Marguerite McLoughlin’s Sewing Cabinet Speaks

by DKP
(Note: I mean to come back to this, to write more and to edit. . .  it is little more than a thought of good writing at this time, and it will evolve as I have time.  Research has been snippets as I found them, so there is little need to cite sources at this time.)

Marguerite McLoughlin’s Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet After Conservation Treatment

Marguerite Wadin McKay McLoughlin was John McLoughlin’s second wife.  She was born in 1775 in St. Lawrence, Quebec, to Jean Etienne Wadin and Marie Deguire, a French-Indian mix.

She was the widow of Alexander McKay, a member of the Astor party, who died in the massacre of the American ship Tonquin.

By some accounts she married John McLoughlin in 1812.  He brought one child into the marriage from a former union, Joseph McLoughlin.  Marguerite brought three children into the marriage, though the only name I found for her children in my limited research was Thomas McKay.  History books name the couple’s joint children: John Jr., Maria Elizabeth, Maria Eloisa, and David.  It says a lot about the importance of women in history that her children are not even named.

Marguerite died three years after John, on February 28th, 1860, in Oregon City.  Both are buried at their family home in Oregon City.

If you google Marguerite and spend hours reading between the lines of Dr. John McLoughlin, their children and grandchildren, you can find little more than the facts above.  History books do her no better.

The lovely cornice after treatment.

Our firm conserved her Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet for the National Park Service, from the McLoughlin House.  I spent 100 hours with 6000 Q-tips® cleaning every inch of Marguerite’s 160-year-old-cabinet and another week infilling exposed yew and konoko.  In this day of cell phones and throwaway acquisitions, I had time to quietly consider the value and history of the  sewing cabinet.  My nanosecond attention span was slowed to a snail’s pace as I patiently cleaned Marguerite’s sewing cabinet.

If daydreams were history, I would know more about her than anyone, and have asked myself who this woman was, who lived such a long life during an exciting time in the Pacific Northwest’s history?

The sewing cabinet spoke to me in my daydreams. . .

“I was beloved, one of the few things of beauty in a functional world with little need for internal beauty. . . Marguerite had the great outdoors to fill her, and loved the great expanses of the Pacific Northwest, but the great outdoors was also threatening and fierce and uncomfortable and lonely.  The landscape was so expansive, the river so vast, and the people so few that to be cozy beside the fire with her sewing and me, her one refined object of beauty, was a luxury.  Women would come from all over the territory to see her and to see me, and they would run their hands across my stories, and think of the far off land I came from.”

“What are they talking about? Where are the women going? What are their lives about?”

The elaborate golden butterflies must have thrilled the women; they thrilled me!

“Is this a gate to a garden? A guard’s house?”

“Marguerite didn’t mind sewing for the men and children, and was proud of her skills and willing to share.   She enjoyed it most when she had other women for company, sitting in a warm room.  They talked about things as women do; men are not interested in such talk.  They talked babies and medicine and patterns and recipes and who was lonely and who might make a nice wife for him.  They confessed their fears and their loneliness when they were away from the Fort.  The men were respectful and appreciative of what she did for them, but also saw little reason to include a woman in their important work.  She never earned to write, but she was smart.”

The writing desk, which was rarely if ever used.

The flash on the lovely cleaned lacquer looks like moonlight. Marguerite did not use this part of the cabinet because she was illiterate. It was rarely opened. Such a gift! such perfection!

Detail. Someone sat in china and painted this lovely butterfly and all these years later that unknown person is appreciated by yet another unknown who is caring for it.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
For more information, visit our page on McLoughlin House conservation projects.
The National Park Service has a page for McLoughlin House, and the  McLoughlin Memorial Association site details hands-on projects and other happenings at the home.

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:
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