We were to conserve and restore a Mason Monterey side table with the charming, funny and valuable Juan Tinoco horses on the drawer front. This is a project that included conservation/preservation (cleaning dirt and mold from the paint, and affixing loose paint) and restoration (infill in the exposed white gesso areas.)
Unfortunately, the table was abused mightily over the years, having been stored with excessive temperature and humidity changes (meaning outside that which a human being might endure) causing losses from cracked paint (not to be confused with the lovely intentional stable craquelure of the original finish on the drawer front) on both the drawer front and the overall Smokey Maple finish. Besides the obvious losses (see the bright white of the gesso), many tiny cracks of paint were about to drop.
The side table was covered with losses and lifting paint in the original Smokey Maple
paint on legs, panels, and stretchers. The table top was warped, lifting on both sides
from the frame; nothing was to be done about the warpage.
Further, a child used the front to draw on with crayons, presumably before the paint began lifting and cracking, and this was not removed prior to the extensive paint damage. Removing what appeared to be crayon before stabilizing the paint is challenging;
I could not guarantee to the client that I would be able to remove the crayon
and would not sacrifice the original painting by Tinoco to do so.
Because of my own love for this furniture it was a bit nerve-wracking.
Note: It is easier to see the damage and the painted surfaces from
the side views, or when the images are a bit tilted.
Finally satisfied that I knew the inherent limitations and choices of the project, I began.
Cleaning is extremely patient and time consuming work.
MOST of the “crayon” was removed, except for a bit of smear that remains
in an extremely damaged area right above the handle.
The paint lifting and chipping was simply too fragile, so the slight residue of
waxy black was left in exchange for possible losses in the painted surface.
A mold found in several crevices and just underneath
the warped top was removed and treated.
Infill began. Even though we now know the formulas for the various colors (having done many conservation and restorative processes on Monterey, including spectrometer analysis of original Mason paint) each time, the paint must be tweaked to the proper color for the actual piece. Paint ages, for one thing, but also, just like dye lots, these mixes were done in batches and batches can be a bit different. Also, contrary to some popular books on the market about Mason’s paint, there were also several distinct shades of reds and greens and blues used from the beginning.
For infill to be properly executed (meaning not obvious to the naked eye)
it is a 3-4 step process over a month’s time. I chose a darker image, above, because it is better to see the brights of the infill before the final topcoat is applied.
Below, one of the horses before infill began and after all treatment but the topcoat was applied. Note the bright spots. It is costly to infill such a damaged piece but the topcoat takes care of the teeny bits of exposed white gesso.
The Smokey Maple finish was deteriorated and lifting as well, though much of the extensive damage was complete. The goal was to clean and stabilize, then add enough paint to protect and renew without making it “new” — and so, unlike removal of a white stain in a shellacked table top, we left the cleaned stains (no oily residues) intact and over-coated them with the Smokey Maple paint. Two coats were applied to the top;
light coats allow variation and allow the piece to appear as if it were well-loved
rather than neglected and restored. Understand, MPFC’s restorative applications were driven by preservation and aesthetic necessities, not to fool the eye. Therefore, a knowledgeable collector and/or conservator would know the piece was restored.
It is nice to have various pieces of Mason Monterey in the studio to compare when restoring: see the excellent match to well preserved Smokey Maple finish of a
well-loved bedside table in the dark and bright images below.
Below, the piece is curing before we reduced the sheen.
The leather handle should be replaced, but the client did not approve
payment for that treatment, which, while small, is costly in time.
The leather is beyond what might be a normal level of rot.
However, we treated it to slow the further degradation, and then over-coated it with Smokey Maple, as leather is often painted with oil paint!
The final result, a stable semi-matte finish that will also dull quite a bit as it cures.
We are instructing the client that the piece is gently usable,
though surface coatings are quite durable.
The top is completely stable, however, the front of the drawer should be treated
as a painting, and care should be taken with this lovely artifact.
Slide show below.