By CHERIL VERNON
Preserving memories is one of the things The Texas Art Gallery owners Mike and April Johnston enjoy doing the most in their business.
Recently, the Palestine framing center and art gallery, preserved a Civil War era, hand-sewn United States flag for a customer, Andrew Harris.
“I have had the flag for quite a while, but have not really been able to display it properly in a way that would not damage it; it is a fragile piece...so I decided to get it framed,” Harris said.
The flag dates to the early part of the Civil War. lt has 33 stars, which was the official count from 1859 to 1860. Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859; Texas was the 28th state. The 33-star flags are most often associated with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the outbreak of the War Between the States the following spring.
This particular flag was owned by James A. Raney, who was a veteran of the Mexican War (1846-1848) and served as a major in the 36th New York Infantry during the Civil War.
Raney saw action in the battles of Yorktown, The Seven Days, Malvern Hill, Bottom’s Bridge, White Oak Swamp, Fair Oaks and Savage Station. He was wounded near Harrison’s Landing in July 1862, resulting in his discharge for disability. The flag was part of a group of military artifacts that Raney had saved. The artifacts were all tucked away for the past 150 years and then sold separately at auction a several years ago.
“While it is not technically a ‘battle flag’ or a government issued item, this was Maj. Raney’s personal flag and was probably flown in camp or on his tent,” Andrew said.
The flag is entirely hand-crafted, sewn of wool bunting with cotton stars and measures 34.5” on the hoist by 57” on the fly. Maj. Raney’s initials “J.A.R.” are inked on the bottom edge of the hoist.
“I wouldn’t trust anybody other than Texas Art Depot to do the framing. I have known Mike and April for many years and they do excellent framing work,” Andrew said.
The Johnstons have framed a lot of flags over the years, but this one was a challenge because of its fragility, April said.
“It took a lot of extra care. The flag came with a thin backing of muslin, however, a larger piece of muslin was sewed to the existing piece of muslin for stability. We then attached the muslin to acid-free foam board with stainless steel pins. Mike made the frame. It was a two-person job, to keep everything in line,” April said. “The glazing is actually acylite, which is a framing grade of lightweight shatterproof plexiglass. We lined the inside of the frame with acid-free foam board, then on that line with a linen matte liner. It took about a week or so to complete.”
The Texas Art Depot has been in the art business for 15 years. The Johnstons took over the business from Mike’s mother, Beth Johnston, when she retired. At that time the business was known as Beth’s Originals.
“Mike and I went to classes and seminars for framing to learn. Of course, we did learn a lot from his Mom, and the rest was just practice and experience,” April said. “That never ends. You are always learning new and better ways to frame something.”
The Johnstons have framed several memorable things over the years, including famous ‘70s boxer Sugar Ray Leonard’s boxing gloves and robe.
“The gloves and robe were a contest prize that a customer in Tyler had obtained, when he attended one of Sugar Ray’s boxing events in Las Vegas,” April said.
Texas Art Depot also has framed lots of football jerseys from famous players, even some with local connections, such as Hunkie Cooper, Adrian Peterson and John Gold.
“We framed a gun from the World War II for another customer. We’ve framed golf clubs and even a patch of old astroturf from the old Dallas Cowboys Stadium,” April said.
For the Johnstons, the Texas Art Depot give them the opportunity to be able to enjoy helping customers decide what they can do together to display their art, memories, history and collectibles.
“I sometimes feel like I am part of the history and memory, just because we had the experience to frame that special something,” April said.
The Johnstons encourage everyone to look at things they have laying around the house that needs to be preserved.
“Why would you put something of history and memories in box in the attic, in a drawer, in a closet. Believe me, it will only be eaten by moths, fade, crumble and deteriorate. Then you have nothing,” April said. “People go to museums every day to see memories and history. Most everyone has something. Why would you throw that aside? Frame it. Hang it. Display it. It’s yours with your own story.”
The Texas Art Depot is located at 301 W. Oak St. in downtown Palestine. For information, call 903-729-1940 or toll-free 866-725-1940 or visit www.texasartdepot.com