Friday, January 2, 2015

Major decorative progress on my chest of drawers

I don't have a ton of pictures of my work in progress over the past week, but you can see some of the results below.

You may recall that I had a decision to make regarding the front feet. The turnings in place on the piece (at the Met, by the way), do not appear to be the original. In the internal photos of the piece I obtained, the front stiles show clear evidence of being cut off. You can see saw marks on the end grain and the fact that the mortise has been cut into tells me that the stiles themselves originally extended to the floor to serve as the feet.

Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I was torn if I should omit the turnings and simply extend the rails. However, given that I'm not 100% sure that the turnings are not original (and the fact that I like the look they provide), I decided to go ahead with them. I turned this pair out on New Years Eve.

The lines delineate bands which will be painted red. All other parts of the feet will be black
With the final real decision made, I turned my attention to paint. The original was wildly colored but has muted in the three centuries since it was done. Adding to that effect is a history of degraded varnish and poor cleaning attempts by past owners. You can see some of these effects on the faux wavy grain on the top drawer... much of it was lost in one of those cleaning attempts.

Original piece after its 1994 cleaning / varnish removal.
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The information for painting this piece was derived from two sources: Frances Gruber Safford's article on the piece in Painted Wood: History and Conservation and the piece's writeup in American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: I. Early Colonial Period: The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles.  I have replicated period paint making practices to the extent possible and utilized the pigments originally used as derived from chemical analysis (with the exception of white lead and realgar which is are lead oxides and highly toxic). 

Using those period-correct paints, I completed the ground work yesterday. I need to do a little touch up on the black (scuffed it while moving the piece into my basement painting studio from my shop!) and paint the feet before doing the decorative work, but this shot (however poor) gives you some idea of the vibrancy of the original piece. I'm looking forward to completing this piece and enjoying it in my home.


Once this is complete, I may look to tackle a Boston chair. I'm not much of a chair maker but I'd like to change that and I understand this style is quite simple to do. 

3 comments:

  1. Looks beautiful, Zach. Can't wait to see the rest!

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  2. So given that the original front feet were once integral to the front stiles, there is no clear indication as to when it was done. The shortening might in fact have occurred during the initial construction phase. Yes, some craftsman make mistakes or alterations. The second point is that the original feet might also have been turned as can be seen on the finials of chairs.
    My main point is that your choice of feet is as appropriate as you want to imagine the original construction. Nothing that you have presented rules out your decision.

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  3. I did discuss the originality of the turned feet with the Met conservator. His position is that there are lots of chests like this one with turned feet, but he is unaware of any similar piece with stiles extending down to serve as feet. Since there is no way to know if the turning is original or not, we can suspect they are replacement but with no way to prove it. Therefore, I went with the turned feet.

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