History and Conservation

Painted Wood: History and Conservation

Edited by Valerie Dorge and F. Carey Howlett


552 pages

PDF file size: 24.5 MB


The function of the painted wooden object ranges from the practical to the profound. These objects may perform utilitarian tasks, convey artistic whimsy, connote noble aspirations, and embody the highest spiritual expressions. This volume, illustrated in color throughout, presents the proceedings of a conference organized by the Wooden Artifacts Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and held in November 1994 at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The book includes forty articles that explore the history and conservation of a wide range of painted wooden objects, from polychrome sculpture and altarpieces to carousel horses, tobacconist figures, Native American totems, Victorian garden furniture, French cabinets, architectural elements, and horse-drawn carriages. A broad range of professionals—including art historians, curators, scientists, and conservators—will be interested in this volume and in the multidisciplinary nature of its articles.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
    Miguel Angel Corzo
  • Preface
    Valerie Dorge, F. Carey Howlett
  • Part One: Understanding and Identifying Materials
    • Wood as a Physical Surface for Paint Application
      R. Bruce Hoadley
    • Paints Based on Drying-Oil Media
      David Erhardt
    • Tempera and Other Nondrying-Oil Media
      Richard Newman
    • Microscopic Examination and Analysis of the Structure and Composition of Paint and Varnish Layers
      James S. Martin
  • Part Two: Historical Perspectives
    • Support and Polychromy of Altarpieces from Brussels, Mechlin, and Antwerp: Study, Comparison, and Restoration
      Myriam Serck-Dewaide
    • Painted Italian Picture Frames in the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Collection at the National Gallery of Art
      Nacie C. Ravenel
    • The Imitation of Natural Materials in Architectural Interiors
      Ian C. Bristow
    • Royal Painted Furniture in King Charles I’s England
      James Yorke
    • Perished Perches: The Evidence for English Painted Wooden Furniture in Eighteenth-Century Gardens
      Elizabeth White
    • Shaker Painted Furniture: Provocative Insights into Shaker Paints and Painting Techniques
      Susan L. Buck
  • Part Three: Historical Materials and Techniques
    • Form and Polychromy: Two Different Concepts in One Object, Notes on Seventeenth-Century Sculpture Workshop Practices in Bavaria
      Hans Portsteffen
    • Reconstruction and Analysis of Bismuth Painting
      Renate Gold
    • Japanning in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Brief Discussion of Some Materials and Methods
      Margaret J. Ballardie
    • Painted Harpsichords
      Laurence Libin
    • Floral Painting on Early Eighteenth-Century American Furniture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
      Frances Gruber Safford
    • Chinese Motifs in the Baroque Art of Minas Gerais, Brazil: Historical and Technical Aspects
      Luiz A. C. Souza, Cristina Avila
    • A Short Primer on the White-Painted Furnishings of Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia
      Chris A. Shelton
    • The Use of Dyes and Colored Varnishes in Wood Polychromy
      Jonathan Thornton
    • Verte Antique Decoration on American Furniture: History, Materials, Techniques, Technical Investigations
      Robert D. Mussey Jr.
    • An Investigation of the Nature of Paint on Wood Objects in the Indigenous Southwest of North America
      Nancy N. Odegaard
    • The Painted Furniture and Wooden Decorative Arts of Lucia and Arthur Mathews
      Mark A. Harpainter, Christopher C. Augerson
  • Part Four: Investigations and Treatment
    • Monochromy, Polychromy, and Authenticity: The Cloisters’ Standing Bishop Attributed to Tilman Riemenschneider
      Michele D. Marincola, Jack Soultanian
    • Conservation of the Fourteenth-Century Ceiling at Saint Helen’s Church, Abingdon
      Anna C. Hulbert
    • The Interior Decor of the Ursuline Chapel in Quebec City: Research and Conservation
      Claude Payer, Marie-Claude Corbeil, Colombe Harvey, Elizabeth Moffatt
    • The Painted Tester Bedstead at Agecroft Hall
      Elizabeth Howard Schmidt
    • Four Japanned Cabinets: A Variety of Techniques
      Marianne Webb
    • The Hunnewell Cottage: Preservation and Re-creation of a Nineteenth-Century Exterior Paint Scheme
      Andrea M. Gilmore
    • Technology and Conservation of Decorative Surface Systems of Horse-Drawn Vehicles
      Marc A. Williams, Merri M. Ferrell, Jennifer Baker
    • The Importance of Conservation to Research: A Case Study
      Merri M. Ferrell
    • The Treatment of Painted Wooden Folk Art
      Stephen L. Ray, Julie A. Reilly
    • Jeffrey: Horse of a Different Color
      Rick H. Parker, Peter L. Sixbey
  • Part Five: Ethical Considerations
    • Painted Memory, Painted Totems
      Andrew Todd
    • The Philosophy of Aesthetic Reintegration: Paintings and Painted Furniture
      Wendy Hartman Samet
    • Conservation of Folk Art: Shelburne Museum’s Collection and Approach
      Valerie Reich Hunt
    • Collaborations Past and Present: A Classical Success Story
      Lynne Dakin Hastings, Deborah Bigelow
    • Applied Aesthetics: Restoring the Original Cornice Decoration at Olana
      Deborah S. Gordon
  • Part Six: Scientific Research
    • Structural Response of Painted Wood Surfaces to Changes in Ambient Relative Humidity
      Marion F. Mecklenburg, Charles S. Tumosa, David Erhardt
    • Factors Affecting the Re-Treatment of Previously Consolidated Matte Painted Wooden Objects
      Eric F. Hansen, Mitchell Hearns Bishop
    • The Ultrasonic Mister: Applications in the Consolidation of Powdery Paint on Wooden Artifacts
      Stefan Michalski, Carole Dignard, Lori van Handel, David Arnold
    • Poly(2-Ethyl-2-Oxazoline): A New Conservation Consolidant
      Richard C. Wolbers, Mary McGinn, Deborah Duerbeck
  • Contributors
  • Illustration Credits

