Chinese Diorama Table, 2

Continuing from the first post of our client’s Chinese carved diorama
from the nineteenth century, we move now to the
reparation of the figurines and decorative elements.

Phase Three, Reparation

We used two glues, hide (we use only Old Brown Glue)
and fish glue (we made this time), depending upon the two surfaces being glued.
I am not fond of the smell of either, though Mitchell keeps trying to
reframe it for me, as he calls it the “smell of success!”


  1. The protocol was to make sure the piece was properly positioned before gluing.
  2. The gluing surface was lightly scuffed with a fine, tiny amazing tool called
    Sandits Sanding Sticks, (though we buy them in large lots of the various grits)
    a bit like a Q-Tip dipped in sandpaper.
  3. Hide glue was applied to both sides, being careful not to apply too much — I could not come back and remove excess glue at the risk of removing the decorative colors.
  4. The piece was either shimmed to hold it in place, or held for about ten minutes until it set up.
  5. Broken pieces were allowed to set overnight before a second gluing.

Simpler glued pieces, above.

This little triangular piece of banister needed
a clever shim to hold it against the rocks for gluing!

The intact female was not broken; note she also had a previously applied
wooden shim on her backside (compare to the one below).

The broken female figure had a clean break, however, she was so very thin (no wood shim behind her) that securing her was difficult.  I had little room to create a wood shim, so I used Japanese paper, very thin, very strong, applied in layers with hide glue.  This sat overnight, and the next day I was able to slip her into place.

Reparation completed —
unless we find that newel post!

Above, the entire vignette divided into thirds with the details located in each third.
It is so lovely, I wanted to share!

Phase four, wooden base, next post!

Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.
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Chinese Diorama Table, 1

Our client’s Chinese carved diorama
from the nineteenth century is one
of the most delightful items I’ve had
the pleasure to treat.  It is a pavilion
over water, with big rocks with large
trees of varying sorts along the base.
The upper level is adorned with
beautiful women enjoying their music
and possible various sewing arts, and
flirting with the men below.  Below men
are working, and some are looking up rapturously at the adoring women.
One of the men on the lower level
appears to have a much more elaborate costume, left, and I assume that
this man may have some sort of
ownership or higher standing.

The table also has a wooden form that holds the diorama and
a glass top, both of which will also be conserved.

Phase One, Assess Figurines

When our client brought the table to us, only a few figurines appeared to be loose;
our first phase was to see if others were also loose.
Mitchell disassembled the table so that they could be examined without the glass.

If you look closely at the top image, you can see the torso of the broken figurine (right)
just above the “ns” in our name.  She was the fifth female from the left on
the balcony of the pavilion.  She came apart in a move, and we believe as she fell (her legs were found behind the stair railing) she took the leaves along for the ride.
We haven’t found the location of the bubbly carving — and not sure if it is supposed to
be foam from the water, or an unknown bit of foliage.  I am inclined to the former.

  To test if any other parts were loose, I gently
touched each figurine,
tree, or landscape part
with the dental pick, right.
If it was loose it lifted easily.

Several more tiles, leaves,
and a second figurine,
happily not in pieces, was found to be loose.

We finally discovered the proper location of a sharp triangular piece; it is
behind a tree, part of the lower banister, next post.

Only one part could not be found, and that is a small part of the stairwell, above left.
The newel post is missing, and we know should be there because it has a small gap and cannot be glued in place without it, seen in the right image of the stairs.
It may have slipped and is lodged deep behind the railings, but we could not find it.
(The temptation, of course, is to gently shake it loose but the table is too fragile!)
If it suddenly appears before the table is reassembled we can easily glue it in place.

Phase Two, Clean

Over the years tiny bits of the figurines have sloughed off; it appears as sand!  This was vacuumed carefully on the painted wooden background and over the figurines and decorative building parts with a tiny funneled textile vacuum set on low suction, above.

The sky along the top had
an odd sticky quality to it.
It attracted the “sand” and it stuck to the sky, above right. As the sky is a painted
wooden base, after testing
we knew we could gently
clean it using distilled water and cotton swabs, and the ridge at the top of the sky
was carefully cleaned of
debris and the sticky substance.

You can see the grime removed on the cotton swabs, above left.

We tested the clean-ability of the figurines on the edge of a cloud, above right. A slightly damp cotton swab touched the edge and the blue from the cloud came off on the swab.


A substance that looked like common black machine grease was found in several places on the white railings; we have no clue as to how it might have arrived on the railings!
It was easily cleaned, and as there was no colorful decoration on the railings, it was safe to do so, above.

Above, I leave you with details of the lower right-facing corner of the diorama, and a central portion of the balcony with four women — neither had repairs — after cleaning.

Phase three, reparation, next post!

Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

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Louis XIV Revival Fauteuil, Assessment

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Our client’s Louis XIV Revival Fauteuil from the nineteenth century
came in for treatment of the textile (gentle cleaning, and stabilizing from the back),
conservation of original finish, and conservation of the upholstery buildup (innards).
Before treatment images above, though some of the gimp is removed.

We start, as we always do, with a assessment while everything is still intact:
what is seen when taking detailed images is exciting.

The hand-carvings are beautiful and in good condition (a sampling),
above; we found no need
for amendments of broken
petals or leaves.
Hand-carving is easily evident, right, where you
can see the makers
hand marks as a smooth
area was carved.

The original finish is intact, with some flaking of
shellac and a beautiful patina.  The finish is extremely dirty.

When the textile is removed
it will be easier to examine
it for small bits of missing yarn, if any; at this time
we saw only two small areas where there may be an issue.

This lovely gimp is stiff
with either glue or topcoats
of shellac.  What we can see now by removing the gimp trim is that the tacking margin on our textile is small and there are bits of fraying under the gimp.  MPF Conservation has ways of mitigating this without reweaving.

Our next steps are pattern making, excavation of the textile, and cleaning.
As we post more I will link to the next posting: follow us so you are notified of updates.

Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

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Treatment: Portrait of 

Before and after treatment, above.

Our client’s framed oil painting of
Marie-Antoinette fell off the wall and
was scraped in two dozen areas.
Luckily there were no punctures,
but a half-dozen dents or serious
scraps created a need for wax/resin
infills before painting infill.

The painting has no visible signature.
It appears to be a (very old) lovely
student copy of the image hanging in
Versailles, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, right.  Students often copy famous
paintings for practice; as long as no
fake signature is applied it is not forgery,
and good student images have value.

Protocol for treatment was to:
1) Gently clean area to be treated.
2) Infill and shape deep indentations (above) and deep scrapes as necessary using
Gamblin’s Pigmented Wax/Resin (PWR) using a wax carving pencil.
3) After curing, paint infill (mixing on palette) to match surrounding areas
using Gamblin’s Oil paint in the following pigments: Burnt Umber, Raw Umber,
Phthalo Green, Warm White, Golden Ochre, Pink Brown,
Van Dyke Brown, odd bits of premixed flesh colors, and Galkyd Gel.
4) Care was taken to match color/stroke patterns in the areas large enough for them to be seen; texture was matched when possible with the PWR before the infill.

Before and after sample areas, below.

Before and after treatment, above.

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Susan’s Crazy Quilt

End of this year I had the pleasure of working on our client’s Grandmother’s quilt.
Pleasure because as I worked on it the imagined original beauty came alive;
pleasure because our client is interested and excited!

As you can see above, her grandmother
created beautiful embroidery!

Out goal was to replace the threadbare patches, leaving intact as much
embroidery as possible.  This meant I could not loosen seams and replace
whole patches because the embroidery was intact.  I needed to patch over
the threadbare areas, while leaving intact embroidery alone.

Then we were to edge the entire quilt as best we could…
and I say this because this was a working crazy quilt, and it appeared that over time patches were added, so the entire quilt was never squared true in any direction.
Originally there were rich velvets, but we could not use velvets because it was too difficult to turn edges under in this situation.  In a new crazy quilt, it is likely that a quilter would lay the velvets flat and turn silk and cottons under over it to achieve the shapes.
We used bits of silks in the place of some of the rich fabrics.

There was a budget; Susan left it up to me to decide which patches to replace.
I began by creating patterns of the patches.

On a project like this you can easily do three times the work I did,
especially if you repair original embroidery, but the shredded threadbare patches were easy to choose first.  I chose more patches than I could do, and then set to replacing what I could in the time allotted. (and yes, I did a bit more than I was paid to replace.)

Part of the initial project was finding compatible cottons.
I took my color cues by looking at the bits of disintegrated fabrics.
Many were purple!

