Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is the Salem Mirror Panel Finally Done?

I have just finished another version of the Salem mirror panel started in part I.

This has a number of adjustments, including color changes, and additional detail for a livelier wharf scene. I'd really like to another version, but I'm afraid that might send my very patient customer over the edge, as it has been almost a year since this project began.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I was on a business/pleasure trip to Cape Cod this past week, and since the weather was so incredible took the fast ferry over to Nantucket. The weather next day was even better, so I went back to take more pictures.

A beautiful spot, but don't fall too much in love with it unless you have lots of spending money. Still, the convenience of the ferry lets you savor some of what the hedge fund managers have  - no charge to look!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Paddle Wheeler Mirror

Mirror with reverse panel

 I normally avoid buying these  wood frame mirrors, but somehow I seem to be winding up with a collection of them.  This one also had the style of reverse glass painting I dislike, where the picture is done with a dotted outline, then filled in much like a child's coloring book. And while this one had the original glass panel, it was badly repaired at one point.

So, why did I buy it? Well, it was very inexpensive, and I thought it was interesting because the reverse glass painting was of a paddle wheel steam boat with the name "Webster".  Up to now I have avoided making any paintings in this style, but this was interesting enough to make me do one for my portfolio.

Close-up of panel. Bright yellow spot and light blue stern end are some of the old touch-ups.

Looking at this, and another reverse panel I have in my collection, I tried to determine the procedure for this style. I had originally assumed that this was some form of stencil, but under close examination, it appears that the dots are applied individually (perhaps one day I will find two identical panels and be able to compare them to test the stencil theory. Perhaps one reason for using this dotted line style was that it required less dexterity with a brush to paint smooth lines, or may have simply been for artistic effect.

As usual, I began by making a tracing of the original. I applied my dotted outline by dipping the end of a bamboo skewer in the paint, then tapping out my line of dots. A look at some illustrations confirmed what should be in the "missing" sections due to the original's repairs.

While the primary goal is to document the original, in some cases, such as this, there are some aspects that are too crude or badly done to replicate. The flags had a metal foil backing (a technique known as "tinsel painting"), but the paint detail was badly done. I also wanted two of them to more accurately depict American flags. I changed the water and sky color a bit out of personal preference, but will likely change again when I do another version to place in a mirror frame.

As of now, the source of this design is a mystery.  I have found some other examples, with the same style of frame and painting, representing different steamers. This leads me to believe someone decided that this was a market niche, and whether done here, or more likely, ordered from Europe, there must have been some demand for them. It would be interesting to find out if these were actually used on any of these boats, were sold as souvenirs to passengers or crew, or simply capitalized on local interest and pride for the boats' home ports.

I contacted a historic steamship  organization, and while there were some with the name "Webster" in their databases, there was no way of knowing which, if any of them were mine. I don't have a great interest in maritime subjects, but now I'll have to keep my eye out for an image of this side-wheeler.

And for now, at least, I have another item for my collection of "mirrors I don't like".

My version

Saturday, April 25, 2015

It's Spring, so Let's Strip!

Before stripping
A sure sign that spring is here is not the blooming daffodils, but Joseph out in the driveway with paint stripper. I had several mirrors that needed to be done, and due to the hazardous nature of the materials, will only strip paint outdoors, on breezy days. And since I had a few to work on, it feels good to get as much out of the way as possible.

This large convex mirror is not period, but a substantial and impressive look. Probably from the 1940s-50 era, it was not done in real gold, which was evident by the areas that had darkened and some parts had turned green.

I'm not sure what I will do with this - since it is not period I can do something more creative, but some re-gilding will be involved. I need to replicate some missing pieces to one side ornament, and the spherules will be replaced with water gilt ones.

Paint mostly stripped

As found
This small Federal mirror did not look that appealing when I purchased it at a recent auction - the bronze paint had turned dark, and touch-ups were a coppery color. It also had some damage, but the eglomise panel, while crudely done, was an original in fine condition.

Stripping the paint shows what this mirror has the potential to become. Fortunately the spherules were in good shape, so that is one blessing, and the gold on them was still intact after stripping.

Discolored bronze paint

Remains of original gilding under the paint

The third mirror is a late Sheraton with a relief carved panel applique. Again, a heavy hand with the bronze paint killed any charm this may have had. Just stripping brought back quite a bit of the original surface, and I may be able to do the repairs without re-gilding (although I will probably need to do all the existing spherules, plus make replacements for the missing ones.

The deadly dull brown of tarnished bronze paint.

