by Cheryle Harrison
Conservator, Pacific Conservators
The familiar sound of a ticking clock and the rhythmic swing of a pendulum acquires a heightened sense of refined tranquility - when beauty combines with function.
Grandfather clock, showing extensive
gold leaf Chinoiserie.
A recent and memorable project is a voluptuously decorated chinoiserie grandfather clock. The clock was fabricated circa 1760-80 by English cabinetmakers, George and Kirk Skegby. The clock has an oak cabinet base and an overlay of a dark green-toned lacquer. Gold leaf raised motifs and hand painted designs embody images of flowers, birds, trees, pagodas, and stylistic geometric patterns.
Chinoiserie is decorative work influenced by Chinese art. It reflects an 18th century romanticism and re-interpretation of Chinese visual images idealized for European taste. The chinoiserie style was first transcribed onto Dutch porcelain. Prototype motifs of pagodas, figures, and landscapes were subsequently adopted for architecture, textiles, furniture, interior decoration, and the arts.
This was a dual discipline project, upon which two specialists focused their expertise: myself, a professional conservator, and Brian Dedora, a master gilder.
Many areas of the clock were in a fragile condition. Areas of lacquer and raised gilded motifs were tented, fractured, lifting, or missing. Previous repairs were extensive and of poor quality. Heavily applied non-original paint extended over intact original areas of the clocks finish. Imitation gold paint covered areas of original gold leaf.
I first stabilized the tented, fractured, and cracked areas. Traditional materials were selected for the conservation treatment, to match the initial fabrication methods of the clock. Raised motifs were reconstructed by layering traditional gesso, shaping, and hand-carving the gesso for the finished motif. Previously applied paint was removed, and in many areas, the original finish was regained.
Reconstruction of the finely detailed hand-drawn images took a total of about 500 hours.
Brian Dedora's expertise shines in his selection of aesthetically and historically appropriate tone and type of gold leaf required for a project. The areas of repaint and loss were further prepared with an ochre bole layer and were re-gilded and sealed.
Very fine point brushes were used to reconstruct the hand drawn images of birds, foliage, and houses. Stylistic glazing of custom mixed umber tones was applied to enhance the forms and rhythm of the designs. Approximately 500 hours were utilized in the preservation of this clock.
The clocks mechanisms function faultlessly, and conservation of this will clock will serve to beatify age with its perfect marking of time.