We recently made another trip to Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, MA. This time we were picking up the two tables on which we had necessary work done. While there I had a tour of our early 19th century settee - currently in the process of conservation with furniture conservators Hugh Glover and Gretchen Guidess.
Gretchen and I examine the original fabric and hair stuffing on the arms of the settee
Furniture conservators employ a method I affectionately call "furniture forensics" to determine the many lives and looks a piece like this settee has gone through over the years. They photograph the object as it looks before work begins and then strip it's show cover to determine the history of the piece. From the description written by the conservators, "By examining and comparing the relative position of the layered textile attachments and the location of occupied and unoccupied tack holes, the following items were determined:
The settee has had four show covers... a black cotton satin weave fabric, followed by a gold fabric of undetermined weave structure, and finally the jacquard tapestry (on the settee since approximately the 1920s). The earliest show cover was a dark colored hair cloth, remnants of which were found under two tack heads along the underside of the front seat rail... the textile structure was observed to have two different elements woven together - one thick and one fine... most likely linen warps and horse hair wefts..."
"The haircloth show cover was decorated with a row of domed nails that were used to outline the seat back, the bottom of the sides and along the front seat rail of the settee. The broken shanks remaining in the frame are square and are corroded green, indicating copper containing metal alloy. The shank shape and alloy components signal early historic brass domed nails. The close spacing and clustering of broken nail shanks suggest two campaigns of decorative domed nails applied to the frame."
The parts remaining on the settee that are original include linen webbing, loosely woven linen base cloths, and curled horsehair stuffing. "During the investigation some inscriptions were revealed. 'AH Bullard/Winchester, Mass' was penciled down the frame element support of the proper right seat back. The proper right arm letters run vertically upward along the top third of the arm: 'Hooky??? Bi???' The outside seat back appears to have several inscriptions but they appear too faint to decipher..."
Gretchen explains the textile structures of the settee, and those of it's original fabrics and elements that are still intact - you can see the curled horsehair stuffing on the settee arm. The white cloth and new stuffing are being added before the new haircloth show cover is applied
Inscriptions too faint for the naked eye were revealed through UV light photographs
"This is an early 19th century straight back sofa with six mahogany legs, brass casters and concave armrests on the ends. The only show-woods are the legs and one stretcher; the front legs have a tapered saber form with reeding on their forward faces; the rear legs are slightly curved..."
Hugh shows the options for domed nails
Tools of the trade
Christine Puza, Gretchen Guidess, Amanda Palmer and Hugh Glover after a wonderful tour of the settee, and a tasty lunch in Hugh's garden