Recently I was searching for information and images of round corner card tables and came across this recent blog post.
I had never seen the blog before but immediately recognized the cropped image of a seat rail. It is an armchair in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Several additional images can be seen on their recently launched Collection Online, a wonderful and useful resource where images, some quite large, are available free of charge for non-profit use.
In 2007 a pair of armchairs made in Philadelphia c. 1770 with upholstered seats and backs entered the marketplace, the Met purchased one and the other was sold at auction.
The chairs were in nearly identical condition and the Met’s chair, like the chair sold at Christie’s, was missing the gadrooning strips from under the front and side seat rails as well as the corner brackets that fit between the strips and the legs.
Before the Met would be able to display their new acquisition it needed an extensive conservation treatment that included stabilizing the frame, fabricating the missing wood elements, applying a unifying finish, and creating a minimally-intrusive upholstery system.
The frame was treated in the Met’s Conservation lab by the Conservator of American Furniture. I was privileged to be asked by the Met’s conservator and the Chairman of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to carve the missing gadrooning strips and corner brackets as part of the conservation treatment of the chair. What was staring back at me on the blog page was my work!
The gadrooning strips are present on several of the chairs that survive from the original set including one of a pair of chairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was able to refer to that chair as I carved the new gadrooning. No original brackets survive on any of the chairs. The reference for the new brackets were original brackets on a Philadelphia c. 1770 card table.
The side strips are mitered at the front corners in the middle of a convex element and end at a random element at the back of the chair. The front strip has to be carefully measured and plotted out so when each end is mitered to fit the corner of the leg, the miter falls exactly in the middle of a convex element. At the miter, it should appear that the gadrooning turns the corner seamlessly around one whole convex element.
After I delivered the completed carvings, the Met’s conservator fit them to the seat frame, distressed the new wood to match the current condition of the chair, and applied a patinated finish. The Met’s upholstery conservator created the minimally-intrusive upholstery system which included an antique yellow wool damask that matched an original yellow fiber fragment found on one of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s pair of chairs. The final result was stunning and the chair was ready for the May 2009 opening Part 2, of the restoration of the American Wing that was ultimately completed in 2012.