CONSERVING THE FRAME
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
Conservators had to determine the proper arrangement of the frame’s numerous pieces. Note the grayish appearance, caused by a heavy coat of dirt.
Many of the decorative corner ornaments suffered losses, as seen here. A master carver replicated the missing portions.
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
After the frame received an extensive cleaning, a conservator performed tests to determine the best method to rejuvenate 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
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
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.
The Assembly Process
Conservators worked for over a year to repair and reassemble the frame.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.