The Portsmouth museum was among the early synagogues in Tidewater, founded in 1918. In its prime, more than 200 families attended and learned about their Jewish background and link to European ancestors.

By 1985, the synagogue could no longer sustained and closed. In 2002, the Friends of Chevra T’helim began preserving the landmark. During its initial investigation of the grounds and interior floors, the non-profit discovered a large supply of fabrics dating back to the synagogue’s inception.

“Through years of neglect and damp surroundings, the fabrics showed significant degradation,” Jamin said. “Although the group placed them in a more conducive environment, the damage was done.”

With limited space, these boxes were stored in the mezzanine level of the synagogue next to a window that was blown out during the fire. Water from firefighting efforts was sprayed into the building and dampened the boxes.

Jamin and Ballance began the painstaking effort of categorizing and preparing each of the items for transport to their facility. Extensive photographs were taken and a complete inventory along with detailed descriptions of each item was developed.

“The first order of business was to determine if the textiles would be preserved or restored to their early 1900s condition,” Jamin said. “It was unanimous that this was the best course of action, and the process of cleaning, odor removal and proper preservation was conducted.”

Many of the pieces were made from fine velvet material and required careful cleaning to ensure that the direction of the fibers would remain as closely matched to their original design, he said.

Mold damage from the past combined with evidence of new water damage presented a challenge for the staff. Simple cleaning would not reverse fast mold development created by new water damage, and it was determined that aggressive action was required. Using a “green” and proprietary mixture of cleaning solutions, the team treated each of the exposed textiles and eradicated the growing spores.

Once cleaned and deodorized, each textile was folded using acid-free tissue paper to separate the fabric. Glossy photographs of each item were taken and used to identify the contents of each box without breaking the seal and introducing environmental contaminants.