It Takes An Artist to Patch George Washington’s Tent

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

Moore MFA in Studio Art alumna Wendelyn Anderson has helped patch a hole in history, and may have invented a new way to do it.

Anderson, a textile printing technologist at Philadelphia University, recently assisted in the restoration of the tent George Washington used during the Revolutionary War, which will be displayed in the new Museum of the American Revolution opening in Philadelphia in April.

“Not only did I help, but I devised a process for inkjet printing copies of the tent fabric to repair holes and a large missing piece that had been cut out sometime in the early 20th century,” she said. Anderson worked with textile conservator Virginia Whelan on the tent project, and to their knowledge, this particular use of inkjet printing for textile conservation has never been done before.

“I was really excited to work on it because I have a family history connection with Valley Forge,” Anderson said. “The forge that the town grew up around was started by my family, and the house where General Washington made his headquarters were owned by cousins of ours,” she said.

Anderson said it was Whelan who contacted Philadelphia University textile design faculty to help in the restoration of the tent. Anderson said the usual restoration techniques weren’t appropriate for this project.

“Generally, in textile printing, they print a design of the textile they want to restore on some kind of netting or sheer fabric and cover (the piece), but that wouldn’t have worked in this case because the tent is on display and lit from a bunch of different places, including inside,” Anderson said.

Anderson worked from high-resolution photographs of the tent, trying to match the color and weave of the fabric.

“I started by cropping out a small sample of the photo and I would adjust the color and send it to Virginia,” she said. Whelan was working with the tent in a studio in Phoenixville, Pa. She would match Anderson’s work to the tent fabric. They had to go through the process twice, because the fabric in the walls of the tent was different than that of the roof. The two went back and forth for about six months before getting the color and scale of the weave just right for both parts of the tent.

Anderson says her interest in textiles came from her mother.

“I grew up having her teach me how to sew and embroider, and my grandmothers did it, too,” she said. “My mother went back to school to study interior design, then she became an architect. She was my inspiration, and was the one to steer me to textile design.”

Anderson chose Moore to earn her 2012 master’s degree because the program allowed her to work full time. She also taught a couple of textile design classes at Moore.

The George Washington tent project was a treat for her.

“I’ve always loved history, and I have a love and respect for historic textiles,” she said. Anderson didn’t get to touch the historic tent fabric, but she did get to see it in the conservation lab, and she plans to attend the opening of the museum April 19 to see her work on display.

Read more about Anderson’s work here.