conservation

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

Mel’s Wax Available ~January 24!

Wish me luck!  After years of product development and clearing the decks at the Barn on White Run, and finding reliable suppliers for some of the esoteric materials involved (still crossing my fingers on that one), I am thrilled to announce that Mel’s Wax will be in the donsbarn.com Store in the coming days and could begin shipping on or about January 24, 2019.

This is a hand-made ultra high performance archival furniture maintenance product, fussy to formulate and manufacture.  On a good day doing nothing else I can produce 40-50 jars.  But rarely is there a day when I do nothing else.

More complete information on the creation, properties and utility of Mel’s Wax will be posted here and at a currently-under-development web site dedicated to it, which will go live as soon as I can get all the documents created for it.  Eventually that web site will also include detailed video about using it and other related topics.

To give you a snapshot of this product I have posted below some testimonials and the text of the instructional brochure that will accompany each jar.

Mel’s Wax will be $49 for a 4 oz. jar, domestic shipping included.  A little goes a very long way.

***THIS PRODUCT WILL NOT BE SHIPPED TO CALIFORNIA.*** 

Do not complain to me, complain to your state gubmint officials and the environmental trial lawyers they are attached to.

 

Here are some of the comments by product testers over the past couple of years.

I do know that [name deleted] has used it quite a bit and likes it. I used it on one commission piece and it worked really nice. It went from really soft to remarkably hard like magic.

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I cleaned the [artifact] and retouched where necessary then as a final layer applied a very thin layer of Mel’s Wax.  She just came back one year later and [Mel’s Wax] helped substantially and though it needs cleaning again but does not have the hazy (ugly) look.  My client was very happy!  Thank you for giving me the tools and materials to think this through.

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The pictures I will send you are of a small table that I first polished out with extra fine polishing compound and a wheel buffer. Then I applied [Mel’s Wax] to half of the top, buffed it by hand and compared the two halves.  I see a difference between the waxed and un-waxed sides. The waxed side has more luster and gives the surface more depth. There is enough of a difference that would make me reach for the wax on a similar project.

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a really lovely 1889 German music box came into my life today and I used [Mel’s Wax] to clean and polish the original finish , which I suspect is shellac though I did not test it, the metal disc also had a treatment with [Mel’s Wax] and I really am happy with the performance of the wax.  It’s very very thin and I like that immensely, it dried very quickly in my 75 degree shop with about 70 percent humidity, and buffed to very pleasing sheen, using a cotton tee shirt scrap


 

[Buffing, Streaking, and Smudging] is where Mel’s Wax excels. My test case is the dining table in this home. It appears to be only a wax finish on the original parts of the top and getting an even shine is difficult. In the past, [another product] was my go-to wax for this job. Mel’s Wax eclipsed [the other wax] in both ease of application and speed in buffing. Best of all, it buffed smudge and streak free–the buffing took a fraction of the time I usually spent buffing out the [other wax].


 

I found Mel’s Wax to be excellent for prophylactic waxing, especially over already waxed surfaces. I would say that I cut my application and buffing time in half from what I usually spent using [other products] and got streak-free finishes. I still have my arsenal of other waxes for either, jobs not worthy of Mel’s Wax, or jobs where Mel’s Wax isn’t an appropriate choice. I think it would be an excellent household wax as I don’t think it could be “over-used”.

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The Mel’s Wax Instructional Brochure (will be included with every jar)

Mel’s Wax is a patented high-performance semi-liquid, easy-to-use furniture care product created by museum furniture conservators for their own professional use. Mel’s Wax is appropriate for priceless antiques, treasured family heirlooms, wooden objects d’art, and even architectural woodworking. Mel’s Wax does not need “elbow grease” for either application or buffing.

WARNING: DO NOT USE on food preparation surfaces or utensils. DO NOT USE on fragile or flaking furniture surfaces, or surfaces sensitive to mineral spirits or water.

DIRECTIONS FOR USE

1. Shake the jar of Mel’s Wax before using.
2. First perform this fast, simple test to make sure that Mel’s Wax will not harm the surface of your furniture.

Apply small dab of Mel’s Wax to an inconspicuous area with a clean, soft cloth or cotton swab, making sure that this area has the same finish and appearance as the rest the piece. Gently rub on Mel’s Wax, wait about 5 minutes, then wipe the area with a clean cotton swab or cosmetics pad. You may notice dirt and grime on the swab, but if the test area looks sound and a bit shiny, you can proceed.

3. Apply a small amount with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth in a well-ventilated area. A little goes a LONG way, less is better. After applying Mel’s Wax you should see an even, slightly glossy residue over the area being treated, indicating you have used enough Mel’s Wax. This gloss may diminish as the polish dries.
4. Wait until completely dry. Generally an hour is sufficient.
5. Gently buff the surface with a second, clean, soft, lint-free cloth. Thorough and gentle rubbing with the cloth is all that is necessary for the polish to produce its luster.
6. Store the sealed jar of Mel’s Wax in a cool place; Mel’s Wax contains natural and synthetic ingredients including petroleum distillate, but no preservatives or stabilizers. Do not let it freeze.

Your furniture is now protected and enhanced with Mel’s Wax and ready for storage, exhibit, or use.

ROUTINE CARE: For pieces treated with Mel’s Wax, ongoing care requires only periodic dusting with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth dampened with a few drops of distilled water. If the surface is dirty, put a few drops of a mild detergent in 8oz. of distilled water and use it to make a damp (not soaking wet) cleaning cloth. Then wipe using a second clean, soft, lint-free cloth dampened with distilled water alone, and finally wipe with a third, clean, dry, soft, lint-free cloth. For furniture in daily use you may have to re-apply Mel’s Wax every few months. If your furniture is not often handled or used, you may not need to re-apply Mel’s Wax for many years.

DISCLAIMER: Follow all directions above. Mel’s Wax is not a substitute for a furniture finish. It has been designed as a museum quality maintenance coating to preserve a wide variety of existing furniture finishes. It is not intended for high-stress surfaces like wooden food-preparation counters or utensils, or floors. If the surface still appears “parched” after buffing, the problem is likely with the artifact’s surface.

SAFETY/CAUTION: Mel’s Wax is a chemical product, not intended for human, animal, or plant consumption. Apply in a well ventilated area while wearing eye protection. Wear non-latex surgical-type disposable gloves when applying Mel’s Wax or wash your hands afterwards with soap and water. Keep out of reach of children. Dispose of any materials used for applying Mel’s Wax as you would any other household cleaning products.

What is “Mel’s Wax?”

This is an archival quality product which will protect the surface finish of your furniture, thereby preserving the finish while the furniture it remains in careful use. Mel’s Wax has proven to be an excellent product for furniture in typical domestic use. It provides a durable lustrous appearance, easily maintained with gentle dusting and cleaning.

Each ingredient of Mel’s Wax was selected after careful scientific review, and Mel’s Wax was formulated to enhance ease-of-use and reduce any harmful effects to artifacts that can be caused by many commercial furniture care products.

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***THIS PRODUCT WILL NOT BE SHIPPED TO CALIFORNIA.*** 

 

 

Workbench Wednesday – Gravitating Towards FORP

Since setting up my studio in the barn more than a half dozen years ago I have concentrated my small objects d’art conservation projects and related fine work on a tiny Sjoberg workbench in the corner underneath the propane wall furnace.

Over the past year I have increasingly gravitated a variety of work to the massive French Oak Roubo Project workbench I began five years ago and finally got it assembled this year and placed on the opposite wall underneath some windows.

In the past couple of months I’ve found the little Sjoberg to be too constraining and am working almost exclusively with the FORP bench.  Yes, it was originally designed and built with heavy-duty furniture making in mind, but my comfort in using it this way is a revelation, and working in front north facing windows is spectacular.

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 3

Back at home after GroopShop 2014 Bill continued to assemble, finish, and augment the folding portable workbench we had built as a demo for GroopShop.

After installing the folding diagonal leg braces he gave it a trial run and found it to be too light for his tastes.  Plenty sturdy enough but too light to work with comfortably.  So, he made a shelf to fit between the lower cross braces of the legs and serve as a storage space, clearing the space around the bench and adding mass to the overall unit.  The shelf was made using the exact same technology as the top.  Like the top it was amazingly light in relationship to its strength and utility.

