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CONSERVING THE FRAME


The Frame in Storage

The Frame in Storage

The disassembled frame to Henry Clay in the U.S. Senate had been stored for 55 years. It suffered water damage and chips, bore a heavy coat of dirt, and had been splattered with paint.

A Jigsaw Puzzle

A Jigsaw Puzzle

Conservators had to determine the proper arrangement of the frame’s numerous pieces. Note the grayish appearance, caused by a heavy coat of dirt.

Damaged Ornaments

Damaged Ornaments

Many of the decorative corner ornaments suffered losses, as seen here. A master carver replicated the missing portions.

Assembling the Details

Assembling the Details

Conservators reassembled the frame’s many pieces, guided by a small vintage stereograph from 1872 and also by matching nail holes and markings on the back of the ornaments.

Cleaning the Frame

Cleaning the Frame

After the frame received an extensive cleaning, a conservator performed tests to determine the best method to rejuvenate the finish.
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Restoring the Finish

Restoring the Finish

The frame’s exceptional decorative carving and richly colored Honduras mahogany is revealed during restoration of the finish.

Construction Methods Revealed

Construction Methods Revealed

The five-layerd mahogany construction of the frame retained much of its structural integrity and did not warp despite many years in storage.

Stabilizing the Frame

Stabilizing the Frame

Repeated changes in humidity and temperature during storage caused some deterioration of the animal hide glues used to bind the frame together. Conservators re-glued the frame's weakened elements.
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The Assembly Process

The Assembly Process

Conservators worked for over a year to repair and reassemble the frame.

Damaged Gold Leaf

Damaged Gesso

The delicate gilded inner frame suffered more damage in storage than the durable mahogany outer frame. Areas of loss were infilled with a reversible nontraditional gesso and the gilding was then restored.

A Traditional Process

The Gilding Process

Conservators used the technique of water gilding to restore the inner frame. A previously applied nontraditional gray bole (adhesive layer) was moistened with water to receive an application of thin gold leaf.

Burnishing the Frame

Burnishing the Frame

After applying the gold leaf, conservators used an agate tool to burnish the frame surface, smoothing out seams and wrinkles and imparting a rich sheen.
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Assembling the Details

Assembling the Details

The expertly restored corner ornaments make a handsome statement on the Victorian-era frame. Much of the original metal hardware survived and is still used in the frame.

A Signature Discovered

A Signature Discovered

A faint signature penciled on the frame’s back was photographed and then digitally enhanced, revealing the last name of a prominent New York frame maker, Thomas Wilmurt.

Frame and Painting Reunited

Frame and Painting Reunited

Once restored, the frame was assembled for the first time in over half a century. Since the frame could have changed size slightly during years in storage, or the painting's size could have altered during the restretching, painting and frame conservators worked together to ensure an accurate fit.