More than 30 meters deep in a well that was covered for 80 years, without oxygen and with humidity. This is how the clothes of almost 40 people killed during the civil war in Medina del Campo (Valladolid) have been preserved, whose bodies were thrown into the Los Alfredos well, which has a diameter of 1.10 meters. The conditions of the well have made it possible to preserve the clothes, the hair of the victims and even the seeds of the grapes that they had eaten before being shot. Now, the Mariano Timón Higher School of Plastic Arts and Design, in Palencia, is restoring some of those disjointed garments to structure a coat Ulster, a vest and a cummerbund. But more pieces could be preserved.
“Most of the bodies kept their clothing, but in a sorry state,” explains Iván Mateo, professor of Conservation and Restoration at the Palencia school. It all started with a student from the School of Art who collaborates with the ARMH and asked if they would be willing to restore any garment. So they got down to work by framing this restoration in the subject ‘Clothing Conservation and Restoration’.
They had hundreds of pieces, which they have placed on a plate, trying to join and consolidate the textiles. “There were so many fragments that it was impossible to see what garment it was,” explains Mateo. Finally, they confirmed that they were in front of a coat and a vest. They are garments that could even help identify some of the victims. The coat, long and with a bag, was probably made by a tailor.
Items used to identify victims
“It was very modern, not a normal coat that a peasant or someone from the village would have. It could be from a public official or someone important”, values this restaurateur. Mateo assures that if images were preserved, they could help in the exact identification of people. The president of the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory of Valladolid, Julio del Olmo, assures that the remains of three people have no signs that indicate physical work. “Three of the men found were not workers or farmers: the pharmacist, the lawyer and a national representative of a machinery company. The clothing seems typical of a more office or commercial job, ”he adds.
Although some finials are still missing, the coat is placed on a flat conservation support, “on which all the fragments have been relocated in their corresponding place, taking into account different marks and folds that have served as a ‘track'”. According to the teacher at the Mariano Timón de Palencia School, everything will go in a conservation box that is prepared so that the textile remains can be preserved for many years in good condition. As soon as they finish, they will return the garments to the ARMH so that they can be guarded “in a dignified way.”
But the work so far has not been easy. First of all because it has been done from a school as part of the teaching, so these have not been the only garments on which they have worked during the previous year. The director of the School of Art, Aránzazu Rebollo, insists that it is not about “labour intrusiveness”. “Students learn with authentic pieces. The center does not take work away from restorers”, she stresses.
Very poorly preserved fragments
The school collaborates with institutions such as churches and the Cathedral of Palencia, regional museums or the Provincial Museum of Popular Costume in Morón de Almazán. “All the courses we get works from museums, but never from such a special context,” says Iván Mateo, who describes the learning of these months as “tremendous, constant and daily.” The work has lasted for more than seven months, with some pieces as poorly preserved as they had never worked before. “It was so badly preserved that the pieces were like stones, but at the same time they decomposed when you touched them. You had to think about a different treatment than other garments and pay a lot of attention, ”he says.
The first thing was to gradually remove soil and lime, which was a “very slow” task. “We had to do an aqueous cleaning to hydrate the textiles. They were piled up, with earth, lime, animal remains, hair, blood… it smelled of putrefaction”, explains Mateo, who still remembers the afflicted silence of the class: “the silence was enormous some days, it has been hard. The context has determined everything and that is what has impacted us”.
Until the fourth or fifth month of intervention they could not confirm that it was a coat and a vest. If there were a hundred fragments of the coat, the figure for the vest amounted to 400. Only half a vest with its buttonholes and the imprint of some buttons has been recovered. “The vest was very poorly preserved due to its proximity to the body, which did decompose. We were shocked by the amount of blood that was on the vest, in the pockets and in the neck area, ”he details.
Of the coat the left part, the upper left part of a shoulder was fixed. It has been like an archaeological work, discovering the piece little by little, says Mateo. “We have looked at photos from then to see what type of coat it was, and we have also drawn up a clothing map. Being so long, even if only half and half a sleeve was preserved, there was a lot of material”, adds the restorer.
Boxes and boxes filled with cloth
The coat, the vest and the cummerbund are just three of the many garments that the ARMH keeps. “So much fabric appeared… suddenly the only thing you saw was fabric and already, when you take it out, you see that it was a suit, like a striped suit that we found. But the fact that it is preserved does not mean that it will come out completely”, warns Julio del Olmo.
The objects that were able to get more or less of a piece were smaller, such as a cap or a hat. But he believes that if the school wanted, the pinstripe suit could be remade. “It is possible to continue with more pieces. It is something very emotional for all the students also because of everything it means and it is a way of giving it visibility”, affirms the director of the center.
Following the instructions of the restorers, the fabrics are wrapped in a paper that does not have acidity and allows better preservation of the fabrics, stored in boxes. “All of this could go to the provincial museum if they admitted it, according to the regulations, but their warehouses are not very conducive to textiles,” lamented Del Olmo.
“The ideal would be to recover the garments little by little. The history behind it is very hard and allows us to study the historical and social context of the people to whom these garments belonged”, states Iván Mateo. There is still a lot of unidentified clothing and it can also serve to remember the last moments these people lived in front of a rifle.