42nd Annual Meeting – We can fix it but should we? Take 2: Part Two – The Treatment of Mr Chips Tad Fallon

As the title indicates this paper is the second part of a treatment that was discussed at last year’s session, and subsequently implimented during the past year. It brings up some fascinating and controversial issues and I admire Tad’s courage and boldness in presenting it to the profession. In short he totally refinished and recolored a work of art-furniture by a living artist.
I strongly encourage everyone, whether WAG or not to read the final paper because the detailed rational for the treatment are beyond what a humble first time blogger is capabable of re-iterating. The treatment was not casual and it is the thought and consideration that enlivens the context and makes this such a stimulating paper.
Tad’s treatment has created a different work of art. It is not the same as the original. The artist-applied colors and varnishes were first destroyed by UV light and the remnants removed by Tad. Tad then applied new colors by working with the artist. Although the resulting furnture is not exactly the same; it could be as close as anybody is ever going to get. He interviewed the artist and the artist assitant, he gathered the exact same materials, he learned the techniques of application (from the artist and otherwise) and documented everything. He also researched the effect of the treatment on the value of the piece which is something he can add to a treatment that few other furniture conservators can provide. He consulted with not only the owner of course, but with dealers as to the effect his treatment would have on value.
It is context that makes this paper so interesting. I would probably never do this treatment because in my lab and with the goals of my institution I would not be justified in such a radical intervention. But I am not allowed to talk to John Townsend, or Lockwood DeForest or any of the hundreds of annoymous workers that have made the furniture that I have treated. Even if I could, I doubt that I would listen to their advice without falling into professional funk.
I treat furniture to be placed in a historic house that is interpreted for the early 21st century viewer. That is my context. An example that occurred to me after Tad’s presentation was an 18th century French commode that I recently returned to a 19th century Gilded Age setting. Like any piece of marquetry furniture it had been stripped and sanded on a probably routine basis to restore the colors. (Not an option for Tad.) At some point the veneers became too thin for this practice to continue and, probably not coincidently, the standards of collectors have changed to accept the patina of age. It has been French polished to a whore’s shine, but still almost everyone that sees it thinks it is beautiful. It has sat in the same corner with everything else in the room for over 70 years. For me to even approach 50% of Tad’s intervention with this piece would be ridiculous.
Tad’s paper stimulated me to look at my own context and the assumptions that I bring to any treatment especially wooden furntiure. “It should suggest the artist’s intent but still show its age” – what exaxctly does that mean? It all depends on context. Now if I could just tone down some of these upholstery fabrics a little bit . . . Why is the context for a chair different than an upholstered chair seat?