JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 141 to 152)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 141 to 152)

U.S. CUSTOM HOUSE, NEW YORK CITY: OVERVIEW OF ANALYSES AND INTERPRETATION OF ALTERED ARCHITECTURAL FINISHES

CONSTANCE S. SILVER, FRANK G. MATERO, RICHARD C. WOLBERS, & JOEL C. SNODGRASS


ABSTRACT—The U.S. Custom House, New York City, was completed in 1907 by the pre-eminent American architect, Cass Gilbert (1859–1934). The building is recognized as an American masterpiece of integrated architectural design, engineering, sculpture, decorative arts, mural paintings, and decorative interior finishes. The U.S. Custom House is a designated National Historic Landmark and New York City Landmark. Largely abandoned in 1972, the structure has been undergoing complete renovation since 1991, including the conservation and restoration of the interior.This paper is an overview of the analyses of the original interior finishes and architectural polychromy, executed from 1910–12 by the artist-decorator Elmer Garnsey (1862–1946). These analyses served as the foundation for the program to conserve the surviving finishes and replicate the heavily damaged and almost completely overpainted architectural polychromy. However, Garnsey's execution techniques were so complex and the alteration and obfuscation of component materials were so extensive over time that the original appearance of the finishes is not definitively understood. Optical microscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscope—energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS), and fluorescent dye staining indicated complex wet-into-wet pigmented and nonpigmented layering systems that combined oil, resin, and protein-carbohydrate media. Archival research on Garnsey supported the results of the analyses. The often perplexing data from these analyses strongly suggest unorthodox finishes and raise questions regarding the current practices of investigation and replication of architectural finishes and the appropriate professional skills needed for the restoration of historic interiors.

Article Sections:

1. INTRODUCTION
2. OVERVIEW OF ORIGINAL ARCHITECTURAL FINISHES
3. ANALYSES OF THE ORIGINAL POLYCHROMY
4. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLEMENTATION
a: Notes , References , Author Information
Entire Article

Copyright 1993 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works