Orlando Rouland Oil Arrives for Cleaning

It is always exciting when a painting we have only seen on a computer screen arrives at the studio. Today we received a fine oil sketch by Orlando Rouland, which we recently acquired from Leland Little Auctions in Hillsborough, North Carolina, on behalf of our client . On unpacking we found a beautiful, vigorously painted oil on board with a heavy layer of grime and an unflattering frame.RoulandAsReceivedLoResFirst we took photos then we removed the painting from its frame. We could see a thick, glossy and somewhat yellow varnish that dissolved with a mix of solvents.RoulandTestCleaningLoRes

With the varnish off we found a layer of dark grime, leaving us to wonder for the millionth time why someone would varnish a painting without cleaning it first. Happily we had good results with a mixture of Vulpex, solvents and water, as seen here. Based on this test cleaning we know that the warm summer sunlight Rouland captured in this painting will be shining again when we finish our treatment. Here is a close-up of the test area, showing the well-preserved impasto texture that helps make this little painting so effective.

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Iliana in the News!

This month Brian Coleman, author of Classic Cottages: Simple, Romantic Homes writes about Iliana’s latest project, an historic property atop New York’s Catskill Mountains. The article appears in October’s Old-House Journal Magazine.

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In the Studio: Restoring an Ebonized Elephant Table

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Recently we received a call from a new client with a furniture problem. She had inherited a table with a base carved in the form of an elephant. The finish was black and badly damaged. I went up to meet the lady, her table and, it turns out, her dog Sadie.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie is a charming young dog with good taste in furniture. She adopted the elephant table as her own with visible consequences. She even chewed the tail off the back of the elephant. Now, we TreasureTrackers are highly dog-friendly so this was not shocking. Sadie helped me examine the table, I took some photos, then I took the table back to Center Art Studio for treatment.

When I inspected the table closely, I found some surprises. First, I noticed that the eyes and tusks were actually ivory even though they were now black. I also saw strange drips in the black finish under the top. Clearly someone had painted over the ebonized mahogany to “restore” the black. Remember that “ebonizing” is not the same as painting wood black to resemble ebony. Proper ebonizing is done with black or brown-black stain (nowadays we use aniline dye – I get good results with Solar-Lux by H. Behlen). This produces a thin but strongly colored finish that allows some sense of the wood grain to show through. I determined to remove the black housepaint with solvent to expose the wood, allowing me to then recreate a proper ebonized look.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

For the top coat I chose amber shellac, applied with a brush. The first coat was very thin, to soak deeply into the wood. The final coat was applied more thickly, then lightly sanded. Then paste wax applied with steel wool and buffed with old rags, and I was ready to return Sadie’s table.

Sadie was out, but the family cat took a test drive.

Sadie was out, but Baby took a test drive.

As it turned out, Sadie was out but the family cats, Baby and Angel, took advantage of her absence and inspected my work.

Happily scratches in an ebonized finish are easily touched up with a Q-tip and some aniline dye (available at a paint store). Some people use black shoe polish, but I recommend trying to find the dye (or contacting us!).

I may see this table again.

In the Studio with: Godzilla

Alligator lamp - I call him Godzilla - before and aftere treatment.

Alligator lamp - I call him Godzilla - before and after treatment.

Every week is different at the studio, and the end of summer usually brings some crazy projects. But a baby alligator lamp? Really?

This piece of vintage taxidermy came in with lots of problems. One leg was coming off, the coconut shell was peeling, various parts were missing, and it was leaking sawdust. Happily I have had similar things through the studio (like a diorama of a roadside saloon with 23 stuffed animals – voles, squirrels, etc. – dancing and drinking at the bar!). So I knew how to make strong but simple repairs without getting carried away.

I started by taking some Jade glue, thinning it a little with water, and painting it into all the areas where the sawdust was leaking. Jade is a great adhesive –  like a conservator’s version of Elmer’s – that won’t yellow and is easily reversible. In this case the Jade worked to hold the sawdust in place and stop it from leaking. I also used Jade to glue down pieces of alligator hide that were lifting up or flaking. Jade is a very good consolidant. I use it often on the edges of a canvas where it is meets the stretcher and is worn and flaking.

Broken leg: before, during and after repair.

Broken leg: before, during and after repair.

The taxidermist used a metal armature to give the alligator form. I used Devcon 5-minute Epoxy mixed with wood dust to cement the broken leg back in place. First I cleaned the exposed metal with a little acetone to insure a good joint. Then I filled the gaps on either side of the break with epoxy and brought the pieces into position. After five minutes the epoxy hardened and the leg was strong again. I used another epoxy product, plumber’s epoxy, to fill gaps and make the missing parts. Plumber’s epoxy (available in most hardware stores) is a two-part putty that hardens in about ten minutes. This gives you time to model shapes (like alligator toes). Finally I used Japanese mulberry paper and Jade glue to cover joints and parts made from epoxy. After the repairs were finished I inpainted where needed with Gamblin conservation colors.

Now the little guy is free to run through the streets of Manhattan like a Japanese movie from the 1950s (see picture). Have a great Labor Day and check back soon for our next post.

