41st Annual Meeting- Textiles + Wooden Artifacts Joint Session, June 1, “Two's Company: Supportive Relationships” by Nancy Britton

Nancy Britton presented several interesting examples of innovative upholstery treatments using carbon fiber support for the underupholstery. She also shared interesting discoveries from examining construction methods and written markings on multiples and sets of furniture from the same workshop and from the same collection.
The treatments used carbon fiber as woven “fabric” sheets which can be cut, shaped, and embedded in epoxy to create very strong, rigid supports for the upholstery layers above. Nancy has used the carbon fiber/epoxy matrix by casting it onto an ethafoam base, casting smaller parts to assemble, and making a one-piece shell.  She also makes up flat stock to have on hand which can be cut and shaped more quickly than casting pieces.
Carbon fiber is also available in many other forms from numerous suppliers, including a sandwich board similar to honeycomb aluminum panels, available from the company Protech: http://www.protechcomposites.com/categories/Sandwich-Panels/ (Please note, I am not aware if this specific product is suitable for conservation use.) More information on carbon fiber is available over on the wiki: http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Carbon_Fiber
Next, I was very interested to see and hear how Nancy examines pieces, and all the information that can be gained even from a bare, deupholstered frame. By looking at the tool marks, hole patterns, and remaining hardware, she has been able to see differences in working method that she feels indicate the work of different craftsmen. One set of furniture she examined had identical materials but differences in working style that suggest they were made in the same shop and  time period, but upholstered by different people.  Variations in the stitching also provide clues.
Finally, Nancy showed examples of markings (numbers) found on chair frames and upholstery layers of pieces from the Met’s Hoentschel show at Bard Graduate Center.  By looking at the marks and comparing them to early photographs of installations at the Met, along with other exhibition information from the archives, she was able to learn more about the upholstery timeline and how the chairs looked in the past.
Nancy’s talk reminded me that careful documentation of an entire piece, down to the smallest and apparently insignificant details, can provide a wealth of knowledge. We may discover new information about the piece’s history, and learn more about past upholsterers, who remain largely unknown.