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Saturday, June 2 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Textiles + Wooden Artifacts) “A New Approach to an Old Problem: Comfort and Minimally Intrusive Upholstery”

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In a museum setting, comfort is not a consideration in producing minimally intrusive upholstery. In fact, being uncomfortable guards against furniture use, particularly in a house museum setting. For private collectors who use their furniture in the home, however, this is unacceptable. For almost two decades, the standard approach has been to protect the fragile historic frame with a new, custom-fit, wooden, inner frame that can be upholstered instead to take the strain of traditional webbing, horsehair stuffing, and/or springs. This is more successful on larger furniture which can mask the weight and bulk of a supplementary frame and are often more deeply stuffed. Unfortunately, there have been few options for smaller furniture other than rigid plywood decks with a minimum of padding. Using a new technique, however, we have been able to apply a very conservative approach to delicate side chairs and reduce the number of fasteners and steps involved in producing remarkably comfortable upholstery compensation. This technique uses relief cuts in the thin plywood deck to create a spring effect which mimics the feel of traditional webbed upholstery. The impetus for this technique was the treatment of a set of twelve high-style dining chairs fabricated by Thomas Seymour in Boston c. 1810. These chairs were to be reupholstered with tufted leather seats and a stylish stitched French edge profile that was integral to their interpretation. This would be both labor-intensive and destructive to the frames in traditional upholstery. Adding a separate inner frame would protect the chair but make it heavy and even more costly. Instead a single layer plywood deck cut to be flexible in the center and accommodate the button ties was used to span over the seat rails. Using this new technique was simple, with the benefit of removing the strain and distortion often caused by taught webbing. The resulting conservation saved the client labor on each chair versus traditional upholstery, while also providing a comfortable, conservative, historically accurate compensation. The chairs have been in moderate use for over ten years now. A set of six Duncan Phyfe lotus-back dining chairs from about 1840 were conserved in our shop using the same technique. This set of curvilinear seats was able to be made functional using this technique in spite of the fact that the seat rails were so damaged from years of upholstery that the rails would have needed partial replacement to have been upholstered traditionally.

avatar for Chris Shelton-[PA]

Chris Shelton-[PA]

Principal, Robert Mussey Associates, Inc.
Chris Shelton received his graduate degree in conservation from the University of Delaware/Winterthur Art Conservation Program. He worked for Colonial Williamsburg and for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on their modern and European collections as well as for the Bayou Bend Collection... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm MDT
River Oaks Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston