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.
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!)
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.