The conservation of Frederic E. Church’s leather arm chair

Deborah Lee Trupin


Frederic E. Church, a leading painter of the Hudson River School, built his home, Olana, (near Hudson, NY) between 1870 and 1874, with a studio addition dating to 1889-91. Olana is today understood by Church scholars to be the artist’s last great work. When Olana was purchased by New York State in 1967, it retained a significant archive of written and photographic materials as well as most of its original furnishings and collections.

Among these furnishings was a c. 1870 leather-covered chair with a moveable back and a writing arm. This chair is shown in historic photographs of the Dining Room/Picture Gallery at Olana. It was brought to the conservation labs at Peebles Island with the request that it be recovered so that it could be included in the furnished setting of the Dining Room/Picture Gallery. The chair, with its wood frame, fabric and fiber under-upholstery, leather cover and close-nailed trim, was a classic composite object. Thus, the textile, objects, and furniture conservators at Peebles Island jointly examined the chair. The leather cover had significant losses and tears and a fragile surface, but no “red rot.” Most significantly, it was the original cover, over the original upholstery. All three conservators agreed that the original leather cover should not be removed and replaced. Instead, with the textile conservator’s lead, they suggested a more conservative approach of conserving the existing leather.

The site staff accepted this approach. The treatment, while slow and challenging, was ultimately successful. The chair retains all of its original materials. These have been stabilized and protected, and the chair’s appearance is acceptable for display in the Dining Room/Picture Gallery at Olana.

This paper will describe the treatment, which included the following major steps–documentation of original materials and methods (as well as their condition); stabilization of the upholstered form; stabilization and repair of the leather cover, and minimizing visual disruption.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9