Monday, February 8, 2010

The Carolina Room

The question I'm most often asked (after where are you from? I love your accent!) is what brought you the the US of A. For those of you who don't know, I came here in 2006 to work for Colonial Williamsburg to work on the Carolina Room Conservation Project.

Carolina Room in 1950s installation with overpaint and discolored varnish

The 'Carolina Room' is a rare painted folk art interior from a rural planter's house circa 1820s located in Wagram, North Carolina. In 1911 the house was abandoned and 2 decades later the woodwork was removed and passed from dealer to dealer. In 1956 is was acquired by Colonial Williamsburg who carried out a campaign of cleaning and overpainting damaged surfaces prior to its installation in the newly opened Abby Aldrich Rockerfeller Folk Art Museum.

Using solvent gel system to remove overpaint from the field color.

The room (14x18x14') is largely constructed of southern yellow pine and has a signature and date painted above one of the doors which indicated that the artist was I. Scott and that he painted it in August 17th 1836. The room is brightly painted throughout with an oil-based medium in a decorative scheme that imitates a diverse range of materials (wood, marble, stone, textiles) and is considered to belong to the 'American Fancy' period (1790-1840).

The relocation of the AARFAM collections starting in 2005 created the ideal opportunity to investigate the room and its decoration and carry out thorough documentation and appropriate conservation treament prior to re-installation.

Tongue & groove wall panels prior to removal of overpaint & discolored varnish

Painted wall panels after cleaning-revealing a lighter appearance, more of the artists brushstrokes and the losses in the heartwood

Treatment was carried out in the Painting Conservation Lab and involved the systematic stabilization of the various elements of the room, and the safe removal of the heavy 1950s oil overpaint and discolored varnish from the sensitive and leanly bound original painted surface. A range of complex cleaning systems including solvents, solvent gels, and aqueous systems with chelating surfactants was employed.

Carefully removing overpaint from faux 'rosewood' using solvents on cotton swabs

Revealing the original surface with its range of decorative faux-grained paint effects

The 14' dado panel took me several months to complete!

Carolina Room installed after removal of overpaint &varnish prior to in-painting.

Other architectural elements from the Shaw House were stabilized to secure flaking paint, and cleaning trials were carried out to remove surface dirt:

Consolidating areas of flaking paint on a 8-panel door from Shaw House using Aquazol

Partial Cleaning of the door to remove surface dirt using an aqueous chelating surfactant

Another Shaw House door- during cleaning trials to remove calcimite overpaint and surface dirt using an aqueous chelating surfactant