Planter’s Chair: 2, Excavation, Seat, Continued

We are properly conserving a French-made Planter’s Chair, circa 1860.
(You can begin here, if you like.)
We’ll follow the chair through excavation to the new show-cover.

We left off in the last posting with the seat partially excavated.

Removing the second generation hair topper,
we encounter an original hair topper, properly lashed to the seat deck.
He notes the lashing pattern, then cuts and lifts it.
The seat deck hessian is exposed; after vacuuming we inspect it.

Mitchell wears a mask when he is excavating after encountering molds and
various types of dust and debris which can mess with your lungs!

Lashing patterns noted, and details of the fit.
We loosened the inside arms to inspect the carvings and connections.

Above, an example of what careless upholsterers do to frames, including carvings,
or when the frame maker does not include tacking foundations which allow for tacking without encroaching into decorative elements.  Mitchell will change the frame slightly to include a tacking block to preserve the carving from future mistakes..
We will repair the lovely carving.

There is damage to the connection between the carving and the metal frame on both arms,
also to be repaired.  This may be a wear-and-tear issue, or possible a design issue.
These are the types of issues we discuss with clients as we find them.

The original fiber seat pod comes off, to be cleaned and conserved.
The spring deck is exposed.  Over the years the hessian stretches on both
spring deck and seat deck to conform to the stresses.
Lashing patterns are noted.

Spring deck burlap is removed, and we see the original springs.
We inspect the dirt (we find odd bits sometimes, including coins) and vacuum the debris.

The springs are heavy rolled steel, which we will clean and conserve.
Mitchell notes the tie patterns, but does not cut the ties yet.
He usually does not cut ties until the last moment necessary.
He also counts and notes the tie hole patterns,
as he lifts the tacks holding ties to the frame.

The chair is turned over, and under the dustcover we see two layers of
webbing applied in order to save the springs.
This second layer (top) is the creamy webbing above, not lashed to the springs below.

The first webbing applied over the original in order to save the springs
is the darker herringbone webbing in a criss-cross pattern.
It was also not lashed in any manner to the springs.
As Mitchell removed webbing, he notes holes and tack positions.  They tell the story of the number of times the chair has been upholstered and in what manner.

Mitchell is down to the original webbing, properly woven in a basketweave pattern,
and can say he knows the history of the webbing patterns, which,
along with tacks from upholstering showcovers and hessian,
and after noting and marking the spring tie tack patterns,
gives us clue as to the number and nature of the upholsterings.
He feels secure in that the chair was reupholstered twice in its lifetime beyond the original,
and the person who performed the second upholstering did not retie the springs.

The seat drops out!


Some of Mitchell’s musings about the Planter’s Chair…
The woods… European Beech (frame) was not commonly imported in the states.
Persimmon wood (carving) is native to India, but was grown all over the south,
and even into the colonies, which offers other clues.
The original webbing and subsequent webbings were uncommon to the USA,
but found in England and Europe.
The contraction and patina of the foundational woods (European Beech),
and the excessive rusting of tacks and metal objects were consistent with exposure to very high humidity, such as might be found where there is good rainfall and relatively high temperatures, and possibly salty air.  This information, coupled with what little provenance was available, led Mitchell to surmise the piece may have lived in France (where it began life) but also lived in either the tropics or a city like New York.
The fact that it is a planter’s chair, with carvings reflecting plants that grow in tropical regions (sugarcane or tobacco) makes him lean toward Latin American or the Caribbean.

The seat is fully excavated,
and we move to the inside back, next post!
(I suggest you turn off the music!)

 If you would be interested in notification
of online classes coming next year, comment
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Planter’s Chair: 1, Excavation, Seat

We are properly conserving a French-made Planter’s Chair, circa 1860.
We’ll follow the chair through excavation to the new show-cover.
An overview of the process, from one vantage point, below.

We begin with excavation.
Excavation is the discovery process, and we are always shocked at the thought
that many people give this job to the youngest interns with little oversight.
The more experienced you are the more valuable the information
gleaned during these beginning stages:
where the piece may have lived;
personal predilections of the individuals using the pieces;
the environment in which the piece lived;
tracking of dates when various upholsterings took place,
the regions where various upholsterings took place.
Some of Mitchell’s musings are at the bottom of this post.

We take more images during excavation that any other phase.
There is so much history, both original and secondary upholsterings,
to document while undoing of the piece.
Also, sometimes we want to go back and see
what our eyes did not connect as important in the first stage…

This excavation was performed in two parts,
which we will explain as we get to the breaking point.
This is the excavation of the seat.

Passementerie is the last item to be applied and the first to come off the chair,
which is how it goes down through the layers.  A bit like an archeological excavation.
Conservators are interested in preserving the  history of an object.
To that end, we save samples and items as they are removed, noting their location.
When the project is completed, they are given to the client in part or whole,
and/or we keep interesting samples for ourselves.
You might not know what part of the story an item or mark informs.
This is also when we make our final assessment fo our client,
and may need to tell the client if changes in the estimate are necessary.

Turning the chair over, we find a tag which tells us that this chair was
sold secondhand with this showcover, including who performed the fumigation.
This tells us it was sold before the mid 1970a, when the State of Oregon stopped
the fumigation laws for secondhand upholstered item sales.

What appear to be original ceramic wheels are in good condition.

The showcover is removed from the seat.
Mitchell finds a layer of paper-wrapped cotton (wadding), popular with
European upholsterers in the early 20th century, at the probable time of the
second generation upholstery, suggesting it took place in Europe.
The wadding is no longer obtainable in the states.
He also gets his first glimpse of the bottom of the metal back frame.
Samples of passementerie and fabric are kept.

Already we know that we have a missing decorative scroll to be replicated.

As I photograph the chair, I can see that there is no way to get a symmetrical view,
and Mitchell looks at the frame with new eyes.  The back and two legs are badly twisted.
As we move through other phases you will see how asymmetrical the chair’s become.
It  is quite sturdy, and not in danger of tipping or breaking.
Causation of the twisting in the metal back frame may be due to someone sitting oddly,
favoring their right side (much like I do, even when on the puter!)

We see the first evidence of an earlier fabric, which we soon identify as a green velvet.
Usually we see bits of earlier fabrics; this time only one.

Mitchell begins to remove layers of the seat, documenting as we go.
The first three layers are from the current upholstered showcover, most likely:
two layers of cotton toppers, and a horsehair pad.
We surmise the chair had between one to three showcovers.
Good fabric, proper foundations, and proper care can make a show cover last a long time.

All materials are cleaned and reused unless there are issues of body fluids, etc.

The seat is partially excavated;
we will continue excavating the original materials
in the seat next post!

If you would be interested in notification
of online classes coming next year, comment
and we will save your email address.
It will be used by no one else for any other purpose.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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French Planter’s Chair

We are properly conserving a French-made Planter’s Chair, circa 1860,
belonging to a Portland preservationist.
Hand carved persimmon wood, European Beechwood frame,
original innards, unmolested finish.
We’ll follow the chair in detail through excavation to the new show-cover.

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We will begin with excavation, next post!

If you would be interested in notification
of online classes coming next year, comment
and we will save your email address.
It will be used by no one else for any other purpose.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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All Hide Glues are NOT Equal

Not all commercial hide glues are equal.
We want to make sure you are using the good stuff,
even for a temporary repair you may want to make on your own furniture.
Also, a furniture repair person may say they use hide glue.  Be savvy enough to ask them what type of hide glue… then decide whether you’ll take grandmother’s table for repairs!

Years ago we made our
hide glue in the pot, right, now retired into service
as a wax-making pot.  Cooking, decanting, warming for use in
syringes or onto Kate’s  kitchen plates, keeping
it warm was a messy and smelly part of our conservation  business.
(Mitchell says it is the
smell of success!)

We didn’t use Titebond Liquid Hide Glue because despite its name, it contains other ingredients (see below) and has qualities unsuitable for conservation.

