From the January Clean: An Unexpected Repair

Cleaning, counting, and assessing conditions are all part of the drill when the museum closes each year for what we call the “January Clean.” Rugs are rolled up, paintings removed from walls for examination, and the walls themselves examined. In the garden, bricks are relaid and trees trimmed amid the usual plant care and preparations for spring. The Museum Shop undergoes a careful inventory (14,000 postcards!), while in offices and workspaces elsewhere on the property, closets and cabinets are straightened, files sorted, and other year-long accumulations dealt with.

For collections staff especially, close examinations of objects left quietly undisturbed the other 11 months of the year leads sometimes to unexpected new projects. The repair of a heavy walnut desk bookcase in the North, or “children’s,” bedroom was one such. Armistead Peter 3rd, the estate’s last private owner, first brought the 19th century piece here from the family’s Content Farm, a Washington County, New York, property where they spent several months each year. Today, the desk bookcase holds school books, novels, small toys, and other objects from “AP3’s” childhood.

The desk bookcase is actually two separate pieces, an upper cabinet with two glazed doors that sits upon a desk with drawers and a fall-board writing surface. When they examined it as part of a routine January inspection, Curator Grant Quertermous and Collections Manager Kris Barrow found one of its rear feet had loosened too much to support the piece’s weight. To relieve the immediate pressure, staff removed the item’s entire contents and the upper case.

As so often happens with a “lived-in” collection like ours, long in use, Grant and Kris needed first to address an earlier repair. The leg had had been reglued during the mid-1900s, and the adhesive from this earlier repair had weakened over time.  The leg and glue block (itself replaced sometime in the 20th century) had separated from their attachment point at the desk’s back corner, placing additional stress on the carved bracket foot.

The term “glue block” might be unfamiliar unless you collect or study antique furniture: It describes a small piece of wood that braces a corner joint — on this piece, where the two sides of the ogee bracket foot are joined.  A piece like this desk bookcase, where the carved bracket foot is simply decorative, actually rests in back on two uncarved, square feet concealed behind the rear ogee bracket feet.  With this rear foot loose and the joint separated from the glue block, much of the piece’s weight was now on the non-supporting decorative element, rather than the intended weight-bearing element.

Had we not detected the loose foot, the bracket foot could have split or, worse, buckled under the weight of the desk bookcase and its contents. Fortunately, the necessary repairs were uncomplicated. Staff elevated the desk on its back on padded saw horses to relieve the bracket and gain access to the damaged area and applied wood glue in key spots to re-attach the foot and glue block.  Clamps were placed on the foot overnight to apply pressure while the glue dried.  All of the work was documented and photographed as this repair now becomes a part of the physical record of the desk bookcase and is noted in its file. The piece itself, meanwhile, once stabilized,  resumed its place along the wall and its familiar toys, books. and childhood treasures returned to its welcoming shelves.

Just one project among many, the exercise shows how the room-by-room January Clean enables us not just to monitor objects and spaces within the house but to undertake crucial conservation work where needed. For more complicated repairs and conservation, the January assessment often marks the starting point for extensive planning and, often, fundraising, for projects involving conservation specialists.  [Tudor Place members are invited each January for a New Year’s breakfast and behind-the-scenes look at the January Clean and projects underway, scheduled this year on January 23, 2016.]

Having completed the upstairs rooms during the first week of January, Collections staff have turned their attention to the Drawing Room and Parlour, including careful cleaning of chandeliers (see the video clip) to make their crystals gleam.  The Office, Kitchen and servants’ spaces follow toward the end of the month. Lastly, Grant will oversee the Dining Room installation for Presidents’ Day and spring’s highlighting of the Washington Collection, for which we happily welcome back the public when we reopen (at half price all month) on February 2, 2016.

View January Clean albums on Facebook:

Pencils, Paperclips, and Mystery Objects: Sorting the 20th-Century Desk

By Becky Bacheller, Tudor Place Collections Management Intern
The first-floor office is one of the rare rooms at Tudor Place whose furnishings point to a single era rather than a span of time and use. The mansion’s fourth and final owner, Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983), worked here into the 1980s, but maintained the room and its furnishings much as his father had set them up in the 1920s. With its natural artifacts and memorabilia, book-lined décor, and veridian walls, the room by design continued to reflect the tastes and interests of Armistead Peter, Jr., (1870-1960), who worked here throughout his adult life.

Armistead Peter, Jr.’s, partner desk: Made by W. K. Cowan Company (Chicago, 1894 to 1916), ca. 1900.

In fall 2012, my internship in collections management focused entirely on the Office — focused, in fact, on a single piece of its furniture, the ca.-1900 Colonial Revival partner desk that anchors the room. The cataloging project required inventorying the contents of the desk, manufactured by W. K. Cowan & Company of Chicago as a replica of George Washington’s presidential desk in New York City. It came to Armistead, Jr., on November 3, 1912, as a gift from his wife, Anna “Nannie” Peter (1872 – 1961).

Sorting through its accumulation of office supplies proved to be a way of sorting through the past century. Like virtually everything in the museum, the desk – down to the interiors of its drawers: pens, pencils, stamps, and stationary supplies – had transferred intact to the Tudor Place Foundation after Armistead 3rd‘s death. Its contents were catalogued then and left undisturbed. For preservation reasons, it recently became necessary to re-house them, and that is where I came in. My internship project was to sort, label, and rehouse the drawers’ contents, photographing, measuring, and cataloguing them in the museum’s PastPerfect digital collections database as I progressed.

  
Working drawer by drawer, beginning with the wide central one (open in top photo), I first carefully removed each object from a drawer and placed it for transport in a blue board tray lined with archival tissue paper. I next determined its accession number. Many, like the pencils pictured above-right, were already tagged; these I matched it to physical (printed) accession files as I removed them.

I next photographed each item or group of items to document them and their condition. An abundance of loose tags from the last cataloguing exercise persuaded us that each object this time should be physically numbered. I practiced labeling my own pencils first with the collection labeling kit before venturing (carefully!) to number each of the Peter family’s writing utensils, as shown below:

I hand printed each accession number on a clear base of B-72. Based on the objects’ color, I selected  contrasting inks for maximum visibility. The numbering process is reversible, and I took care to mark the numbers in the least noticeable place on each object. While handling them, I wore nitrile or cotton gloves.
To re-house the collection, I created a cradle of archival tissue paper for each object and then placed the artifacts in customized dividers. Six trays could be stacked in one box. These were temporarily stored under my worktable but are destined for eventual on-site storage with the rest of the collection.

Archival tissue in stacking trays
served to hold the desk contents.

Here is my Collections office work station,  
located in a former bedroom.

After three weeks of cataloging, the first drawer was complete. A total of 41 objects, including pencils, dip pens, mechanical pencils, and fountain pens, all  made during the first half of the 20th century, had been photographed, catalogued and re-housed, filling four sub-divided trays.

One of the things I love about projects like this is the exposure to historical objects and the knowledge gained in figuring out what each one is and how best to describe it. A fat blue pencil became one of my favorite finds in the collection, because of its resonance from an earlier project I had worked on.

As a curatorial assistant researching WWII-era pencils for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, I discovered Bob Truby’s Name Brand Pencils, an entire website devoted to the subject. I learned then that pencils from the Second World War period have distinctive cardboard or plastic ferrules as a wartime adaptation: Metals were needed for the war effort, so hard cardboard or plastic had to substitute for the nickel or brass usually wrapped around the eraser’s base. Although interested to know of this distinction, I was unable to find an example during my Smithsonian tenure.

One year later, in the Armisteads’ desk, I came upon a pencil with a plastic ferrule:

Not everything I found looked familiar, however. The center object in the picture below stumped me at first. On either side are colored pencils “sharpened” by peeling off the wrapped paper. Asking around, I learned from Tudor Place Artist-in-Residence Peter Waddell that the non-writing utensil among them was a tortillon, used by artists to smudge or blend marks.

Peeling pencils (top and bottom), I recognized. But what was the middle object from the pencil drawer, whose ends peeled away without exposing a writing mechanism?

One drawer contained hundreds of unused pen nibs, cloth pen wipes, and
eyedroppers for ink and feather quill pens.

During my fifth week, I found a metal tray full of paper clips. That presented an interesting numbering challenge, as they differ in type and also did not match previous catalogue records. I sorted each type into a separate archival bag to forestall further corrosion and researched the correct name for the contents of each bag. For example, one style, designated a “square clip,” is actually an “ideal” or “triumph” clip according to Early Office Museum, another specialty web site I consulted.

Paper clips: How to sort and number?

By type, of course, and name.

By the end of my sixth week, I had catalogued more than 100 objects. Below you can see the entire contents of the Cowan partner desk, catalogued and re-housed:

What’s in your desk? Armistead Peter 3rd’s contained everything from writing implements and 
sealing wax to drafting tools, photographs, and even a pocket watch.

It included a box of unused book plates in excellent condition. 

Ephemera and manuscript material from the desk, including these plates, were transferred to the Archive.