One of the really cool features is that the shelf fits neatly in between the folded legs underneath the top.  As you can see he even has room for a second shelf if ever one is needed.

After painting the leg units black, it was going to be used in a museum gallery after all, he set it up and found it to fulfill his needs precisely.  I don’t think he ever found the need to install the vises, but the set-up for them remains in place and ready to go any time he needs it.

I believe he uses it regularly as a wonderful assembly table in his own shop, ready to be folded up and easily transported to a new on-site project where it is needed.

Sometimes improvement occurs as a flash of inspiration, sometimes through an incremental grind.  This bench concept was a bit of both, and the improvements I made in this version carried over into the next folding workbench model, which I believe is workbench #20 or 21 in the series.  I will be recounting the changes in great detail.

I do not have a workbench problem.  I have a lot of workbenches.  Big difference.

“Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” Monograph — New To The Archive

Recently while working to impose order to the library of the Barn I came across a pile of articles needing scanning and formatting for posting to the web.  “Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” was my contribution to a 2002 conference that required travel to Amsterdam for the presentation itself, in complete disregard to one of my personal mottoes, “If I ain’t at home, I’m in the wrong place.”

The scanned article is now in the “Conservation” section of the Writings section of the web site.  There are two versions, one about 4.5 megs and another about 1.5 megs.  I’m still working through the idiosyncrasies of my scanner and compewder, figuring out what settings work best.  If I can get this better I will upload that version later.

Flexible Gap Filling Adhesives (video)

Recently I was making a presentation to a group and afterwards one o the attendees approached me and told me that he enjoyed my youtube video,   As he described the video I was perplexed until I realized it was not my video, it was from The Getty Conservation Institute, a video of a presentation I made almost a decade ago.

I do not recall ever posting it here before, and if I did this already I apologize for the redundancy.  I hope you laugh in all the right places,

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #2 (1990) Bench Auxiliaries

I was mighty pleased with myself when the bench was finished. It was easy to move, easy to set up and take down, good and sturdy with great clamping. Clearly, I had solved all the problems which led me down this path in the first place. However, a little use of the bench showed me that reality was slightly less idyllic.

Unfortunately, its lightness (55 pounds) which was such an asset in my master plan for the “perfect portable bench” was also a big liability once the bench ceased being mobile and was set up as a work station. The bench was so light I couldn’t really work it hard without moving it or even knocking it over. I had to figure out some way of weighting the bench while in use. My “no loose parts” vision was about to bite the dust.

Fortunately, the solution was as simple as building two thin (approx. 1 1/8″) torsion boxes to serve as shelves resting on the crossbar of the end/leg units on either side of the folding bracket, and which could be attached to the underside of the benchtop when not in use. By putting all my tools and supplies on the shelves, the bench now had enough mass for my use. It still wasn’t heavy enough for general cabinetmaking, but it was more than adequate for restoration.

Then a second problem cropped up. The working height for flat-ish or small objects was great, but setting chairs or case pieces on the bench raised them too high. For these taller pieces I needed a lower work surface which would still fit my ideal of lightness and strength. I could have built a lower version of the bench, but instead tried something different. This time I fabricated a torsion box about the same size as the bench top which would fit on a pair of small, low trestle horses. These trestle horses were made from lighter than normal elements, for example the main components were 1″x 1″ and the crosspieces 3/8″ thick.

Some minor modifications to generally employed designs yielded another light, strong and stable unit. By making the top bar of the horses removable, each post of the trestle could then become a tenon. Constructing the torsion box in such a manner that the bottom side had openings to function as extensions to the mortises already incorporated into the grid fitting the tenons of the sawhorse posts, the pieces fit together as a small worktable suited perfectly for holding taller pieces at a more comfortable height. While this new unit was not as “neat” as the workbench, it solved the problem. It also provided more flexibility than simply building another, lower table/bench.

This saga does not end here as I continued working on newer iterations of the concept, but those episodes will be recounted in future Workbench Wednesdays in a few months.

Next week – A derelict salvaged from the trash heap that was transformed into a little jewel.

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #2 , 1990, “Final” Version

Building on what I learned from the initial prototype of the portable restoration workbench I charged ahead with a “final” version.  I say “final” in quotes because this concept is one I have continued to tinker with even to this day, and a late entry in this series four or five months from now will focus on the most recent one.