Just stripping the paint did wonders for this one

Well, these may not get worked on again for a while, but it is nice knowing that the dirtiest, worst part is over. More posts will follow as these projects move along.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Convex Mirror Restoration

This winter project for a client in Maine is probably late 19th/early 20th century. Allover gilded with areas of burnished and matte gilding (or bronze powder gilding). There are painted bands at mirror edge (simulating an ebony liner).

As delivered

These mirrors are a classic style, and are always popular, even when out of period. Due to their fragile nature and construction, they often have damage. Any time gesso is applied to a curved surface, age shrinkage and warping tend to have an exaggerated effect. In this case, there were numerous areas of gesso loss: a 3-4" section of top convex band, and areas at outer edges, plus losses on large fruit cornucopia ornaments. The spherules were almost all badly compromised. The bottom pendant ornament was missing approximately 2-3 inches at left side and bottom center leaf.

Missing section of raised band

Edge losses

Cracking and spherule condition

Wishing to avoid a full re-gilding, some areas of damage were stabilized as much as possible, but not stripped. Gesso applied where missing, over new carving on bottom pendant, and on spherules which needed to be stripped and completely redone.

Gesso work

Gilding begins

More gilding

Gilding work done

After distressing/toning, the mirror retains a worn appearance, and if anything, look older than its actual date. More reliable hanging hardware was installed, along with additional bracing for basket ornament.

Finally, a nice looking mirror ready for someone's home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Salem Harbor Reverse Glass Painting (Part I)

One of my current projects is a reverse painting on glass of a harbor scene.

This request came from a man in Florida who wanted a panel in a mirror, but had no original to copy. Since the mirror was possibly not period, and there was no restriction on the design, the decision was made to honor his wife's home town of Salem, Massachusetts. And since the style of the mirror is Federal, which is the period at which Salem was at its height, this seemed like a good match.

I had done something similar before, but there were difficulties finding images that were iconic enough to be read as "Salem" without presenting historic anachronisms.

The solution was to use a section of a painting in the Peabody Essex Museum showing Crowninshield's wharf. This reflects the influence of the China trade which brought wealth to Salem, and the influence of Asian decorative arts to the western hemisphere.

Panorama of Crowinshield's Wharf at the Peabody Essex Museum

Detail of painting selected

Due to our now famous "winter from hell", as well as assorted mishaps and other issues, our planned trips to the Peabody to view the painting in person kept falling through. The test panel I am preparing to work out the design will have some areas of ambiguity, as the on-line image was not of high enough resolution for me to see all the detail. I am planning that before the final panel is done, I will be able to photograph the original painting.

The first steps were to create a pattern, which, thanks to modern technology, was not difficult (as long as you remember to flip it, since you are painting in reverse!). I added a "Salem" sign to the side of the building, as it seemed the most graceful way of identifying the location.

Color testing on scrap glass (as seen from back)

Since this was a complete new creation, I needed to make at least one preliminary glass. This is not as refined as I want in a finished glass, but it is simply to work out the design, colors, and find out where the problems will arise. In fact, it may even be necessary to do another pass at a test panel before the final, but even if that is necessary, it will still be possible to work on that and the final panel simultaneously.

Even simple designs require drying times between some steps. In this case, there are more steps involved, and the logistics of what to paint in order to shorten the process can be frustrating.

A front view as the work progresses

Completed test panel.

As this progresses, I already have notes on what will change in next version. I'll probably need to do a second test panel before the final.

More to come later....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sometimes Gold isn't the Answer

As found
I picked up this mirror about seven years ago, and never got around to doing anything with (yeah, same old story). Frankly, it wasn't valuable or attractive enough to warrant my attention. But as part of my resolution to deal with the unfinished project pile, I took it out for re-evaluation.

The outer border was interesting, with its all-over composition ornament resembling woven netting. There were a number of areas of damage, particularly at the edges where this was most vulnerable. It was also covered in the traditional "gold" radiator paint, and with a somewhat charming, but inappropriate painted panel in the upper section.

Rather than invest a lot of time and materials, I opted for a more decorative solution. The low value did not warrant using karat gold leaf, and an all-over gilding seemed like it would be too over-the-top.


I used composition gold on the mirror lips and composition ornament adjacent. I then began building up my painted surface, A gray/green was the basis, followed by a violet-tinged gray. This was followed by a glazing of sienna, followed by a wax/rottenstone treatment.

Base coat

Gray coat

The final effect is subtle, yet rich, particularly when the inner applique with its original, though worn gilding as put back. Once mirror plates are installed we are done!