HISTORIC UPHOLSTERY: A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON TREATMENT
Upholstered objects come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Furniture forms like chairs and sofas are the most familiar. Other forms such as trunks, sewing tables, state beds, and coaches with upholstered interiors share basic construction techniques of application of fabric layers and sometimes stuffings to some kind of frame. Each piece presents a unique challenge due to its elaborate construction and use of many different kinds of materials. The finish fabric can be an artifact in itself. The techniques that hold all these materials together are also of historical importance.
There is a great deal to be learned from historic upholstery. Each object contains evidence of the technologies of the time it was made. Each is often a valuable social document as well. Options in treatment range from examination and documentation for scholarship purposes to elaborate noninterventive methods which use no fasteners that penetrate into the artifact and can take hundreds of hours to execute. Developing a treatment plan requires broad experience in many related areas, and it is common practice to consult with colleagues to resolve unanswered questions. Inquiring about the philosophy and approach used by others is a primary learning tool. Close attention to detail in observing period artifacts and in replicating historical detail during treatment is crucial to an honest presentation of an upholstered piece. With the increase of knowledge over the past decades, curators and collectors now demand greater accuracy in upholstery conservation treatments. New perspectives on the treatment of historic upholstery confirm that the field of conservation is continuing to respond to the demand for preservation of materials in responsible and innovative ways.
The author wishes to thank colleagues who contributed slides and descriptions of their work for the presentation in Buffalo and the preparation of this paper: Mark Anderson, Winterthur Museum; Nancy Britton, Metropolitan Museum of Art; David DeMuzio, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Carey Howlett and Leroy Graves, Colonial Williamsburg; Harold Mailand, Textile Conservation Services; staff of the conservation center at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities; and the numerous institutions and private owners who generously agreed to using slides of their objects. Special thanks are due Deborah Trupin for her tireless efforts in pursuit of excellence for the Textile Update Session.