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

Friday, April 3, 2020

Well is it the Whole Ball of Wax or Not?

The current skewings jar

I'm in the middle of another  gilding project. While working with gold leaf, you do wind up with small scraps, or "skewings" - the excess gold that did not adhere and gets brushed off the item. It's a good idea to save these since they can come in handy later. For example, touch-up work in crevices or inner areas where these can be pushed in and then the excess removed (remember putting glitter on Elmer's glue when you were in elementary school?).

They can also be used in some decorative painting techniques where they are scattered on a surface.

As you become more experienced as a gilder, you get better at handling and laying leaf, so you don't have as much excess as you might think. This is a jar I've been using for years, and as you can see, it still has room. As for actual gold content, due to the thinness of the leaf, there are only a few grams of gold in there.

You've probably heard the saying "The whole ball of wax" meaning "everything". Some people believed that this came from the practice of picking up the scrap gold with a ball of wax, to be sent for sale at the scrap gold dealer. As it would take a long time to accumulate enough gold to make this worthwhile, someone could walk off with it; - making off with "the whole ball of wax".

These, and other versions are probably just legends. It is believed the true origin of the phrase derived from "the whole bailiwick".

Gilders like our story better.