Sunday, January 24, 2021

This Mirror Had Visitors

As found

Oh, the perils of purchasing something on-line!

This small mirror was inexpensive (yes, you get what you pay for) but the size and look were appealing, particularly since although the mirror plate was likely not original, they followed the convention of beveled edge, separate plates. 

 Upon pickup, the mirror required a bit of examination. Still unclear to me is whether the frame is original, or an adaptation/alteration. There was evidence of insect infestation (although not current). Particular enticing areas were the small blocks holding the mirror plate, which, as was usual, were adhered with an animal glue. Very tempting to insects. In addition, some of the built up gesso suffered the same fate, again, due to the animal glue component. 

Since there is no evidence of fresh or recent frass (a classier name for insect you-know-what) I'm not concerned about continued damage. Treatment will begin with wood consolidant, then rebuilding of the most damaged areas. 

 The surface has an old finish. I'm thinking that a cleaning/waxing will be in keeping. The liner, once repaired will be re-gilded. 

Approximately 39" x 14" Purchase date 8/10/19

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Frame Fix-Up

Back in the day, when you went to a picture framer they didn't always just cut and join pre-finished moldings. I really like the frames that truly were "custom" where the framer started with wood and created a surface treatment.

As purchased. Bottom and left rails with no finish remaining, deterioration on remander.

I purchased this painting a few years back. The frame's finish had suffered greatly. Two legs of the frame were down to bare wood. Possibly it had gotten damp and the gesso deteriorated, or perhaps someone started trying to (misguidedly) return the frame to "natural wood" and gave up.

Applying gesso

After a cleanup, new gesso was applied. A painted finish was built up with applications of various colors, along with some gentle distressing, to wind up with an "interesting grey".

Building the paint layers

There is no finish or additional work over the paint. When the painting is sent out for cleaning and re-varnishing I may need to adjust the frame color. Finishing will take place at that time.


Finished (sort of)


Monday, January 11, 2021

Another One Finally Checked on the "To-Do" List


These little mirrors are smaller versions of the typical early 19th century "cottage" mirrors with their split balusters, corner blocks and a panel at the top. The antique version would hold a reverse glass painting. These mini versions usually had a print of a "Colonial" scene, and judging by the photos or prints they appear to be from the 1020s or so.

They show up fairly frequently, and I don't know why I bought this one. Probably just felt bad for it. I spruced up the frame and did a reverse glass painting. It now looks more like a period mirror.

This wasn't a particularly difficult or time consuming project, so why was it on the wall of my workshop, staring reproachfully at me for a few years before I finally tackled it? As they say, "the cobbler's children....".

Anyway, another of the pandemic era projects is finally done!

Finished. Approximately 13" high.

In its original state

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas Bells are Ringing


Well, we've come to the end of the year. And what a year.

I've been away from this blog for various reasons (none of them good). 

In addition to the pandemic, we sold the house in Maine, and my partner of 40-plus years passed away in November after a long decline.

Now that things are settling out, I will be posting again, trying to get caught up with what has gone on through 2020 and keeping up with 2021.

I hope 2021 will be better for all of us!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Don't Sit Under This Apple Tree

Some of the houses on my street are located in what was an apple orchard back in the old days. Just about all the really old apple trees are now gone. This is what remains of what was the last one in the back yard. I feel that since they survived so long there is something undignified about hauling away their remains. Plus, they can supply sketching and painting subjects.

I took a number of photographs, and took my sketchpad out for some quick studies.

Since our lovely Spring weather turned, as is typical of New England, the ensuing watercolors were done indoors.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Mirror! Aristocracy! The Theater!

Sometimes a project reveals information that, while not important or valuable, does at least liven up the day a bit.

When you need to work on an old frame or mirror, it is nice when you need to do a small repair without opening everything up. For bigger projects, you need to dismantle. This is primarily for ease of work (and minimizing risk too art or mirror plate. Sometimes you want to learn more, and need to look for clues inside.

This over-mantel mirror is in sorry condition. Probably English, 18th century, as soon as I saw it I knew the mirror was replaced (if the mirror was period). Mirrors of this type would not have a single panel of mirror plate; the custom was for three panels, usually with slightly beveled edges, and no wooden dividers between them. This is usually attributed to taxation on large panes of glass or mirror; probably just as likely to the logistics and expense of getting a single large piece. 

Arrival in my elegantly appointed workshop

 In any event, as soon as I lifted it I knew the glass was replaced, as this was heavy plate glass. While this type of glass is of good quality, it is not a good replacement for antique mirrors that were made for thinner, lighter glass. Often times the frames cannot support the weight, and hanging hardware pulls out of the old, dry wood and the mirror comes crashing down. This one had eye-hooks and wire spanning the frame; NOT the way you want to hang a mirror like this. A miracle it survived at all.

First step was to remove the back panels. 

Museum accession label

Pasted on the backboard is a Cincinnati Art Museum accession label from 1945, showing source as the Marquise de Talleyrand.

The nails holding the panels were modern wire nails, as would be expected with replaced mirror plate. And, as was common with framers years back, cardboard was used between the mirror and dust panels.

Cardboard a sign that this mirror has been worked on since the 18th century

When I turned them over - a theatrical surprise! Someone had used theater posters. The Ruth Gordon poster was for a play from the 1944 season; the ballet was likely from 1950. So unless the workshop had a really old stash of stuff, this mirror plate was probably replaced in the early 1950s.

Maybe the workshop was in the theater district?

Will need to stabilize the gesso, and make any infills needed. The rails are not carved, then gessoed, but instead the gesso is built into a thick layer and then carved. Tedious work to be sure.

This is another one of my personal projects, so it will probably be pretty low on the priority list. Don't expect to see an update on the finished project any time soon, but at least now, without the glass it's a lot easier to lift into its storage slot.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Another Mirror I Really Didn't Want

Mirror as found

These later version of the classic overmantel mirror were popular between the 1890s and WWI eras. They usually wound up hanging over a sideboard in the dining room if not actually used over a fireplace. They are usually poorly constructed with thin molded ornament. They are also usually deteriorating and not worth taking home, much less restoring. 

I happened across this one, and the price ($10!) was, as they say, right. I didn't really want the frame - I wanted it for the piece of mirror plate in the center section. When I got home with it, I realized that it was more substantial, and of better quality than most of these I run across. The turnings and ornament were fairly robust, and the prints nice copies of early ones. Some areas were water gilt, the rest flash gilded. 

Of course, nothing is perfect. There was a section of rail that sustained damage. I made a mold and cast a replacement. Actually two, since fitting these curved pieces can be tricky, and invariable at least one attempt shatters. Having a backup ensures that the first one will work fine and the second will not be needed.

There will be some gesso fills and touch-ups. I'm also debating replacing the prints with mirror plate. But since it will probably just end up in storage, maybe I'll make that decision later.

Missing section and new casting

Casting fitted into position