McLoughlin House Balloon-back Chairs

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MPFC conserved twenty one Victorian Balloon-Back Chairs Ca. 1833 for the McLoughlin House. Most chairs were associated with either Dr. John McLoughlin or Dr. Fraser Tolmie.  The chairs have three distinctive styles, though all show that they are hand-crafted, as there are slight variances in each type of chair. Show covers were black/variegated dark gray horsehair or wool needlepoint in two floral patterns.  Sample images of three of the chairs, above.

The needlepoint chairs are not associated with John McLoughlin nor Fraser Tolmie, but were donated via the family or local donors, as they matched the McLoughlin/Tolmie chair styles.  Some said they thought their provenance was the McLoughlin home, but that is word of mouth, unlike the provenance tags found on many of the chairs at the home, shown left.

We were not to treat the upholstery, with the exceptions of gluing back lifting trim.
Our directive was to treat the wooden breaks and finish.

Sample treatments below.

McLoughlin Balloon-back #402

#402 had breaks on both sides of the crest, and extensive finish damage.  This is an example of one of the most damaged chairs, and there were several this damaged.

We created a contoured jig that could be used to
secure the chair for clamping during
the glue process (shown right).
Each could be used for more than one chair.

We took a pattern, above, cut the form
then routed it out before padding
the shape to protect the crest
while the chairs were in stasis.

Images above show the breaks and bore-holes from a previous pest infestation.
It is unlikely they are screw holes as they do not go all the way through.

Breaks were gently opened and thoroughly cleaned
of old desiccated glues until a good seal was possible.
Our own pure hide glue was used to secure the breaks.
As in other chairs, the crest was secured and
clamped using the padded form during the glue-up.

Cosmetic work with hard pigmented waxes
filled voids around the breaks.

The deep pest holes were filled with the same hard pigmented waxes,
set to cure, then both types of wax fills were burnished.

Damaged finish and paint drips on the legs were also repaired, through
melting existing shellac and/or additional shellac applications, and polishing.

After treatment, both above and below.

McLoughlin Balloon-back #404

This right-facing leg was literally blistered.
As it only happened on one leg we believe
it was sitting close to a fiery heat source.


We polished the leg back into use, but chose not to add shellac because we were concerned about embedded chemicals, and found that there was enough shellac left on the leg after polishing. Rottenstone then pigmented wax was applied.

Below, the chair before treatment, left, and after, right.

McLoughlin Balloon-back #407

McLoughlin Balloon-back #434 and #437


The four balloon-back chairs with the needlepoint seats came in two styles, one with passementerie trim around the seat, and one held by decorative nails only, above.

We don’t know the real history of these pieces because they were donated,
but conjecture has it that they were part of the original set but made their way
into the community, and were eventually donated back to the McLoughlin House
when the owners realized what they had — a piece of history.
Note the two needlepoint patterns are similar but different
on the images above of the chairs before treatment.

Other anomalies: modern jute webbing, left,
and metal three-pronged glides, right.


It is odd the way the passementerie was applied, in that it didn’t reach all the way to the edges of the seat, above left.

We could easily lift the passementerie, whose glue was failing, to see the edges of the needlepoint and tacks, above right.  The two chairs with the passementerie also had a nicer crown (see the first image in this section); it is possible that they were upholstered later or reupholstered.


The decorative nails were wonky on
both chairs, detail above left,
and you can see that they are also
from two different time periods,
and not skillfully applied as they are
marring the wood frame.

These chairs also have a flat crown,
and may be an older upholstery project.

The needlepoint on all four chairs
is missing many stitches; the yarn is
threadbare, having worn from use.
Kate wanted to repair them with new needlepoint!

Below, the two sample chairs after treatment.

 dkatiepowell [@] aol.com / mitchellrpowell [@] aol.com
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503.970.2509 / 541.531.2383
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