This assortment of rubber stamps also was stored in the desk. Some had deteriorated: For example, the rubber face of one had melted off the wooden handle and adhered to the bottom of the drawer. Others had unidentified surface crystallization.

The stamp collection numbered over 38 items. During my fourteenth week, I finished cataloguing it. While most of the stamps bore predictable labels like “paid”, “received”, and other terms associated with business transactions, one read simply “pigeons.”  Armistead Peter, Jr., raised pigeons at Tudor Place, selling them to friends and family. He presumably used this stamp to help organize files pertaining to this hobby.

Manicure set.

The unique manicure set at right was another unusual find. I initially took it for a pocket knife, but the delicate spoon and pointed blades — for cleaning ears and getting beneath fingernails — ultimately revealed its true function
.

At the conclusion of my project, I had digitally catalogued over 330 objects and re-housed them in four archival-quality boxes. I feel confident these fragile and tiny objects will be preserved for future visitors and scholars, now that they are safeguarded in improved storage condition. The internship was a fantastic opportunity to experience many facets of historic house collections management, while peering through the “drawers” of the 20th century.

An Heirloom Returns: The George Washington Plateau

By Curator of Collection Erin Kuykendall and
   Communications Officer Mandy Katz

Imagine the excitement at Tudor Place last week when we accepted delivery of the exquisite plateau, or set of mirrored trays, that belonged to George and Martha Washington, according to Peter family tradition. Hand-crafted of exotic woods and mirrored glass and set on ball feet, the artifact had been away since May 2010, undergoing treatment at the Williamsburg, Virginia, studio of conservator Thomas Snyder. Today, visitors will find it center stage in the Dining Room for the duration of the Window on Washington  (through March 18), a close look at Tudor Place items relating to the first First Family.

The Tudor Place Dining Room is set to show how the plateau might have appeared
 on a late-18th-century table. With its original seven sections, the mirrored set 
could have added sparkle to a full banquet-length table at Mount Vernon. 

Plateaus were a fixture of fashionable European dining tables in the late eighteenth century, so it seems fitting that the new American President — albeit living on a more modest scale than his counterparts across the Atlantic — would have acquired one, too. During his presidency, Washington asked his close friend, Gouverneur Morris, to send “mirrors for a table … the frames may be plated ware or anything else more fashionable.” What Morris sent was a nine-part, silver-plated French plateau with a pierced gallery of turned balusters. It repeatedly graced the presidential dining table until Washington retired to Mount Vernon in 1797. At that point, he sought something simpler and more suited to life on his Virginia estate.
A Vermeer? No, this image shows Curator Erin Kuykendall examining an endpiece of 
Tudor Place’s recently returned mahogany plateau before a south-facing window
in the mansion’s Dining Room, where the piece will be displayed through March 18.
The Tudor Place plateau is carved from mahogany and has delicate satinwood-inlay stringing around the lower edge. Small, ball-shaped ebony feet elevate the plateau above the table-top. Each section contains a silvered-glass mirror bordered by a carved, gilt molding. Of the plateau’s original seven pieces, four are owned by Tudor Place Foundation, and a fifth is on loan from a Peter family descendant. The Washingtons also owned a dozen figurines of unglazed “bisque” (or “biscuit,” meaning not-fired) porcelain like the ones below, which would have been arrayed atop the mirrored trays in fanciful arrangements: 

Bisque figures on loan from Martha Custis Peter, 
descendant of Martha and Thomas Peter.



Around these figures, the hosts would have displayed twinkling candles, gleaming silver candlesticks, and colorful flowers for a truly dramatic effect.

During the Window on Washington, four sections of the plateau, each measuring two feet, take their place on the Tudor Place dining table, bearing items from the French porcelain dinnerware service that the Washingtons purchased in 1790 from a French diplomat, the Comte de Moustier. The Washingtons’ delicate English wine glasses with wheel-engraved decoration (on loan from Martha Custis Peter, a descendant of Martha and Thomas Peter) also grace the table. 


This cut-glass salt cellar (left) and Sèvres sauce boat served on both
Washington and Peter family dining tables.
The plateau’s treatment by Conservator Thomas Snyder included a thorough cleaning to remove centuries of surface debris. Two new ebony feet were turned to match and replace missing ones and adhered with fish glue. Gaps and breaks in the plateau’s gouge-carved mahogany railing, or “gallery,” were filled with replica pieces crafted from mahogany and stained to match the original.
The plateau’s edge, or “gallery,” needed extensive repairs. 
(Plateau section on loan from Walter Gibson Peter III, a
descendant of Martha and Thomas Peter.)

