Conservation Efforts on the c. 1793 Dressing Screen

This year is going by in a flash!  Things at the Society are slowing down a bit, giving more time for fun projects that will preserve the objects and history of Lewes’s past.

If you have been on a tour of our historic complex in recent years you may recall a lacquer dressing screen located in the corner of the dining room of the Burton-Ingram House.

This piece is believed to be from the Mustard family who were engaged in the China trade and is dated c. 1793.  Dressing screens were traditionally used to provide privacy when changing garments and they soon became fashionable home décor.  The screen is made up of two lacquered wooden panels.  The front panels feature intricately carved mother of pearl/bone inlay in a bird and cherry blossom tree motif framed by a red lacquer border with hand painted chrysanthemums; the backs are gorgeously hand painted in a design featuring birds and various types of flowers.  The two floating panels are framed in hand carved wood also featuring the bird and flower motif that runs throughout the screen as a whole.

As beautiful as the piece is; it is in dire need of restoration which is where I come in.  I’m Cassandra Carr and many of you may know me as our  Executive Director’s , Michael DiPaolo, assistant in the office of The Lewes Historical Society.  You may not know that I would love to go to graduate school for art conservation.  Mike and the Society Board were kind enough to see my desire to prepare for a future as an Art Conservator and granted me the task of restoring the screen to its original beauty.

Since this is my first project, I will be working under the supervision of Gene Boemer.  You may remember this name from previous blog posts as he was the genius behind the restoration of Delaware Breakwater Quarantine Station Oyster Shell Painting.  Gene has also restored several paintings in the Society’s collection.

Over the summer months Gene and I have met periodically to discuss the project and the phases that will be needed to reach our goal.  A short version the restoration process is below:

•    Document the object in its current condition (photographs and thorough descriptions)
•    Meet with Gene to discuss and test proper cleaning materials that will not further harm the condition of the screen.
•    Clean both sides of the screen including the wooden frame.
•    Discuss the missing pieces and come to a conclusion as to what those missing pieces were, come up with a plan to replicate these pieces to as close to their originals as possible
•    Carve replacement pieces
•    Apply replacement pieces
•    Repair cracks in lacquer
•    Repair areas damaged by glue drippings from, presumably, a failed repair attempt.
•    Final phases to be determined

Here are a few pictures showing close ups of the screen taken during the restoration process.

Lacquer Screen on display at the Burton-Ingram House, prior to the undertaking of conservation work.

Floral detail of c. 1793 lacquer dressing screen during conservation observation.

Detail of bird's wing from c. 1793 lacquer dressing screen during conservation observation.

As you can see there are many pieces of mother of pearl/bone missing.  One of the trickiest parts of this process will be to recreate these pieces and to replace them, to bring back the screen as close to its original condition as possible.
At the moment the initial documentation phase is complete.  Gene and I have met, discussed and tested cleaning materials.  I will begin cleaning the screen this week.  The cleaning process will be quite tedious as it will be done using q-tips!  But luckily I have a ton of patience, so this is right up my alley.
I will be working on the second floor of the Ryves Holt House, feel free to stop by.  If I am in, I would be more than happy to give you an up close look at what I am doing.

Stay tuned for some before and after pictures during the cleaning process!

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One response to “Conservation Efforts on the c. 1793 Dressing Screen

  1. This is just wonderful! I am so happy you have taken on this project.
    I am looking forward to seing it completed!! Beautiful!

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