Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stone Conservation- Scotland

Back in 2002 I moved from Glasgow to its very different but equally amazing neighboring city of Edinburgh, to take up a position with private stone conservation company owned and run by Nicolas Boyes. Over the following year I would gain a sound knowledge in the use of lime, and a ton of practical experience, working on-site full time on some of the most significant buildings in the capital. Here is just a few:

St. Giles Cathedral, Royal Mile

Since 1998 an important project has been underway to renew the fabric and interior of St Giles' Cathedral. So far, it has centred on conservation of the medieval Tower and the Crown Spire, and on the exterior of the building - releading of the roofs, stonework repairs and expert attention to the stained glass windows. My work included repointing 'miles of joints with natural lime mortar, securing loose areas of stone, and filling losses in the stone using a lime-based material which I color matched with addition of pure pigments and tooled to match texture etc.

Royal Scottish Academy, the Mound

The Royal Scottish Academy Building, situated in the centre of Edinburgh was designed by William Henry Playfair from 1822-26 with alterations 1832-5. Along with the adjacent National Gallery of Scotland, their neo-classical design helped transform Edinburgh in to a modern day Athens of the North. 2004 saw the completion of Phase 1 of the Playfair Project which consisted of restoration of the RSA building and creation of an underground link (Weston Link) between the RSA and the National Gallery of Scotland building behind. My work on the RSA included cleaning of interior stonework using steam-cleaners, and alone I carried out the removal of graffiti on 2 exterior sides of the buildings & their columns etc. Methods for graffiti removal included use of solvent gels, steam-cleaning and extensive use of a portable laser cleaning machine. Areas of greater disturbance were lime-washed after color matching.

Queensbury House-after completion of restoration

Queensbury House was built in the mid C17th and experience a fascinating history including site of a notorious murder, army barracks, public and geriatric hospital, a House of Refuge and in 1997 it was acquired by the Scottish Office to be integrated into the complex for the new Scottish Parliament building. This part of the project involved restoration of the exterior, return to its original height, and reinforcement with concrete & steel throughout.

For the interior, specialist contractors removed C19th plaster & excavated, then RCHAMS surveyed & documented the internal walls & historical features. Where stonework was of high quality it was left exposed and my work there involved brushing down loose areas of mortar then re-pointing around the stonework using historically accurate mortar. This had been matched for color, aggregate and composition, and was applied & fashioned so that it fitted in with the appearance of the areas of original mortar. Other remaining walls are covered in plasterboard and painted.

Mansfield Church-Christ

The West Wall/gable wall depicts the 'Second Coming of Christ' and was executed by Phoebe Anna Traquair in 1900-1901. My work focused on the upper portion of Christ with a rainbow aura surrounded by angels & musicians located below a wheel window & cill.

West Wall/ The Second Coming of Christ with Pentecostal Frieze below

The raised work/pastiglio on the angels' halos & musical instruments has been oil gilded. The paint is an oil-medium on a lime-plaster ground & it has been varnished. There is a large vertical settlement crack running diagonally through this area.

Showing damage to angels' faces below cill

Water ingress from the wheel window & cill has caused delamination of stonework, failure of plaster & flaking paint-with substantial loss & friability. Facings of eltoline tissue applied in 1993 have temporarily secured the weak & flaking areas of paint, and at the same time some consolidation & reattachment of raised elements was carried out using a PVA.

Carefully removing facing tissue where possible to allow proper condition assessment

Between 2000-2002 the 2year project to stabilize & restore the fabric of the building included repairs to the guttering, windows, stonework, and securing & monitoring the crack.
The large structural crack is now believed to be stable however it is felt to be visually disturbing. There is evidence of overpaint on the edges of the crack suggesting earlier treatment.

Reconstruction of pastiglio

Lascaux Heat-Seal consolidant 375 (70%in white spirit) was injected behind areas of loose/flaking paint & laid down with a tacking iron. Friable areas of plaster were removed and edge-pointed with 1:2 lime/sand course mix.

In-filling of structural crack

The large structural crack was cleared of old loose plaster and deep-filled with the 1:2 lime/sand mix to a level 5mm below surface. Losses in the ground layer were in-filled level with fine filler (1:2.5 lime/marble dust). Losses to angel's halos were remodeled using a traditional gesso putty recipe.

During cleaning to remove surface dirt

Cleaning was carried out using aqueous chelator to remove surface dirt which then allowed an even removal of discolored varnish using using ethanol. This also softened over-paint so it could be removed mechanically.

In-painting losses

Losses to the paint layer were in-painted sympathetically to the original finish in watercolors to bring up to tone then pure pigments bound in varnish medium
(Dammar gloss).

Loss compensation of gilded using transfer gold leaf

A new plane was created over the gap between the two crack edges using the fine filler which was in-painted & in-gilded to achieve a unifying & continuous appearance.

Finished treatment-after final coat of varnish!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Abbey Strand- Painted Ceiling

This project focused on a
decoratively painted timber beam ceiling (early C17th) originally from Midhope castle which is now located in 'Abbey Strand', a late C15th three-story building located next to the Palace of Holyrood at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The building now houses the Historic Scotland bookshop and the treatment of the ceiling was carried out alongside conservators from South Gyle’s structural painting conservation unit.

This ‘beam and board’ timber ceiling was created during the Scottish ‘Renaissance', a period during the reign of James VI (1567-1625) when there was a flourishing of creative activity. A unique collection of painted ceilings, mainly of this type of construction have been found throughout the country.

The oak support beams were painted on all three sides with a design involving geometric patterns, scroll-work and sunbursts. Working in a water-based glue tempera medium or 'distemper' the design was outlined in black over a white chalk ground and then filled in with color. It is unlikely that the decoration received a protective covering by the original artist as often their intention was to achieve an entirely matte surface finish.

Close-up of flaking paint

It was noted that the paint was actively flaking and required immediate attention and stabilization. Distemper paint is often under-bound and appears to be powdery, it is inadvisable to make direct contact with the paint layer during treatment as this is likely to remove it. Therefore it was necessary to work through Japanese facing tissue.

Brushing a weak gelatin solution through Japanese facing tissue

A gelatin solution was chosen to consolidate the powdery and flaking paint because it does not not affect the refractive index (RI) of this paint, hence not changing the appearance, and is not an alien material. However is is very hygroscopic and vulnerable to fluctuations in relative humidity (RH) so a controlled environment is essential.

A cotton swab is used to apply light pressure to lay down the areas of lifting paint whilst removing excess gelatin solution and solublilized surface dirt. The facing tissue is then carefully removed whilst still damp and the painted surface is allowed to dry naturally.

Finished treatment: the delicate surface has been stabilized, flaking areas laid down and surface appears slightly brighter due to removal of some surface dirt.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mackintosh Ingram St. Tearooms

Its been 10 years since I graduated with a BSc in Conservation & Restoration specializing in the decorative surfaces of wood & metal. I really feel very fortunate to have known from a relatively young age that I wanted to become an art conservator and early on I developed a strong interest in historic interiors and painted architecture. My very first project in 2000 really ignited my passion for this specialism:

Historic Scotland Internship in the Conservation of Decorated Architectural Woodwork, based on a project to restore Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Ingram Street Tearoom Interiors, at workshops in Glasgow managed by Glasgow Museums. My supervisors were Andrew Stone then Marie Stumpff.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)

The Ingram Street Tea-rooms in Glasgow City Centre were designed for Miss Kate Cranston by (now) internationally celebrated artist/designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1900 and 1912. It was made up of several interconnecting salons (Ladies Luncheon Room, 2 Billiard Rooms, Oak Room, Oval Room, Ladies Rest Room, Chinese Room & Cloister Room) with hallways, toilets, staircases & catering areas. Though largely wooden in construction, there was also a range of innovative materials employed including leaded mirror glass, leaded casein plastic, woven rush, and areas of gilding and decorative painting. The tearooms were closed in 1950 from then on they were owned by Glasgow City Council and became used for storage and a souvenir shop. They finally removed in 1971 however they were subsequently stored in poor conditions, resulting in considerable damage. In 1977, the rooms were taken into the care of Glasgow Museums who instigated their reconstruction.

Ladies Luncheon (or White) Room (1900) after restoration & reconstruction

Work began on the restoration of the Ladies' Luncheon Room in 1993 for an exhibition on the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The exhibition was held in Glasgow in 1996, later toured in the USA as part of the ‘Art Nouveau’ exhibition, and proved to be a huge success, stimulating interest in the rest of the rooms.

My one-year internship took place in the second year of a three-year Project, which aimed to reconstruct the Chinese Room, Cloister Room and Oval Room with funding from the Scottish Executive, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and private donors. The following year I returned to the project as a freelance conservator

The aim of the conservation project was to 'restore the original design idea whilst retaining as much of the original material as possible'. The reconstructed rooms have been designed to be displayed as free-standing structures.


Before dismantling ca. 1971

Helping to reconstruct new ceiling onto curved mould

The new ceiling was constructed using 'Jesmonite', an acrylic co-polymer, reinforced with
quad-axial fibreglass sheets. The original was constructed with plaster & reinforced with horse hair, but were destroyed from damp storage conditions & reconstruction was guided by B&W
photographs only.

Installation of part of the new ceiling-showing one of the domes

Adhering wooden batons to rear of 'capping' pieces
. Turn buttons were then affixed to these

The 'capping' piece batons fit in existing gap between panels & turn buttons keep them in place from behind

Close-up of niche with leaded mirror panels flanked by painted 'lozenge' design capping pieces, with carved wavy design above

Close-up of wall-panels

The above image shows the range of bright colors employed in the design. Mechanical damage to the surface is visible appearing at chair height and uneven colors of the lozenges due to
discolored overpaint.

Cleaning Tests

Solvents were tested in discrete areas to remove the dark wash that had been applied to some of the non-patterned panels on top of the original finish.


Chinese Room prior to dismantling, ca. 1971

Carrying out structural repairs on lattice parts

The room had been overpainted many times, most recently in this dark green.

Removing heavy overpaint from the woven rush screen revealing damaged underlying paint
layers & defining its true texture.

Following analysis, a new paint was specifically mixed to match the original paint surface in color & composition (lead based). This was applied over the existing layers, because removal of all overpaint layers would be challenging and costly and this method preserves the original.

Repainting of elements

During reassembly before new parts painted

One of the lattice cabinets made up on leaded up casein plastic strips, and mirror glass

One of my personal projects focused on the mirror panels from the Chinese Room-consisting of Flat Panels (89 remaining of 109) & Curved Panels (16 remaining of 17). This included de-installation, cataloging, documenting & carry out individual condition assessments, surface cleaning & packaging for storage.

Showing deterioration to leaded mirror panels

Each panel displayed various types of deterioration: surface dirt, broken or twisted lead came, loose/missing putty, broken/missing glass, missing/deteriorated areas of backing (asphaltum coating), corroded silvering.

Front-cleaning to remove surface dirt
from mirrored surface

I also practiced impregnation methods of repairing cracks in glass, using Hxtal Nyl-1 (2 part) epoxy resin) & carried out in-depth research into methods & materials for consolidation of silvering & backing, in-gilding of missing silvering & application of a protective backing material.

Rear- cleaning to remove surface dirt from fragile backing

OVAL ROOM (1909)

The investigation work on this room was just commencing as my internship drew to a close. No original photographs existed of this room and it had long been documented as being painted white
by authorities on Mackintosh. SO to my great delete during cleaning trials I was the first to discover this was NOT the case after all.

Close-up during cleaning of curved window screen

The white ovepaint was easily removed using aqeous cleaning solutions with non-ionic detergent revealing the underlying original surface-in this case a dark& glossy stain.

Window screen nearing completion of overpaint removal

During removal of overpaint

Paint removal from wooden panel revealed dark, glossy stain with relief work picked out in silver

During cleaning trials

And a fabric with wood surround panel revealed an underlying gold!

Glasgow Museums has now restored the Chinese Room and the Cloister Room, and sections are displayed in the newly refurbished Kelvingrove Museum. Little photographic evidence of the tearooms over these years is known to exist. The Ingram Street Tearoom was originally one of four tearooms owned by Kate Cranston with designs provided by Mackintosh, the others being Buchanan St., Argyle St., & the Willow (on Sauchiehall St). They are now the only original set of Mackintosh tearoom interiors to survive.

In forthcoming blogs I will talk about other projects I worked on at the Ingram Street Tearooms!

For more info on Mackintosh & the Glasgow Style: