Endangered World War II artifact in Norfolk receives conservation funding

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MacArthur Map 1
The MacArthur Memorial's U.S. map is one of ten endangered artifacts listed on the Virginia Association of Museum's 2016 list. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

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In the heart of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk is a tiny, climate-controlled room where a map of the United States is stored in a steel cabinet. But it isn't a typical map one might find in a classroom.

The Virginia Association of Museums announced its top ten endangered list last month, which features the MacArthur Memorial's cloth children's map of the United States. Since then, the $6,500 cost to conserve the map has been funded through donations. The map could be on display as early as next summer.

The map dates to the early 1940s, when missionary and art teacher Helen Angeny was an internee in a Japanese-controlled camp. She led the project, teaching her students principles of art, geography and social studies, in an effort to boost morale in the internment camp, according to VAM.

"Angeny wasn't really supposed to be working on anything of western influence," said Corey Thornton, curator of the MacArthur Memorial. "If the Japanese were to find this, she would be severely punished."

Angeny hid the map for three years until U.S. soldiers liberated the camp, according to VAM.

The map is drawn on a cotton muslin sheet with colored pencils that outline and give color to 48 states, as well as Mexico and Canada. There are blue lines that mark rivers, labeled Great Lakes and city names like New Orleans, Philadelphia, Savannah and Baltimore.

It is reminiscent of a quilt, with colorful paper squares glued to its edges. They depict American values through art with subjects like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, automobiles, the Alamo and oil.

Thornton said he thinks Angeny's motive was to inspire her students to remember their American identity and to prepare them for when they would return to the United States.

The squares appear to be peeling up from the edges they are glued to, some are even torn.

"What conservators will do is stabilize it without affecting the overall integrity," Thornton said. "They are going to encase it in a large exhibition type of casing that will protect it."

After it's encased, Thronton said it could be on display for as long as six months at a time because textiles, like the map, shouldn't be exposed to lighting for extended periods of time.

Though the goal to fund its conservation has been met, Thornton said the museum is still accepting donations.

"We are very receptive to people who want to call and assist with our mission, which is to preserve and celebrate the life of General Douglas MacArthur," Thornton said.

The MacArthur Memorial is free and open to the public Tuesday though Sunday. For more information on how to donate, hours and the museum's current exhibits, click here.

(Video courtesy of Norfolk TV-48)

Belichis can be reached at justin@southsidedaily.com

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