Now the only time we make our own glue is if has to be
fish glue or rabbit hide glue, which is rarely.  A colleague, Patrick Edwards,
makes Old Brown Glue. At first he only sold to fellow conservators, but now,
Old Brown Glue can be bought from their website and several woodworking supply stores.
The beauty of Old Brown Glue is the ingredients: hydrolyzed collagen and urea —
that’s all!  No more “i-wonder-what-that-is” chemical additives.
Now Mitchell warms a bowl of water in the microwave, decants Old Brown Glue into syringes or 5oz bottles, and drops them into the warm water to warm.
The only smelly part is when he is slathering it on to affix parts!

Hide glue is non-toxic, organic, safe for the environment,
has no cautions other than common sense (don’t pour it in your eyes),
is reversible (very important for conservation) with warm water or vinegar,
but has kept antique furniture together for centuries!
You don’t waste money using hide glues, because you can always harden leftovers
and store it to melt another day! (Video below)

The Old Brown Glue website has several good articles
and facts about using his hide glue, including  Why Not Period Glue?
When you place an order, tell them we sent you!

Coming soon, gap-filling, the employment of adhesives,
and strategies toward structural viability of bruised and damaged joinery.

If you would be interested in notification of online classes coming next year, comment and we will save your email address.  It will be used by no one else for any other purpose.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

Notes from Wikipedia and the MSDS for Titebond Liquid Hide Glue, which contains the following: ammonium thiocyanate; dicyandiamide 461-58-5 (Cyanoguanidine, used in the adhesive industry as a curing agent for epoxies.[1]), and polyalkene glycol (PAGs).

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Lianne’s Linen Sampler Ca 1806


Lianne’s Great-great-great-GREAT grandmother, Hannah Epes, completed this sampler on June 26th, 1806, when she was 10 years old.  It came to us in the sweet old handkerchief box her grandmother kept it in, above, a keepsake.

I like hearing the history of the pieces from our clients, and
Lianne is willing to let me share it.  Hannah had a rough life.
She married Charles Whitmarsh in 1814 when she was just 18.
Their first daughter was born two years later, and died at
4 1/2 months, the same age their fourth son also died.
Their second daughter was born in 1817 and died when she was 9 years old.
They had three sons and two more daughters, all  of whom lived to adulthood,
though the eldest daughter died young.  Charles died in 1838.
She remarried a man named John Hornby in 1841.
He died in 1856, and Hannah died in 1867.


7 3/4 inches x 11 inches, the sampler was dirty,
though Lianne had tried cleaning it herself.

There was a small hole in the linen on the back in the hem,
but otherwise, no loose or broken threads or other structural damage
was found that might affect the cleaning process.

Cleaning seems a simple item, but can permanently damage a textile.
It is important that a proper conservator determine cleaning protocol.
Embroidery threads were assessed for dye movement,
and as none was found, the sampler was gently cleaned.
Dust and dirt was released from the sampler into a proper solution.
The process of cleaning was repeated three times,
then the sampler was thoroughly rinsed, and laid to dry flat.

Acid free tissue will wrap the sampler.
Remember to change the acid free tissue once a year,
as the tissue will absorb acids in the environment.

No job too small.
Your items are important to us!

©MPF Conservation.
Blog posts may be reposted; please link back to mpfconservation.me.

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Texaco Fire Chief Gasoline Banner

Growing up in Southern California, the home of the automobile,
I remember fondly this emblem as a kid!

The Texaco Fire Chief Banner was in excellent condition, but dirty and creased.
The back appeared to have been dropped into dirt, and creased areas were
especially dirty with brown to charcoal marks, and in two places, what appeared to be
very old light shoe prints walking across charcoal on the back.

Testing

Our first step was to test for two issues, test images above:
Are the banner’s prints colors likely to move?
Will the various types of dirt move?

This banner was meant to hang outside, so water moving color was not an anticipated problem.  However, we were concerned about the printed color moving with various cleansers, and as some of the black grime appeared to be grease, we might need a cleanser.

Always we start with deionized water, and it is surprising what moves with patience and soaking, along with light movements to loosen the surface diet.  A good deal of dirt loosened in the test, with little movement of a soft brush or sponge.

However, rubbing gently moved the printed color fairly easily.

We tested a surfactant and a mild detergent meant for textiles.
Neither moved color, however, as we moved through the cleaning, neither moved the dirt any better than the deionized water with two exceptions.

Surface Dirt versus Staining / Deeply Embedded Dirt

Most of the dirt on the banner was surface, meaning it was sitting on top of the canvas.  Surface dirt can be seen in a magnifying glass, and it also looks more dusty, to use a layman’s terms, than runny or wet.

There are still safety issues with removing surface dirt,
especially as the worst dirt was on the back side.
If it was gotten too wet the fear was it would transfer through the canvas
onto the front side, and not knowing what it was, but seeing a half-dozen stains,
we did not want to chance it spreading and staining.
A damp sponge and patience wicked quite a lot of surface dirt off
first the back side, then the front, allowing me to then go a bit
deeper in wetting areas to see what happened to the stains.
Rubbing of any kind was out of the question except with soft tools in
extremely filthy spots on the unprinted canvas in good condition (no rips or wear spots.)


I am happy to report a good amount of success,
and no losses except the 1/8-inch area I tested, and will never reveal!

Some stains would not move at all. 

One was a mysterious green mark,
above, and also present to a larger degree on the back.
It looked a bit like crayon, and we did no chemical tests,
which are generally not used in private collections;
I believe it is paint, which textured like crayon as it moved across the canvas.
The other are the half-dozen large runny spots.
Perhaps they lightened a tiny bit, but I cannot tell, and they still are,
disappointingly, large and there for all the world.
They appear to have happened when the banner was folded,
as almost all fall on crease lines.  Perhaps a ceiling drip, which comes through with
wet dirt and whatever materials are in the roof/ceiling structure.

Final cleaning and Pressing

A final cleaning was full submersion, a light soak and then gentle manipulation.
This last bit removed almost all the last of the dirt,  and brightened the whole banner!
Hanging to air dry took out many of the old creases, however,
another oddity was that while we were able to iron the banner,
a couple of creases would not release!

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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A little girl cuts doll hair and many years later…

They were found in a child’s coffin in an antique store in New Orleans!
They traveled to Oregon; their new owner wanted them treated properly…

The dolls have porcelain heads, arms and legs;
Rhett had a broken leg that was also properly repaired.

Both doll’s clothes needed cleaning, and small rips and
previous poorly executed repairs that needed to be properly sewn.

The dolls were undressed…

Cleaning first.
We were happy when the dark dirt stains lifted from Scarlett’s dress,
particularly, as it was all down her front.

Lace rips, proper closures, hems on pants — all was properly repaired.

We were also particularly happy when her hoop skirt which was twisted into an eight, came back into hoop shape with a bit of TLC… and magic fluids.

We were a bit intimidated by the hair cut on Rhett Butler.
Styling hair is one thing, cleaning hair is one thing, but Rhett had had a baaaaad haircut, and the hair was further filled with an odd hard gloop (highly technical term),
and so we turned to a hair expert, Howard Sutcliffe,
Principal Conservator at River Region Costume and Textile Conservation.
We had heard Howard had a way with puppets and dolls, and sent both dolls off to Howard.  He plied his trade and after explaining that Rhett’s hair was
cut badly on three sides, even a near razor cut up the back (see below),
gave Rhett a not-Rhett cut that looks much better than he started.

Notice Scarlett’s has bangs?  That too, was the child who played with her many years ago.
He removed what appeared to be bird feces from her hair!


On the back of Rhett’s neck is the following notation:
“Rhett Butler
Clark Gable
by Mary Collier
Mc©1982”

We could find no Mary Collier that was involved with dolls, but did find a Kitty Collier who was involved with dolls — so until further notice that is who we think created these dolls.


In the lobby, waiting to go home….

©MPF Conservation.
Blog posts may be reposted; please link back to mpfconservation.me.

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