Happy End of Summer from the TreasureTrackers!

Happy End of Summer from the TreasureTrackers!

Treasures for sale

NightingaleTNYou can’t keep everything. Believe me, I’ve tried. So from time to time we will post items from our inventory – things we tracked down then made ready for display – in our blog. Just click Treasures for sale to visit the sale page. If you see something you like, just contact us (lansing@dongancollection.com)!

In the Studio: Restoring a Chinese Painting

Damaged area of Chinese painting on silk, before and after inpainting.

Damaged area of Chinese painting on silk, before and after inpainting.

A good antique Chinese scroll painting, now framed, in my studio for treatment.

A good antique Chinese scroll painting, now framed, in my studio for treatment.

After chasing Iliana around the fields of Madison-Bouckville I was ready to return to my work tables at Center Art Studio. A comfy chair, air conditioning, and a view of Times Square (if you lean out of the window a little bit). Best of all, some great old things to work on and enjoy.

Today I’m working on an antique Chinese painting on silk, originally a scroll. It is a beautiful thing, about six feet tall, but sadly it suffered extensive abrasion in the bottom 10 – 12 inches. The image is classic Chinese painting: a beautiful pavilion in a rocky landscape with a sailboat in the upper distance and a bridge over a stream in the foreground (the most damaged area). The palette is subtle, dominated by an amber light, with details in muted greens, reds, and brown-black. This painting shows the Chinese way of showing perspective – so different from traditional Western painting. The different parts of this scene seem to exist in one plane, then in no rational space at all, shifting as I look at it.

My job today is to inpaint the abrasions where the color is lost at the bottom. Inpainting is like retouching, with the added connotation of only adding paint where the original is missing (retouching within the damaged area rather than painting over it). I am using Gamblin conservation colors with a#6 Kolinsky sable brush (this one is the da Vinci Restauro series, which I really like).  If you are looking for supplies and have trouble finding things I mention, start with the Talas website. They have just about everything and years of experience as well.

Inpainting - adding color only within the damaged area, leaving all original color untouched.

Inpainting - adding color only within the damaged area, leaving all original color untouched.

If you do the inpainting right, the painting will look much better after treatment but the extent of damage will still be clearly visible under close examination, like with a UV lamp. We use UV, or blacklight, flashlights to check paintings when we are thinking about buying them or preparing treatment proposals. Restorations show up clearly. Often the restorer added much more paint than needed, causing a painting to look worse than it is. But I digress – UV in the field and in the studio will be the subject of a future post.

After a few hours I was pretty happy with the progress. I’ll head home, then come in tomorrow morning and see how it looks with fresh eyes.

Hard at work. Maybe next time I'll try to inpaint my gray hair.

Hard at work. Maybe next time I'll try to inpaint my gray hair.

Madison-Bouckville: What We Bought

Iliana and I arrived on the field with different goals: she was shopping for specific projects, with defined needs. I was poking around, looking for the unusual (and cheap). We both lucked out.

Soon after we arrived, I saw this beautiful Aesthetic picture frame with cattails in relief on the vertical sides. These frames were made in the 1870s and 1880s. Frames like this, which have ornament running all around the corners – not interrupted by a miter cut – are more desirable. My find is a good size (about 22″ by 12″ wide) and in great condition. I will give it a light cleaning back in the studio, but not too much – this surface is fragile. Not bad for $60!

Aesthetic frame with cattails in relief, made circa 1880.

Aesthetic frame with cattails in relief, made circa 1880.

Country bench with worn green paint and tenoned legs.

Country bench with worn green paint and tenoned legs.

Iliana is designing a general store in the Catskills, so she needs tables, chairs and display furniture. She found several old painted country benches with legs joined to the top by tenons rather than nails. She will use these on top of tables and counters to form additional display shelves in the store.

Choosing from a large selection of affordable, sturdy 19th c. country chairs.

Choosing from a large selection of affordable, sturdy 19th c. country chairs.

For seating indoors, Iliana chose a variety of 19th century chairs with caned seats and various backs – turned spindle, stick-and-ball, carved, etc. She also found painted metal tables with wood tops and chairs to match, suitable for use outside (these were already with the trucker by the time I caught up…Iliana wastes no time at an antique fair).

Iliana closes on an Empire chest.

Iliana closes on an Empire chest.

Iliana bought this Empire chest for a client. She liked that it was lighter in color than many Empire pieces we see (the result of a recent refinish, and the use of bird’s eye maple as well as mahogany).

Three panel folding screen frame with old crackled blue paint.

Three panel folding screen frame with old crackled blue paint.

Last but not least, I spotted this painted oak screen frame. The frame, which is in great condition, was probably made around 1890. It has a nice, deeply crackled pale blue painted surface. I think it will work well with some French wallpaper I have back in the studio. I was very happy with the price ($40). Thanks Brian!

So we all came away with something, and I stuck with my budget for once. Even Milly got an ice cream on our way out of town. I’m looking forward to next year’s show!

Next post: back in the studio