Summaries and reviews of past workshops and events
Course leader: Tristram Bainbridge ACR
The Furniture and Wood Group ran a half-day course to provide the mandatory training and HSE certification required for professionals wishing to purchase and use dichloromethane (DCM)-based paint stripper. Since 2011 the sale and use of DCM strippers was banned for the general public, with professional users allowed to continue after completing training and a competency assessment.
Course outline: principles for safe use of DCM-based paint strippers
The course also focused on the methods and working practices specific to conservators working in institutional or private workshops and studios.
On completion of the course, participants took a brief online competence assessment. On successful completion you will have the HSE-issued certificate required for the purchase and use of DCM strippers.
Symposium postprints and the full schedule of the day can be found here.
The tour took place in four separate departments of the Museum, each covering a different aspect of the Museum’s study, conservation, and storage of its diverse collections of wooden objects. The day included:
Monday 4th September till Tuesday 5th September 2018
Monday 26th to Tuesday 27th March 2018
Using Knole House as a backdrop, these 2-day courses were led by the National Trust’s senior upholstery conservator, Heather Porter.
Open to both Textile and Furniture conservators the aim was to foster an informative exchange of skills and experience at this area of interface between the two specialisms. In large institutions, upholstered objects may be passed between studios for the separate elements of the frame and covers to be treated. In smaller institutions or private practice, a single conservator may have to complete the entire treatment. In either case conservators can benefit from a course focused on providing a holistic overview of approaches to upholstery conservation.
As an introduction to upholstery conservation, these courses enabled students to gain greater knowledge of the history of upholstered furniture with relation to the frame and textiles, and discuss the upholstery materials, tools and techniques used to create them. The methods available to examine existing upholstery, and to understand the physical evidence of original and later phases of work using tack holes and fragments on the frame were also discussed.
Practical sessions introduced participants to the simple upholstery skills necessary to attach and remove textiles from the frame using standard fixed attachments. Pros and cons of these traditional fixings were discussed and provided a framework for discussion about how they can be replaced with less damaging alternative conservation techniques. Textile conservation and treatment of other original upholstery materials were shown alongside modern approaches used for the recreation and application of missing historically accurate upholstery.
Monday 25th September 2017
This one day event, co-organised with the Gilding and Decorative Surfaces Group, involved a tour of the new conservation studios and public showrooms at Knole.
Gerry Alabone, Senior Conservator (Furniture & Frames) presented a talk on the treatment of a unique set of six English derivative ‘Sansovino’ style frames, made c.1639 for the copies of the Raphael cartoons. Attendees were also able to see progress with cleaning tests to bronze-paint on gilding using Erbium: YAG laser.
10:00 Francesca Cialoni and Federica Traversa, Istituto di Restauro delle Marche, Academy of Fine Arts Macerata, Italy
The restoration of a polychrome wooden balcony from the church of ‘San Vincenzo Martire’ in Macerata, Italy
The presentation will describe the conservation and restoration carried out on an 18th century painted and gilded wooden balcony, part of a group of seven other wooden balconies located inside the church of S. Vincenzo Martire in Macerata, Italy, and created between 1763 and 1832. In particular in this presentation will focus on the practical treatment of the balcony. The condition of the balcony will first be described. The practical treatment will then be discussed. This work included the reconstruction of missing gilded wooden carvings, the consolidation of degraded paint layers and wooden surfaces, and the reconstruction of the structure using a range of traditional and contemporary jointing and stabilization methods.
10:30 Charles Stable, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh
Houses in Motion: Reconstruction and Installation of the Hamilton Palace State Drawing Room at the National Museum Scotland
In 2014 National Museums Scotland (NMS) commenced a major 3-year capital project to develop 10 galleries to display the museum’s decorative art and technology collections. One of these new galleries highlights 13th-19th century European decorative art including objects previously in the ownership of the Dukes of Hamilton. As a focal point of this gallery it was proposed to reconstruct part of the State Drawing Room from Hamilton Palace, Lanarkshire. This paper aims to outline the key elements of this project and the challenges of reconstructing a period room interior as one element of a museum refurbishment project. A range of both logistical and treatment decisions will be discussed. As part of this project innovative methods of engaging with the public via social media and press releases were also used allowing the project to contribute significantly to the museum’s fundraising efforts. This media content was included in gallery digital interactives as part of the display and interpretation and will also be discussed as part of this talk.
11:30 Tirza Mol, University of Antwerp/Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Nigritella Nigra: the conservation of a contemporary chest of drawers
The treatment of a chest of drawers, ‘Nigritella Nigra’ (1993), by the Italian architect, writer, designer and painter Alessandro Mendini will be discussed. His work often combines materials contrasting in colour and texture and Nigritella Nigra is a good example of this. The object (97 cm x 50 cm, H 110 cm) is composed of five encased drawers on a base. Particular attention will be paid to the treatment of the topmost drawer case, painted by the artist Lucio Giudici, which was affected by numerous lacunas and a peeling finish, which make it difficult to read the drawings. The talk will address the decision-making processes involved in this treatment, including the choice and motivation for a specific consolidant and the application technique. The decision whether or not to retouch the lacunas (and the eventual technique and materials used) will also be discussed.
