Friday, August 4, 2017

Conquering the Conquistador

Early this summer we were met with the exciting challenge of restoring an oil on canvas painting and antique frame, one of our most involved restorations  yet.

Upon arrival, the image was indistinguishable. There were pieces of canvas missing, and the frame was also in bad shape partly due to water damage and paint loss. This project was quite the undertaking, and one of the worst "before" states of condition we had seen come through the doors. We definitely knew from day one that we had our work cut out for us.

After removing the painting from the frame and then its stretcher bars, we were extremely fortunate to find the larger missing pieces between the canvas and support.

Because the canvas was so delicate due to age, as well as the extreme damage to the surface, immediate stabilization was important. This was achieved by removing the painting from the original support so that the fragile pieces could be laid back down in their correct positioning. Because of its fragility, re-lining the entire canvas was our next step because of the rough condition that it was in.

The painting after the mounting and filling process
Re-lining the painting was accomplished using a dry-mount glue in a heated press. Because there were so many oddly shaped and small pieces, many of those had to be individually pressed down with a tack iron to ensure the complete mounting process would be successful. This process is completely archival and reversible, which is important in every step of the restoration process.

We were able to re-stretch the canvas to its original support after they were thoroughly cleaned and re-built. Only after a canvas is completely stabilized is it ready to be filled in where the original canvas is missing. The tedious process of matching color and in-painting was next. After the finishing touches of color and varnish were performed, the Conquistador was ready for its frame again.

The frame was cleaned, and the corners were re-glued to ensure structural stabilization. Loose pieces were glued down, and missing pieces were re-created and given a patina to match. All in all, this process was long, but worth every tedious step to bring it back to its original stature.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Large Frame Restoration

IMG_5248.jpg One of the largest and most involved frame restorations we have worked on to date was a 7 ft. by 5 ft. ornate frame. The piece had fallen off the wall and down a flight of stairs. This was an instance where the frame had been fit with inappropriate hanging hardware for it's size and weight. Because of the impact, we ended up with hundreds of individual pieces that had fallen off the face of the frame, as well as parts of the large decorative corner pieces. Luckily, the painting itself was not harmed during this accident. 

IMG_20141216_161004.jpgWe began the treatment by re-gluing and stabilizing the corners so that they were ready to be put back together. Although we were able to puzzle in and adhere most of the pieces, there were still a significant amount of smaller pieces that needed to be re-made. All four corners were affected to a degree - some worse than others. Luckily a few of the larger pieces could be salvaged. On top of re-making some of the smaller pieces, the larger pieces were the biggest under taking.

For many small repairs we can sometimes use an oil based polymer clay to make a mold, but this would not be sufficient for such a large repair. In this case, we needed to go one step further and make re-usable silicone molds. Before the mold can be taken, we had to re-make one of the corners so that we could have an accurate shape to replicate. 

Newly shaped and fitted
plaster corner

Making a rubber mold is a more complicated process than taking a clay mold. The mold has 2 parts – silicone and a setting agent. The 2 parts are mixed together and immediately poured and left to set. The finished corner is prepped by creating a buffer to keep the material contained around the shape, as well as sprayed with a quick release spray so the mold, once set, could be easily removed. After every corner and shape was adhered and refined with carving tools, we could start getting the new pieces ready to patina. 

Corner after bole is applied 
To stay consistent with the rest of the frame's finish, we used plaster to make the rest of the corners. Traditionally, when gilding and finishing the patina of a frame, bole (a mixture of a soft clay and rabbit skin glue), is used to prep the surface. Bole can be colored many different ways, but we chose a dark gray to stay consistent with the original patina. The color of the bole underneath ultimately changes the overall look of the top layer of gold when finished. Other traditional colors most seen are terra-cotta and yellow. This whole process was executed over many months, but in the end, we were able to get the frame looking as good as new. 
Of course, to make sure the piece was secure, we fixed the back with a french cleat, instead of the two small screw eyes it had originally been installed with. Although very laborious, this was a fun project to see through to the end. After installing the piece back in the client's home we felt assured it would stay put for many years to come!