About the Authors

David Arnold has worked as an intern at the Henry Ford Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Houston Museum of Fine Art (Bayou Bend Collection), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He was a J. Paul Getty intern in furniture conservation at Colonial Williamsburg in 1995 and joined the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities as conservator of furniture in 1996.

Christopher C. Augerson was an advanced intern in the conservation of traditional European polychrome sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from 1992 to 1993 and, from 1994 to 1995, in objects conservation at the Saint Louis Art Museum, where he focused on the conservation of European and Oceanic painted wooden artifacts.

Cristina Avila has worked as an art historian for several state and private organizations responsible for cultural property in Minas Gerais. She is currently working as an art history consultant. She is also the president of the Center of Studies of the Baroque in Minas Gerais and the editor of the journal Barroco, published by the Center.

Jennifer Baker established a private conservation practice in Burlington, Vermont. She is an associate member of the American Institute for Conservation.

Margaret J. Ballardie joined the Conservation Department at the City and Guilds of London Art School as a tutor and, from 1981 to 1984, was head of the department. She is working on private commissions and is continuing research into the history and methods of the decorative arts, including gesso work, gilding, verre églomise, lacquer, and japanning.

Deborah Bigelow established Deborah Bigelow Associates in 1981, a company that has since developed a distinguished practice in the conservation treatment of decorative furniture finishes, consulting for major museums and private collections across the United States.

Mitchell Hearns Bishop joined the staff of the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1979 and has worked in several of the entities of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He is a research coordinator for the Documentation Program of the Getty Conservation Institute.

Ian C. Bristow is an architect who specializes in the repair of historic buildings. He developed expertise in historic architectural color in the United Kingdom, through a research project at the University of York from 1975 to 1978, and since then has been in private practice advising on the investigation and re-creation of historic color schemes of seventeenth-century and later dates.

Susan L. Buck was furniture conservator at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) Conservation Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. She is particularly interested in understanding and treating painted and gilded objects, using the information provided by cross-sectional microscopy paint analysis and pigment identification.

Marie-Claude Corbeil has worked in the Analytical Research Services Division of the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) since 1988, performing analyses of museum objects, and is currently a senior conservation scientist. She was CCI’s coordinator for the Ursuline Chapel project and was the CCI representative on the project advisory committee.

Carole Dignard has been working in the Objects Section of the Canadian Conservation Institute since 1988 and is now senior assistant conservator.

Valerie Dorge has worked as a coordinator in the Training Program of the Getty Conservation Institute since 1992. From 1980 to 1992, she was a wooden objects conservator at the Canadian Conservation Institute, with a special interest in painted surfaces. She is coordinator of the Furniture and Wooden Objects Group of the ICOM Committee for Conservation, is a professional associate of the AIC.

Deborah Duerbeck is an assistant conservator at Art Conservation and Technical Services in Baltimore, Maryland.

David Erhardt joined the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, and is currently a senior research chemist.

Merri M. Ferrell is the curator of the Carriage Collection at the Museums at Stony Brook, New York, where she has worked since 1982. She is an advocate for the preservation of original finishes and materials of horse-drawn vehicles and is an associate member of the American Institute for Conservation.

Andrea M. Gilmore is the director of the New England regional office of Building Conservation Associates. She is the former director of Architectural Services at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) Conservation Center. Prior to joining SPNEA, she worked for eight years as an architectural conservator at the National Park Service North Atlantic Historic Preservation Center. She specializes in the study of architectural paints.