12:00 Ines Bravo, City and Guilds of London Art School, London
Deconstructing the history of a 17th-Century footstool
The early 17th-century polychrome wooden footstool that will be examined in this talk belongs to a wider set of furniture that comprises of an x-frame chair, a back stool, and two stools, which are all currently at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent. The method of construction of the footstool is a clear indication that it was most likely originally a different piece of furniture that was reassembled in an unusual way to construct this footstool. Comparing the individual components of the footstool to the other pieces of furniture of the same set provided the clues to what the original piece of furniture may have been. Revealing this entangled web, by identifying the materials and deconstructing the history of the footstool, was important in deciding the most appropriate treatment approach, which will also be discussed.
12:30 Jurgen Huber, Wallace Collection, London
Riesener Revealed: Documentation and Observation…The Journey So Far
This talk describes work undertaken as part of the ‘Riesener Project’. The aim of the project is to document the construction, techniques, and materials employed in pieces attributed to Jean Henri Riesener. The goal is to better understand Riesener’s workshop practices, to confirm our existing knowledge regarding past alterations, and to discover previously unsuspected alterations. The use of modern technology to digitally re-create impressions of the furniture in former times, and to visualise any changes in appearance will also be discussed. We have already established that some constructional details are repeated throughout all the pieces examined so far, and further research will help to provide a base for comparative technological and art-historical/archival study.
2:00, Oliver Heal, Historian, furniture restorer, and former chairman of Heal’s
Sir Ambrose Heal – between Arts & Crafts and Utility
Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959) – furniture designer, manufacturer, and retailer - was the man who established the reputation for good design for which the Heal’s furnishing business in London is still known. He was a very significant figure in design and retail developments in early 20th century Britain, making distinctive, well-made furniture available at reasonable prices to a broad middle-class public. He was in effect the link between the largely unrealised 19th century ideals of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement and the basic Utility furniture introduced by Sir Gordon Russell during World War Two. His grandson, Oliver Heal, who published a major reference work on the subject in 2014, will give this illustrated talk about his life and work.
2:30 Chelsea McKibbin, Natural History Museum, London
Conserving One of Natures Giants: Treatment of a Sequoia Transection
A transection of a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), 4.5 metres in diameter, has been on display in the central hall of the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) since 1893. This talk covers its recent conservation as part of a gallery redevelopment. The primary aims of this treatment were to clean and condition check the specimen, revive the facing surface and stabilise the bark. The previous condition of the giant sequoia will be discussed along with details of the range of previous treatments evident and how they have deteriorated over time. The present treatment process will then be detailed including efforts to clean and consolidate the surface, as well as the use of gelled systems to remove previous coatings. Combining techniques from furniture, paintings and natural history conservation has not only revived this specimen for continued display, but has ensured its preservation for years to come.
3:00 Boudewien Westra, Plowden & Smith Ltd., London
The conservation of nine Japanese botanical panel paintings
This talk describes the conservation of a group of nine panels that arrived at the studios of Plowden & Smith Ltd., containing Japanese botanical paintings. It is believed that these panels are late 19th century and are currently owned by a private client. Each piece features wood from a particular tree, with a radial plane panel framed by the associated bark and depicting several flowers, leaves and fruit of the corresponding tree, along with paper labels giving the tree species in Latin and Japanese. During the symposium, several aspects of the Japanese panels will be discussed. Firstly the construction of the panels, the painting techniques and label characteristics will be described. Following this, the considerations, methods and results of the conservation treatment of the labels, wooden surfaces and painted areas will be discussed.
Thursday 17th November 2016, 10am - 2pm
As a run-up to the Stichting Ebenist event, the symposium attendees were invited to partake in a day of additional learning experience. A guided visit around the Arts Conservation Studios of the Rijks Museum was followed by an optional visit to the museum galleries. After lunch, the day continued with a visit to the conservation stores of the Amsterdam Historisch Museum.
Review: "Seeing Stars: Behind the Scenes at The Museums" by Rachel Dealey
The Night Watch may be considered one of Rembrandt’s greatest works, but look up to the ceiling in the rooms to either side of it in the Rijksmuseum and you will see a glorious 21st Century galaxy of 47,130 hand painted stars by Turner prizewinner Richard Wright, commissioned to celebrate the building’s astonishing renovation.
This was a day of counterpoints and contrasts.
Huddled outside a building behind one of the world’s greatest museums on a cold, wet and blustery November day in Amsterdam, our small group of conservators gathered and the tour began.
The traditional exterior of the ‘Ateliergebouw’, home to the Rijksmuseum Conservation Centre, gave way to an ultra-modern interior, where the decor and furnishings are pristine and white.
In the light, bright furniture conservation studio, Senior Conservator Iskander Breebaart, our host for the morning, introduced us to their current projects:
An imposing carved early-17th Century cabinet attributed to Herman Doomer, partially stripped and re-polished; intricate filigree carved wood, with newly-fashioned pieces inserted seamlessly; scale ship models with new stringers and rigging; and a gold-and-black fragment of aventurine awaiting analysis.
In the window a graduated stack of apparently gift-wrapped boxes - actually an artwork by a living artist - prompted a lively discussion about the ethics of conservation, restoration and enhancements to contemporary pieces.
At the end of the morning tour, Iskander led us to the Rijksmuseum itself where we spent an all-too-short hour in the 17th Century galleries, just enough time to walk around and absorb the soul-soothing beauty of the place.
At the medieval heart of Amsterdam’s UNESCO listed 17th century canal ring, the double-fronted townhouse of museum Willet-Holthuysen, was full of surprises. Thanks to conservators Jaap Boonstra and Paul Born of the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, we were able to explore every inch of this character-full building, up into the eaves and out onto the rooftop.
From the intriguing gentleman’s parlour, to the mezzanine pantry with its chic dinner service and silverware, this museum was a real gem. We were privileged to have access to these areas accompanied by expert guidance.
If you are ever fortunate enough to visit, be sure to look up into the octagonal conservatory - you may not see stars here, but recent research has uncovered an original ceiling painting with grapes, leaves, butterflies and flowers, in delicious pale yellows, greens and blues. Perfect.
July 2016, The Wooburn Craft School, Wooburn Town, Buckinghamshire
The furniture and wood group have successfully run another of its French upholstery courses with Laurent Laine, from Ecole Boulle in Paris. Two enthusiastic students, Kathryn Nisbet and Hannah Thompson received almost undivided attention from Laurent, resulting in a very intensive and fulfilling course.
The French Upholstery Class and the objects produced. Laurent Laine, Hannah Thompson and Kathryn Nisbet.
As both students were new to French Upholstery, the starting project was a buttoned square footstool (for more advanced students, the project takes the form of a Louis XVI style chair).
Each of the students finished their buttoned footstool as well as one extra project. While Kathryn chose an oval back, Hannah chose to make a cushion to hold her upholstery tools.
Whilst the techniques for English and French upholstery are very similar, one of the key differences is the stitching - both Kathryn and Hannah were excited to learn about these differences, for example the very tightly stitched base on which the horsehair is placed, in preparation for the French style of buttoning.
Although the turn out was less than anticipated, it turned out to be a great week; intensive, fun, smooth running and in a fantastic location.
“I thought that the course was good value for money – an intensive short course is a great way to learn, as you can immerse yourself without distraction, and get good continuous hours in the workshop. I would love to do another course here, and would happily recommend it to anyone either beginner or expert. The course has inspired me to continue pursuing a career in upholstery, particularly working with antiques and upholstery conservation.”
- Hannah Thompson, July 2016
“I have spent my week here learning French upholstery from a Master Upholsterer/craftsman (Laurent Laine), who in my opinion is the 'guru' of the upholstery world. Laurent is an excellent teacher, you learn at your own pace he will demonstrate every process for you and repeat it time and time again if necessary. I have learnt many new skills from Laurent and am looking forward to practicing them in all my future work. If you have never done any upholstery before or if you are an accomplished upholsterer and have never practiced French upholstery technics, then this is the course for you. I loved every second of this course :) 5 stars “
- Kathryn Nisbet, July 2016
Notes about the Students:
Hannah Thompson runs her upholstery business in the West Sussex area near Petsworth. She has a level 2 diploma in Upholstery from Chichester College and a BSc Hons in Conservation and Restoration from London Metropolitan University.
Kathryn Nisbet operates in the South Oxfordshire area, she has both a level 2 and a Level 3 diploma from The Association of Master Upholsterers in Hertfordshire where she past with distinction.
This one-day workshop focused on the use of synthetic resins as coatings for use in the conservation of furniture and other related objects. Participants learned how to mix and apply a range of coatings and will work on preparing their own sample boards for future reference.
Instructor: Tristram Bainbridge is a furniture conservator & lecturer working at the Victoria & Albert Museum and in private practice. He is Associate Tutor in furniture conservation at West Dean College.
The former head of the upholstery programme at Ecolle Boule in Paris taught a week-long course in French upholstery techniques. Laurent Lainé, former head tutor at the leading school of furniture related skills - Ecole Boulle in Paris - currently teaches design at Ecolle Boulle and he works for many of the leading museums in France including Versailles and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Laurent gave a one-hour lecture each day on a related topic then guided each participant in completing their chosen upholstery project.