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Thursday, May 31 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Wooden Artifacts) A case study of the examination and conservation treatment of a mid-18th c. American made chair, and the processes of recreating missing carved elements using traditional methods.

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In 1857, Thomas U. Walter designed the chairs and desks that would furnish the Hall of Representatives for the Thirty-fifth United States Congress. Designs for the chair were completed in the spring of 1857, and an order of 262 chairs was split between two separate manufactures. The deadline for the chairs was for December 1st 1857. The MFA, Boston acquired 1 of the 262 chairs in 1980. The armchair’s structure was stable, but the surface was in very poor condition and there was extensive loss of the decorative carved wood molding. The chair was missing molding on both front leg corners, and the entire length of molding under the proper left seat rail. The molding had a beveled edge design with a carved heart and dart pattern on the top surface. Due to the large quantity of the missing moldings, it was decided that fills would be carved from oak to match the surviving molding. In order to draft and carve the fills, an examination was carried out to understand the original methods used to make the chair. This included identifying which parts were machine-made verses handmade. During a visual examination, it became apparent that the chair’s frame was machine cut, and the decorative elements were hand carved. X-ray analysis confirmed that majority of the hand carved molding was simply glued to the main frame. This evidence supported the idea that the chair was part of an assembly line production system. Several attempts of the fills were made using different degrees of machine and hand tooling. Creating the fills using traditional methods proved to be very successful. It also revealed the skills and shortcuts of the original manufacturer. There was very little historical documentation about the chair in the museum records. However, it did state that the attributed maker was Bembé and Kimbel, a New York City based company. During the mid-18th c., the Bembé and Kimbel company was well establish and greatly acclaimed for their high quality of handmade furniture. Based on the evidence found during the chair’s initial examination, suspicion arose over the attributed maker of the chair. Further investigation lead to the second manufacturer that helped complete the large order of chairs. The Desk Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia was contracted to help fulfill half of the order. The company was commissioned because they advertised their fast, large scale machine manufacturing techniques. The evidence of the chair’s construction, as well as additional historical documentation, helped confirm that the MFA’s chair was made by The Desk Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia. This investigation of the materials helped reveal the methods and techniques of the original makers, and helped provide evidence towards the correct authentication. It also helped with the process of using traditional methods to create large fills. A full case study of the conservation treatment will be presented to discuss this investigation and the results of using traditional materials as part of the treatment.

avatar for Christine Storti

Christine Storti

Head of Furniture and Frame Conservation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
CHRISTINE STORTI, née Schaette, is the head of furniture and frame conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She received her diploma in the conservation of wooden artifacts and contemporary materials from the University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, Germany, in 2006. During... Read More →


Gordon Hanlon

Head of Furniture and Frame Conservation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gordon Hanlon joined the MFA as Head of Furniture and Frame Conservation in January 2000 after 12 years at the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. After receiving his BA in Biology from the University of York he studied first furniture making at the London College of Furniture followed... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm MDT
Kingwood Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Wooden Artifacts