Saturday, January 30, 2010


Today I thought I would treat you to a project I did in my home town of Ramsey, Isle of Man.

Top: Milntown House, Ramsey, Isle of Man.
Bottom: Illiam Dhone, the Manx Martyr.

A few years back I was asked to look at a couple of wall paintings in Milntown house, and comment on their condition and options for conservation treatment. Note that Milntown dates back to the early 16th century with additions in the early 19th century and it plays a very important part in the history of the Manx Nation being the Ancestral home of the Christian Family, and Illiam Dhone, the Manx Martyr.

Circa 1930s Naive Hunting Scenes. Top: Painting A. Bottom: Painting B.

These naively painted hunting scenes are located on adjacent walls in a small storage room in the middle of the ground floor. It is understood that the room was used as a cocktail bar during the WWI by the army based at the nearby Jurby camp, and perhaps the paintings were carried out in lieu of monies owed for drinks and it is rumoured there is a connection with the Nicholson family of artists.

Top: Impasto Technique (built up texture).
Bottom: Scalloped & stippled edge created when room repainted in later years.

Painting A is on an interior wall contructed with lath & plaster. Painting B is on an solid interior wall (suggests rooms's change of use). The paintings were carried out directly over several layers of previous paint, in thin washes of color which some areas impasto technique e.g. dogs fur, grass etc. the room has been redecorated several times with a pinkish emulsion which frames the wallpaintings with a scalloped edge design. They are unvarnished.

Top: flaking paint and blind detachment in raking light.
Bottom: flaking paint & losses.

The condition of the painting A included several areas of progressive flaking of paint and cracks (many carry on outside the frame of the painting) which would eventually lead to paint loss. Painting B was much worse and included several large areas of active flaking, particularly on the left side, top and bottom corners and throughout the middle, where the paint was curling back and there were losses to the paint layer. There is also extensive blind detachment. There was a thin layer of dust over both paintings.

Top: areas secured with facing tissue and injected with Beva 371.
Bottom: heat-sealing consolidant & laying down areas of flaking
Following cleaning trials which found sensitivity to aqueous solutions and ethanol (suggesting mix media) it was decided that a dry method should be employed. A small soft brush was used (instead of cotton swab to prevent snagging of impasto) to remove loose surface dirt from the paint surface.

Top: Further areas of blind detachment fixed by injecting Primal acrylic consolidant Bottom: cleaning trials
Re-integration of the paint losses was carried out in order to restore coherence and visual integrity of the damaged paintings

Top: Infilling losses with fine marble powder & lime putty mix
Bottom:In-painting was carried out on top of the fills using watercolours for main area, and acrylics (for their opacity and coverage) to match the pink emulsion frame

Hot water pipes!
After a successful conservation treatment the paintings looked great & I gave the trustees a guide to looking after the paintings, which suggested insulating these hot water pipes which passed thought the room and was highly likely to be the cause of the paintings' deterioration.

Mansfield Traquair Church

Last summer Ben & I took a trip to Scotland, where I had lived for 6 years after graduating from uni in London and before moving to the USA (I promise to share the wonderful projects I worked on with you in this blog). I was really excited and proud to show him Mansfield Church in Edinburgh, and the amazing murals I had the pleasure to work on for 2 years with Historic Scotland.

left: Chancel Arch with the Worship of Heaven (Ezekiel & Revelation); the principle structures of the Four Apostolic Church & the Four living creatures. Right: The West wall illustrated the 2nd Coming of Christ, with a Pentecostal Frieze below

The church was built for the congregation of Catholic Apostolic Church, who believed that the world would end at the end of the new millennium and wanted to be prepared for the imminent Second Coming of Christ. The building was designed by Robert Rowand Anderson in a neo-Norman style and completed in 1885, and the interior was decorated with murals painted by Arts & Crafts artist Phoebe Anna Traquair in 1895-1901 who employed a 'spirit fresco' technique on plaster ground to illustrate scenes from the New and Old Testament.

Left:Investigation work/conservation trials- South Aisle. Right: Injecting consolidant to fix flaking paint-North Aisle

After the 2nd coming of Christ did not appear in 1900, the church slowly dwindled and fell into disrepair, the furniture was removed and building suffered terribly from water ingress as did the the mural paintings inside. The Mansfield Traquair Trust was formed in 1993, bought the building in 1998, and raised funds to have the building restored in 2000-2002. In 2003 the restoration of the murals commenced. The aim was to stabilize and secure any loose paint and plaster, remove surface dirt and discolored varnish and recreate missing areas of the murals.

Left: Cleaning to remove discolored varnish from Chancel Arch. Right: Removing accumulated surface dirt from Chancel Ceilling

I joined structural painting conservators, Fiona Allardyce & Ailsa Murray from Historic Scotland to carry out an investigation and carry out trials for the materials and methods we were going to use on the murals. 6 months later we were another conservation intern, Suzanne Ross and we started on project proper, and later on when we were working on large areas we had students and private conservators bulk up our team.

Left: Consolidating salt damaged flaking paint using heat-seal consolidant. Right: Consolidating failed plaster with injectible mortars

-The range of practical work that I covered:

-Application of facing tissue to vulnerable areas of paint

-Detachment and storage of loose areas of painted plaster and

consolidation of stable areas (spandrels)

-Plaster consolidation using injectible lime mortars

-Consolidation of paint-on wood, stone and plaster, using gelatine,

Primal and Lascaux heat-seal consolidant

-Consolidation of friable pastiglio

-Cleaning of painted and gilded surfaces-surface dirt and varnish

and removal of inappropriate restorations

-In-filling of losses to the substrate (coarse and fine plaster)

-Reconstructing pastiglio then gilding and toning

-In-painting/ retouching with watercolours and pure pigments in varnish

-Application of new varnish

-Re-pointing of stonework

Left: showing area which has been cleaned of surface dirt. Middle: After cleaning in North Aisle. Right: After reconstructing halo, it was gilded and toned to match the other Four Living Creatures.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Free Black Cabins at Freedom Park

Freedom park contains 3 reproduction homes each demonstrating different building techniques used by emancipated blacks to construct homes following the civil war. Architectural historians from Colonial Williamsburg provided detailed plans we followed in creating these structures.

This cabin features hewn pine logs and a wooden framed chimney. The roof is constructed of handsplit oak shingles installed wih both horizontal and vertical laps. The chinking was made of a local clay and sand mix.

Fanned Hip Shingles

Here is another example of a fanned hip roof. This was for a reproduction pump house at Burlington Plantation. Fellow carpenter Griffen Anders helped complete this roof.

Burlington Plantation Smokehouse

This is an early 19th century smokehouse we relocated and restored several years ago. The juniper shingle roof features fanned hips and was carried out over 4 of the hottest days of the year (105+ each day). You can see our "circus tent" we erected to escape the sun while we worked. There was no breeze so we couldn't work more than an hour at a time before we had to come down out of the sun.

Pamplin Tobacco Barn

I was project manager for this tobacco barn while working for Museum Resources. It was recreated from studying surviving examples and is typical of barns built in Central and Piedmont Virginia during the mid nineteenth century. Most agrarian structures of this type were home built and often reflect regional trends and construction techniques. This tobacco barn features four rows of tier polls for hanging and drying tobacco and a two sided shed roof for storing agricultural implements.

This was one of several historic buildings we created for Pamplin Historical Park near Petersburg.

Typical round log construction