Renate Gold was a scientific staff member at the Germanic National Museum, Nuremberg from 1986 to 1993. Since 1993, she has worked on her doctoral dissertation, “Bismuth Painting,” at the University of Würzburg.

Deborah S. Gordon has worked as a restoration coordinator and architectural conservator for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites for more than fifteen years. During this time, she has done extensive analysis of both interior and exterior finishes at the Olana estate.

Eric F. Hansen is an associate scientist who joined the Getty Conservation Institute in 1985. His research interests include the deterioration of natural materials, the factors affecting the treatment of painted objects, and the properties of polymers used in conservation. He was chair of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) subgroup on Research and Technical Studies in 1993 and became a fellow of the AIC in 1992.

Mark A. Harpainter began restoring furniture in 1975, apprenticing with a private dealer of antiques in California. He has operated a private furniture conservation practice in Berkeley, California, from 1983 to the present.

Colombe Harvey was involved in the restoration of ceramics and glass for the archaeological service of Quebec’s Department of Cultural Affairs, then set up her own team of conservators. Since 1986, she has carried out sculpture conservation at the CCQ. She was senior conservator on the Ursuline Chapel project.

Lynne Dakin Hastings has been the curator and chief of Museum Services at Hampton since 1981. She also serves as a consultant to several area museums, as well as other National Park Service sites, and conducts study tours for the Smithsonian and National Trust.

R. Bruce Hoadley is a senior technical advisor to the Architectural Woodwork Institute and is a professor in Wood Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with his principal focus in the areas of anatomy and fundamental properties of wood.

F. Carey Howlett is senior conservator and conservator of furniture at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Williamsburg, Virginia. He has served as chair of the Wooden Artifacts Group of the American Institute for Conservation and on the board of directors of the Virginia Conservation Association.

Anna C. Hulbert worked for Pauline Plummer and for E. Clive Rouse, and then established her own conservation practice, specializing in English medieval ecclesiastical polychrome and wall paintings.

Valerie Reich Hunt has developed a specialty in the conservation of painted and composite folk art, as the objects conservator at Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont.

Laurence Libin is the Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, in the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Michele D. Marincola is an associate conservator for The Cloisters, the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. From 1990 until 1995, she was an assistant conservator at the museum.

James S. Martin is director of Analytical Services and Research and associate conservator of paintings at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. He also lectures on scientific analysis of works of art at Williams College and the Conservation Analytical Laboratory. His research interests focus on analysis of painted and coated surfaces.

Mary McGinn is working under contract at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Marion F. Mecklenburg worked as a paintings conservator for twenty years. He is a research scientist investigating the effects of the environment on the mechanical properties of cultural materials.

Stefan Michalski joined the Canadian Conservation Institute in 1979 and is a senior conservation scientist in the Environment and Deterioration Research Services Section. He is a consultant to Canadian museums on architectural, mechanical, and display case aspects of environmental control and is carrying out research on response of paintings to relative humidity, solvents, and temperature.

Elizabeth Moffatt worked in the Analytical Research Services Division of the CCI since 1978 and is currently a senior conservation scientist.

Robert Mussey Jr. is a partner in the private furniture and upholstery conservation laboratory of Robert Mussey Associates. He was the founder and, for eight years, chief furniture conservator of the Furniture Conservation Laboratory, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Boston, Massachusetts. He is working on studies and publications on Boston cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour and on the furniture of the Caribbean and West Indies.

Richard Newman has been research scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, since 1986. Prior to that, he served as sculpture/conservation scientist and assistant conservator of objects at the Harvard University Art Museums. Among his current projects focused on paintings are an analytical study of paint binders and varnishes used on ancient Egyptian artifacts and a collaborative investigation of the binding media of the twentieth-century American painter Arthur Dove.

Nancy Odegaard has been the conservator for the Arizona State Museum since 1983. She is a member of the faculty at the University of Arizona, where she directs interns and teaches. She has also participated in conservation training initiatives in China, Central America, and the United States.

Rick Parker is the senior conservator and owner of Parker Restoration and Conservation Services in Gentry, Arkansas. He is also the senior conservator of American Conservation Consortium’s Midwest Conservation Laboratory. Parker is a professional associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and served as the chairman for the AIC’s Wooden Artifacts Group during 1991 and 1992. He has been a faculty member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Furniture Conservation Training.

Claude Payer has headed the sculpture lab at the Centre de conservation du Québec (CCQ) since 1986. He was in charge of the Ursuline Chapel project.