For this first final version I used the same structural strategy for the top, modifying the stock weight being the only real modification.  On this second iteration I used 3/8″ A/C plywood for both the faces and ribs of the torsion box top rather than 1/4″ and 3/4″ luan for the same purpose on the prototype. Making the box approximately 3″ thick and placing the ribs in a 6″ x 6″ grid achieved a satisfactory result with essentially no change in weight while yielding a stout structure. In fact, I could do some pretty serious joinery and carving on the bench, which I couldn’t do with the prototype.

 

I wanted a large-capacity vise on my bench, but there was no point in defeating my original purpose by building a lightweight bench and then installing a heavy vise on it. The vise(s) I built opens about 12″ and employs aluminum threadstock for the screws, tapped holes in the endpiece of the top, and 2″ x 3″ x 24″ wood jaws. The screws pass through same-sized holes in the movable jaw, and terminate in simple wooden handles passing through holes drilled in the ends.

One pretty dramatic change in this function was to switch from standard steel threadstock to 1-inch aluminum rod stock that I had cut at a local machine shop (I already had the aluminum rod stock in my scrap barrel).  It’s been a long time since this project but I recall paying $25 for the job.   All it took was to set up the pieces in the lathe and cut the threads with a single pass, along with a single groove above the threads for some retaining collars.  I’m guessing it took ten minutes maximum, so $25 for a quarter hour of machine shop time sounds about right.  It might have been $25 for each pair of screws, but either way it seemed pretty reasonable.

My procedure for incorporating the vise into the bench top involved drilling oversized holes in the internal grid but not the added fixed jaw, so I couldn’t assemble the box all at once. I cut my grid pieces and glued them to one face of the torsion box using 315 gram hot hide glue, which was the adhesive employed throughout the project. After laying out for the vise screws, I drilled holes through the fixed jaw (the torsion box end pieces) to tap-out and received the threaded screws. I was unsure whether holes the same size as the aluminum rod stock used for the vise screws would be large enough to allow the screws to go through the grid members, given the inevitable wobble in the screws. To be on the safe side, I drilled larger holes through the grid to a slightly longer distance the desired vise opening dimension. The vise screws would then pass through these openings as the vise was closed. After I was sure the vise was fully operational, I glued the second face on the grid and the top was complete.

By fabricating simple leg end units with long folding diagonal braces, the problem of too much shimmying parallel to the long axis was overcome on the final bench. The leg units were fabricated from the clearest 2x construction lumber I could find, and the folding braces from 1/4″ x 1″ aluminum bar stock with 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle stock for the mounting brackets. The slightly heavier face plywood made it easy to screw all these elements to the underside.

The leg units were not installed symmetrical relative to the short axis, but rather were off-set by half the leg width so they could fold up next to each other rather than on top of each other. This way, the table could become a remarkably compact unit which needed absolutely no assembly or disassembly; it could just be folded up. Following final assembly I added a snap-on strap for carrying the bench like a large suitcase. By throwing the strap over my shoulder, I could easily carry the bench for long periods of time and maneuver it through pretty tight quarters.

Next week, some accessories.

 

Strategy For Conserving My Gragg Chair, Step 1

The first pair of considerations when designing a conservation treatment plan for an artifact, in this case my own Gragg Chair, is to weigh the nature and needs of the artifact versus the nature and needs needs of the user.  Without comprehending the location of the artifact on the entropy time-line and achieving user buy-in no process can derive a balanced response to the damage being addressed.  As a property rights absolutist I am fine with that; if you own a priceless treasure and choose to incinerate it in the front yard, so be it.  Short of that, there is a wide range of locations for the fulcrum of this competing pair.

The process of understanding the nature and needs of the object can be fairly straightforward.  What is it?  What is its intended purpose?  From what and how was it made?  What is its condition?  What action is needed for it to maintain its existence or function?  All these questions are fairly straightforward as the artifact is, in essence, a static (or not so static) entity at a particular point on its entropy curve, or as my late friend and colleague Mel Wachowiak, Jr., used to say, “On it way back to dirt.”

In the case of this chair the continued existence of it in its current form and condition was not really in doubt, only one or two of its functions.  The chair could be left completely unattended and remain “as is” for decades or centuries as a thing, but one of the primary functions of this particular chair form and presentation, namely that it is a comfortable and beautiful thing, was compromised due to the breaks and attendant distortions of the arms.  That damage, and its disruption of the chair’s “beauty” is a real and meaningful void in its current “function” and regaining that beauty is not a whimsical undertaking.

As for the nature and needs of the user there is far more variability in both theoretical and practical perspectives.  In the case of a chair, the user may need for it to actually be functional as a structure that can support a grown adult for the chair’s intended purpose: to be a chair.  Or, the user (owner) may prefer for it to be an antetype, prototype or example of the generic or specific chair form, or that it simply represent the form and historical attributes of this particular type of chair.  If, for example, one of the legs were missing altogether but the user’s desire was to preserve the remaining fabric as-is, the fabrication of a plexiglass support in place of the missing leg would be entirely defensible.

This is not some bar stool, this is an aesthetically sophisticated and technically refined form, one that is both artistically notable and historically significant.  Its current damage reveals — at the very least — a failure of its maker to anticipate the stresses that might be paced on it in “normal” use and his failure to accommodate those stresses in its structural design or manufacturing execution.  (True enough, I did not anticipate the unauthorized use of the chair by a morbidly obese person and the damage that would result from his frenzied effort to extricate himself before I returned to the booth)  From this context the user may choose to leave the static damage exactly as it is as a painful reminder of that failure.

In this object vs. user consideration, more than with the coming two pairs of contending concepts, balancing the needs of the chair with the preferences of the user results not at a single point of agreement or strategic objective (or one and only one “exact” way to proceed) but a continuum of options that can respond to both competing needs to some degree.

Strategy For Conserving (My Own) Gragg Chair – I

One of the projects that has been slowly percolating up the pile of “To Do” projects is the repair of my own Gragg chair, built several years ago and damaged while on display at a woodworking event when a corpulent fellow wedged himself in the chair (uninvited) and broke both of the curved arms when desperately extricating himself from it.

As I cogitate on the project of repairing the chair, even though it is my own piece and I can build another (actually I am beginning to build three more which will be recorded for a future video), I am approaching the problem as though it were a museum/historic piece and this is the execution of a conservation treatment from a formal/museum point of view.

In so doing I will be employing and implementing the decision-making model I devised almost thirty years ago, consisting of six separate questions, linked in opposing pairs.  This model has served me without fail during my career in the museum, and for clients outside the museum.  It has become such a part of my thinking that it almost does not register with me any more.  I am hoping that as I work through this series I manage to include all the connections, but if I do not please let me know.

The strategic path for any particular conservation treatment depends on the answers to these six questions, and on balance the six answers makes that path clearer.  In some cases the questions are not relevant and can be discarded, but they must be contemplated at least to the point of making that determination.

The first pair of questions is, What are the nature and needs of the object, and, What are the nature and needs of the user?  While this pair is essentially a conversation between me, the advocate for the artifact, and me, the user, I hope it does not devolve into slapstick.

The second pair is, What are the technical limitations you are facing (particularly regarding the materials), and, What is the perfect, or least most desired, outcome?

And finally, What are the ethical guidelines for intervening with the object, and, What are the resources available for the project?

While the context of every object and circumstance is unique, and thus the balance of the answers can vary widely, nevertheless I find the exercise to be a powerful tool for plotting a route from Point A (where or how the object is currently) to Point B (where the object needs to go/be).  In coming essays I will address each question (and answer) individually and in concert with its counterpoint question as I elucidate the chosen strategy for dealing with the project as a whole and individual procedures and choices within it.  We may find ourselves in pretty deep weeds from time to time, but at least you will know how I approached the problem.

I’ll close this essay with the reminiscence of the first time I presented this decision-making model at a national professional meeting, I think in the late 1980s.  In a somewhat unusual response from a “sophisticated” audience, I heard occasional hisses and boos during the presentation which directly challenged portions of the prevailing museum/conservation orthodoxy.  Over the following three decades there came to be a sporadic and gradual acceptance of the model, and by the time I bolted for the boondocks this graphic was seen on the walls of museum and private conservation labs from coast to coast.