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.