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
1. The 1990–92 renovation and restoration was under the jurisdiction of the General Services Administration (GSA), which retains overall responsibility for the building. The analytical program for the identification of the interior finishes described in this paper was carried out by Constance S. Silver, Preservar, Inc., under subcontract to Ehrenkrantz and Eckstut. Frank G. Matero, University of Pennsylvania; Richard C. Wolbers, University of Delaware; Joel C. Snodgrass; Robert Koestler and Frank Santoro, SciCon Associates, Inc.; and Richard Bisbing, McCrone Associates, all provided invaluable technical support. The 1991–92 interior conservation and restoration project was carried out by Evergreene Studios, with Perry Huston and Rustin Levenson supervising the conservation treatments. Constance Silver was a consultant to Evergreene Studios for the restoration of the gallery, including confirmation of the five base colors and glazes. Several aspects of the analytical work described in this paper were also finalized during the 1991–92 project, in consultation with Richard Wolbers. Three historic rooms to be used by the Smithsonian Institution were studied under a different program.
2. In March 1991, six samples of finishes from the ceiling and dolphin frieze of the Collector's Suite were examined by Richard Bisbing, McCrone Associates, using electron microprobe to determine the elemental composition and polarized light microscopy to identify the pigments. The blue paint of the dolphin frieze was identified as ultramarine, combined with clay, zinc white, and lead white. The mauve paint was identified as a combination of red ocher, yellow ocher, and ultramarine, in combination with zinc white and lead white. No green pigment particles were visible in the sample of green paint, and analyses identified only barium white, lead white, and zinc white. Thus, a dye colorant was posited (Bisbing to Constance Silver, April 5, 1991).
3. After executing the murals of the rotunda in 1937, Reginald Marsh repainted all the adjacent architectural plasterwork of the dome. He attempted to replicate the tone of Garnsey's original finish. The closest Munsell match for the color applied during the 1991–92 restoration is 10YR 5.5/4.
4. Joel Snodgrass carried out primary stratigraphic analyses of the cross sections by reflected light microscopy using a variable stereo-zoom binocular microscope with a fiber-optic light source and daylight blue filter. These analyses established the chromo-chronologies of the architectural spaces, which were then examined and confirmed by Frank Matero and Constance Silver.
5. Garnsey's documents regarding the U.S. Custom House are in the Cass Gilbert Archives of the New-York Historical Society, New York City.
6. In 1990, Constance Silver and Frank Matero examined the blue panels visually and by cross sections. SciCon Associates, Inc., analyzed the pigments by microscopy and EDS and the organic media by FTIR and fluorescent dye staining. They suggested from the resulting data that an oil medium may well have been applied over a resin medium in the “glaze” layer, but the final layer was identified as a gluelike material because it tested positively for protein. Also in 1990, Richard Wolbers examined one small sample of a blue panel by fluorescent dye staining. The resulting data appeared to confirm the results of SciCon Associates, Inc.
7. An initial study of the U.S. Custom House was carried out in 1981 as a joint undertaking of the firms of Polschek and Breuer. At that time, Frank Matero posited a possible marbleized treatment of the light-toned grays as the predominant finish of the gallery through analyses of cross sections and exposures of finishes on site by cratering (revealing the stratigraphs on the wall). Matthew Mosca identified glazes on some base tones of the main stairwells. In 1991, Richard Wolbers posited a marbleized treatment on some elements and confirmed the glazes of the main stairwells. Additional studies of cross sections in 1991 by Joel Snodgrass using microchemical spot testing, polarizing light microscopy, and UV fluorescent polarized light microscopy further confirmed these findings. Additional FTIR and fluorescent dye staining by Richard Wolbers in May 1992 revealed the compositional and stratigraphic construction of the blue panels. In 1992 Snodgrass and Silver identified a blue-toned glaze on the light gray finish of the gallery (excluding the barrel vaults) by scanning several samples microscopically from different angles. However, the blue glaze was so degraded, essentially reduced to particles of ultramarine, that its original appearance could not be defined with any certainty. Thus, it was not recommended for execution as part of the 1992 restoration.
8. In the course of the 1991–92 interior restoration of the U.S. Custom House, the decorative program described in this paper was executed only in the gallery and the third-floor elevator lobbies.
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CONSTANCE S. SILVER is a conservator in private practice specializing in the conservation and restoration of historic interiors and focusing on mural paintings and decorative painted surfaces. She is trained in both fine arts and architectural conservation. She has an M.F.A in conservation from the Villa Schifanoia, Florence, Italy, and an M.S. in historic preservation from Columbia University. She was a staff member of the International Center for Conservation, Rome, for three years. She has participated in and directed many architectural conservation and restoration projects. She was an assistant to Bernard Rabin for the conservation of the mural paintings of the rotunda, U.S. Capitol Building, and she has directed the conservation of the murals of the principal public spaces of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York City, during the last five years. Address: Preservar, Inc., 949 West End Ave., New York, N.Y. 10025.
FRANK G. MATERO is associate professor of architecture in historic preservation and director of the architectural conservation laboratory, University of Pennsylvania. He received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his M.S. in historic preservation from Columbia University, and he completed the certificate program in conservation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. From 1981–90 he was assistant professor and director of the Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University. Address: Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Graduate School of Fine Arts, 115 Meyerson Hall, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104–6311.
RICHARD C. WOLBERS is an associate professor in the art conservation department, University of Delaware. He teaches both conservation science and painting conservation techniques in the jointly sponsored master's degree program at the Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware. Wolbers received a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego, in 1971 and an M.F.A. in painting from the same institution in 1977. In 1984 he received an M.S. in art conservation from the University of Delaware. His research interests include development of applied microscopical techniques for the characterization of paint media and binders and cleaning systems for fine arts materials. Address: Art Conservation Department, 303 Old College, University of Delaware, Newark, Del. 19716.
JOEL C. SNODGRASS received an M.S. in historic preservation (architectural conservation) from Columbia University and an A.S. in building construction from Dean Junior College. He was staff conservator at the Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University. Currently, he is research coordinator-architectural conservator at the Architectural Conservation Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania, and maintains a private practice. Address: 241 Dover Rd., Manhasset, N.Y. 11030–3709.