“Bishops Chair” Upholstery Conservation #1: Naming a Chair

by DKP (Interviewing Mitchell)

We are stepping back into upholstery conservation this spring with a chair for a private client; the family calls it the “Bishops Chair.”  The chair lived in Europe for part of its life, then came via ship to the states with the family, intact.  Then in the “short” trip from Kansas to Oregon many parts were broken.  MPFC assisted with the insurance claim, they won their case, and from there the family also decided to not only conserve the chair, but to upholster the piece with a new show cover, as the previous show cover was inappropriate, worn, and the interior pods were disintegrating.

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 Before Treatment

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 After Treatment: Follow the blog posts to see how we got from a to z!

I was going to write today about what we found as we undressed the chair.  However, I asked Mitchell what the chair was, REALLY, as it was not a Bishop’s Chair.   My quick post became an ongoing discussion.  I decided to document the entire thing just once because there is so much to these simple questions.

“German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860’s,” Mitchell began.  “No, German Renaissance Revival with Gothic Period Carvings.   Though it could be interpreted as Dutch.”

“Which?  I have to write SOMEthing.”  My morning just got longer.  I knew this. I decided to expose him by writing everything he said.  That’ll teach him to give me long answers!

“It is made mostly of European Ash, and I believe it is German. It is Gothic because of the faces at the top of the stiles.  The design fits well with the tapestries of the Gobelin weavers in Paris.”  He stopped to think about the image he saw over my shoulder on screen.

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 Stile

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 Stile

“The face reminds me of “The Scream.”  I said.

“No, they are lions or griffins mixed with undertones of the Green Man!”  He continued, “The acanthus leaves on the side are stylized Baroque.  So should we call it a Baroque Revival Chair?  What most people do when classifying styles is throw up their hands and say, ‘Victorian,’ both for the period and the experimentation that was so popular in the time, or they call things Revival.”  Mitchell was on a roll now, and I could barely keep up with him.  “Without the carvings we would call it Renaissance Revival with Dutch influence.  And I think it was originally created during the reign of Charles I of England, Louis XIII of France, and Phillip IV of Spain.”

“This is waaaay more than I asked for,” I thought, and kept typing.

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 Before Treatment

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 Before Treatment

He walked over and asked me to bring up the pictures again.  “That little shelf there,” he pointed to the ridge just under the upholstery trim, “that trim is Renaissance style with classic Roman roots.  Italian Renaissance and Revival forms were fond of little shelves like this.”

Now we are going to get ahead of ourselves, as I was going to tell you in another Interim Report about Excavation — or undressing the chair — but I want to keep his musings together.

Original Springs and Spring tie, with the original webbing below, shown during excavation. German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860.

“AND, from an upholsterer’s view,” he continued, “It has its original springs and webbing, which tells us more of its story.  The steel springs are stout coils with an unusual crimping mechanism on each end of the funnel that hails from the early industrial revolution.  Springs weren’t used before the early 19th century.  This helps to identify the approximate time it was built.  If we didn’t know anything about design, we would know the period of time in which it was built, then we could discover the design elements from that period, working backwards, opposite the way designers and historians think.  The webbing is very unusual.  I have never seen the weaving style, and it appears to be hemp, not jute.  The ribbed woven pattern is beautiful and extraordinarily strong.  This is why the original spring-up has survived 150 years of use and is still viable!”

I was barely writing fast enough.

“In the time period we call Victorian, they were experimenting with combinations of styles in a given form, and were very free.”

I thought I was done.  I started editing and dropping the images into the blog post.
He came back into the office from the upholstery studio.  “The fluted ball turnings are Dutch. . .”

Detail of the back stile carving of the German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860.

“Wait for it,” I thought.

“. . . Though you can find the same turnings in Spanish or italian styles of the early to mid-Renaissance period.  England too for that matter.”

Then he launched into a whole other blog post on Modern era, design styles, etc.  I will only add the one part I find relevant to this Bishop’s Chair post.

“From the second quarter of the 19th century forward, almost to the consumer era, furniture design became this vast experimentation of styles, regurgitating and combining divergent influences.  Particularly in what we call the Victorian era, and we use that term in an overarching or defining style from a period of time, there was a mix and match attitude to design.  England was the major economic influence, and dominated furniture manufacturing markets, but there was experimentation throughout American and Europe during this time.  So what happens, frankly, is that people tend to categorize all these mix and match influences into one style: Victorian.”

We will end our discussion here.  I am going to say this is a German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 from the Victorian Era.  He will want to correct me.  But he has not figured out how to work WordPress yet!

Next post, we will get to the excavation.  I promise.

PS from Mitchell:
Figured it out!  Verbosity wins!  The final word is in on the chair, it is: Germanic High Country, Victorian Era, Renaissance/Baroque Revival Fauteuil Ca. 1860 with Gothic Carvings, Neo-Classical Moldings, and Flemish Turnings…….Whew!

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860

CATZ owner Sammy zips into the studio for the photo-shots. “O-U-T!”

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About MPFConservation

We are a conservation and restoration firm located in the Pacific Northwest, specializing in objects: furniture, but also other objects; wood, stone or metal furniture or objects; lacquered and painted furniture or objects; traditional finishes on furniture or objects; quilts, beaded objects, and some textile reparation and interior architectural elements, such as leather or upholstered walls. When you think about conservation, equate it to restoring the furniture or object the best way possible for the history, life and value of the object. We are fully qualified to perform museum-tectbook treatments, but also flexible enough to work with private clients to allow for daily use of objects. We work West of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico, and once in a while venture beyond the West for specific treatments. Kate and Mitchell Powell are partners in work and in life; we each have our specialties in work and in our marriage. Mitchell is the cat charmer in both! To see our work visit our official website: http://www.mpfconservation.com
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