Category Archives: Antiques

Two monumental portraits return to The Players after a summer at Center Art Studio

Our continuing work on the collection of The Players Collection reached a high point last week when we returned two larger-than-life portraits after a summer in treatment.  Our friend Michael Gerbino, Chairman of the Branding Committee at The Players, writes: “After a long hot summer two masterpieces from the collection of The Players Foundation have found their way home: Edwin Booth as the sinister Cardinal in Richelieu by John Collier and Joseph Jefferson as the cowardly Bob Acres in The Rivals by John White Alexander. The restoration and conservation talents of Center Art Studio have peeled away layers of grime to reveal brilliant renditions of these towering theatrical giants by two of the most prominent portrait artists of their time. The first two presidents of The Players return to face each other in theatrical battle in an alcove between The Great Hall and The Dining Room, one actor in tragedy and the other in comedy -representing the club’s logo in painterly form. The portrait of Booth as Richelieu was painted in London by Collier and first exhibited at the Royal Academy. Jefferson thought so much of his role as Bob Acres that he had a train station in Louisiana named in the character’s honor. The Richelieu was restored in memory of Player Scott Glascock.”

We look forward to future projects with this great New York collection.Alexander Collier Artwork at The Players


New-York Historical Society features Center Art Studio on its History Detectives Blog

We are honored to appear in the History Detectives blog on the New-York Historical Society website. Thanks to DiMenna Children’s Museum director Alice Stevenson, Social Media and Content Manager Claire L. Lanier, Manager of Family Programs Shana Fung and all our other friends at N-YHS!


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.


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.



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 (!