42nd Annual Meeting- WAG Session, May 29, “What Lay Beneath – Revealing the Original Exuberant Painted Decoration of an 18th century Painted Pennsylvania German Shrank” by Scott Nolley and Kathy Gillis

Nolley and Gillis treated a 17th century Pennsylvania German shrank which is a rare example with surviving original painted finish including faux burl wood graining and colorful decorative ornaments.
Shrank is a German word for wardrobe; many such cabinets were made in America by immigrants, using locally available woods. As with other types of furniture, these would sometimes have been faux painted to imitate a fancier wood with more elaborate carving or decoration; grain painting was a common decorative technique. Due to their utilitarian nature, original finishes on early examples seldom survive.
Cross-section analysis showed that the Chipstone shrank did have original paint, but with large areas compromised by fire damage and wear from use. This led to the initial overpainting in the early 19th century, followed by several consecutive paint treatments over the years, including an opaque, gray-blue colored casein based paint. This gray-blue layer proved to be very intractable, particularly over areas that were burned or highly worn. Cleaning solutions with chelators were able to remove the majority; agar gel was used for local cleaning around sensitive areas. Older oil-based coating layers actually acted as a resist to prevent the cleaning from going too far.
Completed with varnishing, waxing, and selective inpainting, the treatment was able to successfully expose original decoration and give a sense of the shrank’s intended appearance.