43rd Annual Meeting- Wooden Artifacts Session, May 15, “Bending over Backwards: Treatment of Four Chinese Export Bamboo and Rattan Chairs” by Michaela Neiro, Historic New England

Bamboo Settee, Historic New England Collection
Bamboo Settee, Historic New England Collection

Michaela Neiro spoke about a great treatment of bamboo furniture for exhibit at Quincy House, a historic home in Quincy Massachusetts built in 1790 (part of Historic New England).  http://www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/quincy-house
Photographs from the 1880’s show bamboo chairs in the first floor hall, but they were subsequently lost.  Fortunately, acceptable substitutes could be selected from the Historic New England collections.
Rattan and bamboo are two light but sturdy construction materials that became popular in America as a result of trade with China and the East, and remain commonly available today. Furniture made from rattan is called wicker.
The HNE chairs were constructed by heat bending the bamboo into curves, and securing joints with wood dowels and wood pins. No adhesives or metal fasteners were used. The seats were caned, and many small pieces of bamboo were joined to create intricate decorative patterns in the back, sides and base.
In addition to dirt and failing coatings, some of the small rattan and bamboo pieces were missing. Luckily there was enough information from the small “pin” holes left in the frame to figure out the original pattern. All the losses were filled with new rattan, which can be ordered in various thicknesses. The rattan was shaped by bending lengths around nail and board jigs while it was wet and pliable; when it dried it maintained the shape of the jig.  The new rattan fills were toned to match the original bamboo and rattan using dilute acrylics before they were attached.
You can read more about the conservation project here: