The trend in American conservation is to think of conservation as science. A more balanced truth is conservation is an art that uses science. Infill is one area that proves that theory. Simplistically, one reason infill is performed in a degraded area with highly visible losses is to allow the viewer in a museum has a more authentic view of the way the piece might have looked without the losses. It is not meant to make it look new, but does allow the viewer to visualize the pieces essential attributes.
The art of infill is knowing what to infill and what to leave alone or bare; the science is the chemical barrier placed between the infill and the original material to preserve and separate the historic materials for future generations to uncover and study if need be.
HORSESHOE-BACK MASON MONTEREY CHAIR
This chair was extremely damaged from years of use at the Oregon Caves Chateau where families with greasy hands sat and played cards and touched the wonderful arms. Our goal was to make the piece continue to look worn on areas where the wear would be created by normal use, but to infill on areas where the losses did not allow the viewer to see the decorative detail. If losses might have been created by normal wear of jeans on the inside front stiles, or resting ones wrist or hands during use, that area would still have a worn appearance.
In the image of the stretcher on the Monterey Chair, shown top right, show extreme wear top and bottom, versus the losses in the middle of the crackle finish. The losses in the middle surface were caused by moisture and daily use. Possibly during the flood of 1964 water or ambient moisture from the wet Oregon weather degraded the finish, even though the chair itself did not swim in the flood or sit in several feet of water. We found mold in adjacent areas. Wear was present from rubbing of visitor’s calves in jeans and other abrasive clothing, heels rubbing the bottom of the stretcher, or even feet kicking the top of the stretcher.
Paints matched the original pigments on the chair, closely enough that a visitor would not notice the infill, but they would be detectable by a conservator or curator inspecting the chair.
The curator and I discussed our approach to infill, and decided to fill enough within the normal wear areas that the viewer could see the decorative motif in its entirety. This was my rendition, purely artistic, of how that may have appeared. Acrylics were painted over an appropriate barrier to infill the original oil-based paints; notice that not all of the losses were filled.
For more information on this and other Mason Monterey pieces, visit our page on the Oregon Caves Monterey Furniture.
MARGUERITE MCLOUGHLIN’S CHINESE LACQUER SEWING CABINET
Another example of infill was in Marguerite McLoughlin’s Chinese Sewing Cabinet, shown below. Wherever lacquer was missing in large areas exposing bare yew or paper, the NPS wanted infill. The goal was to have the cabinet show well to a visitor walking through the home; to that end, you can see that I filled in the areas where bare wood glared at visitors from all three viewable sides.
To the right, before reparation, the cornice was pulled apart and many areas were bare to the original yew wood.
An appropriate barrier was laid down first, and acrylic infill was used: two shades of gold, mixed, and black.
Above, a detail of the same area after reparation. Below, after the piece was treated and reassembled, it is installed in the Sitting Room of the McLoughlin House. If you visit our page on the treatment of Marguerite McLaughlin’s Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet, you can see many more images of the piece.