Hans Portsteffen worked in several conservation workshops for five years. Until June 1994, he had his own workshop in Munich, specializing in sculpture conservation and doing on-site conservation, as well as studio work before teaching at the Fachhochschule Köln, Fachbereich Restaurierung von Kunst-und Kulturgut.

Nancie C. Ravenel was a contract conservator in the Frame Conservation Department at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from 1993 until 1996.

Stephen L. Ray worked as a contract conservator specializing in gilded wood. He joined the staff of the Department of Conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1986 and assisted with the establishment of a Historic Area Conservation Technician program. Until his death in 1997, he was the conservator of objects at Colonial Williamsburg.

Julie A. Reilly worked as an archaeological conservator for the American University in Washington, D.C. In 1986, she joined the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as conservator of objects. From 1991 to 1995, she was conservator of objects at the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, where she also served as associate adjunct professor in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is director of the Gerald Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Frances Gruber Safford is associate curator in the Department of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. American furniture of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries has long been a major focus of her research.

Wendy Hartman Samet is the former paintings conservator at the Winterthur Museum, where she worked from 1988 to 1997 and taught at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She was paintings conservator at the Barnes Foundation and the conservator in charge of the conservation of Whistler’s Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art (1988–92). She is a fellow of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, is a past chairperson of the Painting Specialty Group, and serves on the editorial board for the Paintings Catalogue.

Elizabeth Howard Schmidt held the position of curator of collections at Agecroft Hall for ten years until she retired in January 1994. During her tenure there, she conducted research each year in England and Scotland on the decorative arts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Myriam Serck-Dewaide is head of the sculpture conservation workshop of the Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique in Brussels. She also teaches at the Institut de Formation des Restaurateurs d’Oeuvres d’Art in Paris and at the Ecole des arts visuels de la Cambre in Brussels.

Chris A. Shelton interned in furniture conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and, since 1992, has worked as the associate furniture conservator for the Bayou Bend collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Peter L. Sixbey is conservator and museums coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in Little Rock. He worked at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka; the Kansas City Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri; at Western Paintings Conservation in Denver; and at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne.

Jack Soultanian joined the staff of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, as a senior conservator of objects and, from 1980 until 1986, served as the museum’s chief conservator. Since 1987, he has been both a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, New York, responsible for the conservation of European sculpture, and an adjunct professor of conservation at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

Luiz A. C. Souza has been teaching and conducting research at the Center for Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Movable Properties (CECOR) of the Federal University of Minas Gerais. During 1992–93, Luiz undertook a two-year research fellowship at the Scientific Program of the Getty Conservation Institute, working with materials and techniques of Baroque polychromed sculptures in Brazil.

Jonathan Thornton, after an earlier career as an independent craftsman, began teaching at Cooperstown, New York, in 1980. He teaches object conservation in the same graduate program, which has since moved to Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York. He is presently a full professor.

Andrew Todd is a sculpture conservator in private practice since 1982, first in Calgary and for the past ten years in Vancouver. During this time, treatment projects have been conducted within major institutions, including, most recently, the Sculpture Conservation Laboratory of the National Gallery of Canada. Prior to establishing this practice, he spent seven years with Canada’s two major conservation facilities: Parks Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Charles S. Tumosa was head of the Criminalistics Laboratory in Philadelphia from 1972 to 1989. In 1989, he joined the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution, first as head of Analytical Services and then as a senior research chemist. His areas of interest are the analysis of trace materials and the effects of environment on material properties of cultural materials.

Lori van Handel was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Department of Objects Conservation and Scientific Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston prior to joining the Williamstown Art Conservation Center as assistant conservator and director of field services.

Marianne Webb has been the decorative arts conservator at the Royal Ontario Museum since 1982. She specializes in organic and mixed materials, with a particular interest in oriental lacquer. She worked several years at the Art Gallery of Ontario and has lectured widely both in her home base of Toronto and around the world. She is the coordinator of the ICOM-Committee for Conservation Interim Working Group on Lacquer, now called the Working Group on Lacquer and Furniture.

Elizabeth White joined the curatorial staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She worked initially in the Department of Textiles and Dress, and later in the Furniture and Woodwork Department. Since 1984, she has taught history of applied art at the University of Bristol and has assisted at the American Museum in Britain in the study of the influence of British designers on American furniture.

Marc A. Williams is president of American Conservation Consortium, Ltd., of Fremont, New Hampshire, which provides preservation consultation and treatment of furniture, wooden objects, and horse-drawn vehicles. He is the former chief wooden objects conservator at the Smithsonian Institution and served as the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Furniture Conservation Training Program. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Conservation.

Richard C. Wolbers is an associate professor in the Art Conservation Department, in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.

James Yorke is assistant curator in the Furniture and Woodwork Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is responsible for the furniture archives and library. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in March 1997.