Of the ones I bought I used half, as some just didn’t feel right once I saw
them balanced on the quilt.  The bits of bright green silk, bright gold and yellow silk,
and bright purples gave the quilt some of its original punch.

I changed the layout slightly from this first pass — I found a bit of bright yellow silk
in my own stash and used it, and moved the green silks a bit.

Once I had the colors laid out, I went to work.

I didn’t want to cover the embroidery that originally graced the bright purple patch in this area, so chose to create a split patch.  Susan’s Grandmother used unusual bits of yarn — note the purple eyelash?  She must have been a knitter.

This kind of repair is so different than quilt making — the tiny thin angles that would usually be created by overlapping patches have to be made when possible by folding under.  Sometiems it is impossible, and I turned the tight corner under.

This was very thick green silk, bits from the Washington State DAR Flag.
I did the central embroidery on the plain silks on a hoop before I placed them on the quilt.
Patches were stitches. then embroidered.

The central motif was once a long strip of purple.

I chose a purple border because after inspecting the original bits of lost fabric, her Grandmother was fond of purple… Many patches were shades of purple.

Unfortunately, and even giving her time, I was not able to come in and
repair embroidery that was damaged.  In some ways this is okay with me —
the family can easily tell which is Grandma’s embroidery,
and which is mine, which is on the newer fabrics only.

The final images of the crazy quilt!

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JBC: White Patriotic Jumper Treatment, Oil Paint 4

Our White Patriotic Jumper had treatment of his parts:
Treatment, Tail, Part I;
Treatment, Tail, Part II, Treatment, Tail, Part III,
Treatment, Knees and Thighs, Treatment, Belly Split and Preparation for Finish Work.

The White Patriotic Jumper is a sample treatment,
so our client, Restore Oregon, can see the process from start to finish!

This post is about oil painting the Patriotic Jumper!

We left off with Patriotic at this level of color, above.


One problem with painting the horses is that the carvings are not consistent.  Above, you can see two different carvings, which makes a consistent painting difficult.

First coats on the hooves, above.


The calico corn gets a thick glaze that is worked into
the dents and lines,
then wiped off.

Interesting fact, that dent corn (which is the manner the corn was carved) is not a calico corn, but these horses were painted in this manner and we are following that pattern.

Finally our sunflower is looking like it should, and a second coat is placed on the blues.


Horseshoes get their silver coats…

… and silver is placed into the tail carvings for emphasis.

DAY 10


The red gets its second coat.

I painted the final coats
on the flag on the
anniversary of September 11, one of those days where
we know where we were
when we heard the news.

He is really beginning to look like he is complete…
But not quite!  Nose, ears, mussel… there is more!

Next post (when published), Patriotic is completed…

Follow us for updates on the happenings at the stable!

We will continue to take you behind the scenes!
Search “JBC” or “Jantzen Beach” in our search feature (right) for more posts.
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Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

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Dutch Ladderback Ca 1600

Edit, update: The chair featured in this article is very old. It was probably well into it’s use at the time Henry Hudson first made his way up the river which became his namesake.  It was originally a woven seat. It was never meant to be upholstered.  Once the die was cast, the first upholstering created untold damage to the old and fragile rails, and there was no
possibility of going back to its previous woven construction.

There are many things about this chair’s construction and materials which deserve defining and exploration.  In this brief article I only alluded to those particulars. That said, all the decisions made relative to materials and engineering were considered relative to the impact of the historic parts and the long term preservation of this historical, structural, decorative object.  Once tacks and staples were introduced to the foundational members the seat structure was evermore compromised, as we discuss. The lignum vitae side-rails were split making it impossible for them to withstand the shearing forces created by a woven seats tensions.

As the piece was to continue to grace a home (not a museum), I settled upon a plan of practical engineering which would allow for weight distribution to be spread over the surface of a cushion while also minimizing the impact of downward forces upon the historic structure.  Ultimately, almost all downward and oblique forces were removed from the fragile side rails and instead transferred to the newly fashioned front
and rear rails, floating plywood platform and goose down cushion. MRP

It started when our client noticed her family chair collapsed in the front.  Prior to the 20th century, this chair was a woven seagrass seat.  Someone decided to upholster it.  When we brought it in for treatment, we were not prepared for the “hack job” performed during its last  conversion.  A previous upholsterer used an old plywood sign to bridge
the aprons, and applied one piece of webbing to secure the platform, along with various nails and hardware.

When we fully and carefully excavated
the chair, we found both front and
back apron were terribly eroded by
beetle infestations.  The cause of the
collapse of the apron at the right-facing
leg to apron join was that a good deal
of the apron was missing.
Rather than repair the problem,
previous poor upholsterers had
continued with their “slap-dash” fixes,
this time using a single piece of
webbing to hold up the platform,
or seat deck. Also, the pressure of the
right-facing apron not holding its own weight caused the left-facing apron
mortice to pull down and split the
left-facing leg in multiple places.

Further, the lignum vitae siderails had been split along multiple radial lines
from prior successive indiscriminate applications of decorative nails.
Compounding these splintering breaks and voids fragmented sharp staples protruded from the surface and deep gouges to the surface from the sloppy use of previous upholsterer’s ripping chisels used during the removal of previous upholstery covers.

The first thing we did was to remove a gazillion staples and repair the damage previously created by many tack holes in the side aprons. Nail holes were filled with hide glue and hard picks were tapped into each.
This effectively fills the voids in the lingum vitae and creates a stronger side apron.  Due to
age and tight construction,
we elected not to disassemble and replace the siderails.

A Japanese saw  carefully cuts
the pins to the surface, and
these are gently sanded flat.

Old mortices were carefully bored of remnants of mortice and glues.

The centuries old chair was too fragile to be taken completely apart, so an innovative apron was designed to allow a new apron to slip into the space.  Having seldom seen this kind of response to the dilemma of age,
my parameters for the new aprons were:

  1. to lock or snap into place as
    the legs could not be splayed to
    insert a new apron,
  2. to conform to the original
    hand-shaped legs,
  3. to be no bigger than the slim
    profile of the original apron,
  4. and when all parts were in place,
    to be locked into position as
    a strong unified structure.

To that end I designed an interlocking tenoned bridge.
I used Eastern hard maple for both its slight surface crushing ability and its ability
to hold a tenon when kerfed.  For the kerfed bridge spline/tenon I chose
a thick sliced tangential grain rosewood with white oak locking pens.

Each new apron was made
of several pieces:

  1. Two hand-shaped
    Eastern hard maple
    parts to make each
    apron with Eastern hard maple dowel inserted
    into each end,
  2. A long locking tangential grain rosewood bridge,
  3. Two smaller locking
    center joints at the fulcrum, also of rosewood, top and bottom,
  4. Four hard white oak pins to unify the center joint.

Once assembled using hide glues and a mixture of gap-filling PVA,
the apron was stronger than the originals, and also beautiful.
I was sorry to have to cover it up!
The new design prosthetic accepted the upholstery perfectly.

In an ideal world the chair might have been returned to its original woven seat.

I did not want to place webbing around the side aprons as an additional seat support because of their modest connection (girth of tenons) and their previous mishandling by upholsterers.  I settled upon the structural bridge and attached the plywood to the
two new rails.  The original plywood signboard was actually a piece of
early 20th century ply, which was made of solid wood core instead of layered veneers.

The plywood was cut in the center to allow for a cushion drop, and furred out to accept foundational webbing.  This effectively dropped the center of gravity in the seat allowing for greater comfort during sitting once the fresh down cushion was installed.

Our client did not want a new silk showcover and asked us to utilize the existing show cover.  Our second problem was the previous upholsterers had cut the original silk seat deck show cover with NO extra margin beyond the eroded stapled edges — they had literally cut it to barely cover the edge of the desk.  The edges were tattered from the staples.  I used a second piece of silk to reinforce and allow for a new secure edge, and also cleaned up the tattered edges by overlocking the edges so they were no longer unraveling.

Hair and cotton batting to soften the edges, and the new deck
was placed onto the repaired seat with just enough room!

The previous cushion was replaced by a new handmade down cushion with baffles to keep the feathers from migrating.  I also reinforced the edges of the original show cover as the prior upholsterers had not overcast the edges, so the cushion silk would not unravel.
Note:  The shape of the cushion was not redesigned, just restuffed.
Now, as the cushion is sat upon the down will compress over time, allowing the sitter to not only drop into the seat properly, but will also insure that the sitter’s weight will now be evenly distributed over the entire chair’s structural surface, mitigating the potential destructive downward force upon the four hundred year old frame.

With a little bit of extra care by the owner and the careful choosing
of future upholsterers, this chair should grace their home for another century.

Before and after, with
and without cushion, above.


Written by Mitchell Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

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