Completed frame hung up post-restoration

Friday, March 24, 2017

Distinctive Antique Frame Restored

We received a beautifully hand painted frame from the early 1900's that had experienced some severe water damage to the bottom rail. That, as well as its general wear and tear over the decades, called for some serious repairs and touch ups.The bottom rail, which had the most damage to it, was barely even attached upon arrival to the shop. Although all corners and rails needed some repairs, one of the corners was completely missing. The frame had originally been intended to have finished corners (meaning you were not supposed to be able to see where the rails join.) Our goal in restoring this frame was to clean and re-attach the rails, but also to accomplish the finish and look that it had lost while damaged, as well as to preserve the art that it held.

The first step was to get this frame back together. When assembling a frame, we would normally use vise grips to fit and attach frame rails. However, in the case of this frame, the outside had too much of a curved edge, not allowing us to re-attach the rails with the traditional method. Because we were unable to use the vises to glue the frame, we hammered rubber-coated nails into the work table to create a makeshift vise, thus creating the necessary tension for the frame to be re-glued.

Before, during, and after
Re-making parts:
There were 2 corners missing when we received this frame. Because all the corners are identical, and having 2 perfectly good corners available, we took a mold using an oil-based polymer clay of the good corners, and filled these new corner molds with plaster - a similar substance to what would have been used at the time. Once dry, the corners were attached, shaped, sealed, and then given a new patina to match the rest of the frame.

So, why do we go to such lengthy trouble to restore a frame that, at first glance, seems to have run its course? Frames are such an important part of the artwork itself. They are intentionally paired with a work of art to enhance the viewers experience, as well as to act as an extension of the artwork itself. With a frame as old as this one, it is especially important to strive to restore it so that the artwork can continue to be displayed as originally intended.

An important thing for us to keep in mind in the midst of re-building this frame is the artwork itself. The backing that came with this piece was 2 panels of wood. Although this is something we see quite commonly with vintage artwork, wood is highly acidic and will damage artwork over time. In finishing this project up, we kept the wooden backing, but compromised by putting an acid-free archival mat board between the art and wood, thus preserving the artwork as well as keeping the rustic look of the back.

Vintage Fireman Helmet

We received this fireman’s helmet in pretty poor condition - ironically it had been in a bad house fire itself. Our client was a local police officer whose grandfather was a fireman in 1960’s Hamtramck, and this piece of family history held high sentimental value.

The helmet itself came to us pretty beat up, but the piece in the worst condition was the badge held up in front by a golden eagle, traditional for helmets in the US at that time. It was in multiple parts, and many of the original pieces were missing, having been lost in the fire. After separating each piece, we were able to begin focusing on individual elements of the helmet for a unique restoration process.

Because the badge had the most issues, and is also the focal point of the helmet, we started treating it immediately. Stabilization* had to occur so that the badge did not deteriorate any further. Because so many pieces had either detached or been lost, the best course of action was to completely re-line the badge onto a new piece of fabric so that the areas of loss could be filled with new material.

We were able to puzzle together the available letters, fill and then in-paint, matching the text and texture of the original wording. This same process was done to the leather badge itself. Once the letters and badge were cleaned and fixed, we put them all together and adhered them to a new fabric backing for added strength and uniformity. Using an archival and reversible glue, we were able to ensure true preservation of the emblem. After mounting, we treated the badge with a leather conditioner to make it more flexible for re-shaping to its original curvature. The metal plate bearing the Fireman's crest was cleaned and riveted back onto the badge.

The helmet itself needed a lot of attention as well. The inside of the helmet was padded with a protective fabric liner that needed to be patched to prevent further deterioration, which was occurring due to previous use as well as age. The fabric was too delicate to properly clean until it was stabilized. After the helmet was cleaned, the major areas of loss were in-painted. Not all areas with paint loss were in-painted so as to conserve the age, history, and its utilitarian past.

With all the unique pieces of artwork and objects that come through our door, it was an amazing opportunity to work on a piece of local history. We are confident that after this process of restoration, the family will be able to enjoy this family heirloom for generations to come.

*Stabilization: Addressing the work of art/object so that its present condition does not cause further decline. Creating a stable and secure environment.