Replacement pieces were crafted, like the original, of mahogany.
The mahogany insert was stained to match the original.
Mercury leaching from the original silver-amalgam glass had to be contained; broken mirrors were replaced with commercially obtained reproduction glass of tin leaf-and-mercury, sealed in place with hide glue. (Antique replacement glass was considered but rejected for the reasons that it might later be mistaken for an original installation or repair, and because it might also fail over time, much as the original pieces had.) Here is the renewed piece, its wood shined with a mixture of pigmented beeswax and carnauba waxes:

Microscopic examination by Dr. Martha Case of the Herbarium of the College of William & Mary (WILLI) identified the loose seeds and grasses cushioning the two ends of the plateau as containing a species of Asteracea, or commonly found field daisies and sunflowers. These plants grow all over the world. Since the seeds ripen during the summer months, it is likely this practical, botanical packing material was collected and assembled into the plateau sometime in June, July or August.

Detail of the seeds, plants, and animal frasse found
in the curved end section of the plateau
.
The original glue blocks in place on the plateau sections also provide further clues as to the plateau’s origins. Microscopic analysis of the wood identified the species as Pinus strobus, or Eastern white pine, and the use of this locally available wood suggests the plateau was probably made in America, rather than imported from England or Europe. George Washington purchased furniture from prominent Philadelphia cabinetmakers and it is possible this plateau was also made in a thriving urban port such as New York, Philadelphia, or perhaps Baltimore. If the plateau was made by an American frame-maker or carver working in the new American republic, it would be an exciting discovery, since very few wooden plateaus survive in American museums and collections. Further research on these questions is still underway. 
The plateau was still at the conservator’s studio when
Curator of Collections Erin Kuykendall came to Tudor Place
in August, so she is making the most of this first opportunity
to study it first-hand.
Executive Director Leslie Buhler examines a
hand-made brass screw from the original piece.
Curator Erin Kuykendall’s observations on the construction
and materials of the plateau will enter the object record for this piece
and add to our understanding of decorative arts in the Federal period.





A Luminous “Harvest” Night at Tudor Place

“Hard” cider — easy to enjoy.

By Mandy Katz, Communications Officer


Nearly 100 guests meandered through our gardens this past balmy Thursday evening for “Hard Cider & the Harvest.”  The twilight romp was the latest in our Tudor Nights series for members and guests.  In the Administration Building, an 1867 Victorian house, guests snacked on tasty small bites including exotic dips, pates, pumpkin truffles, and fanciful “s’mores on sticks.” And of course, there was spiced and spiked cider!  Strolling through the garden to the main house, the focus was on a 20th century object in the collection, a beautiful vase from the world-renowned Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati.



A mix of neighbors, newcomers and friends were on hand, including members, who attend as our guests.



.

This group from the Capital Striders club found
Tudor Nights perfect for socializing off the running trail.

Lively conversation filled the elegant reception rooms
of our 1867 townhouse.   


Some of our Georgetown neighbors have known us for years. For others,
Tudor Place and Tudor Nights are a new find.

There’s always something to talk about at Tudor Nights, because the surroundings themselves are part of the conversation. 

This quartet enjoyed cider and touring the house as a
“first course,” before their restaurant dinner. 

A few hundred feet away, along the gravel walkway lined with tealights and redolent of boxwood, the main house and its historic offerings beckoned.







Tudor Nights offers a rare
chance to see items from
our collection up close.
Director Leslie Buhler (left) chats witha Tudor Place member and 
Rookwood aficionado.

Inside, talk was informal yet informative, as Executive Director Leslie Buhler and Curator Erin Kuykendall chatted with guests and presented the evening’s “star,” a 1904 Rookwood Pottery vase, in the Saloon — the central foyer, with views of the South Lawn through the famed Temple Portico.

You can see from the golden tones of the naturalistic maple leaves why this baluster-shaped vase was perfect for an autumn event. And its craftsmanship offers a glimpse into an important element of the American Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, The Rookwood Pottery Company was the country’s first female-owned pottery manufactory. Nichols hired gifted potters, decorators, and technicians, experimented with glazing techniques, and set high standards of quality. These assets led Rookwood to garner some of the first juried awards in Europe granted to American-made ceramics. The pottery closed in 1967, but has recently been revived under new ownership

Rookwood insignia.

Vases such as this one are typically stamped with Rookwood’s insignia (a reverse R adjoining a P, shown at right), a Roman numeral for the date of creation, and the decorator’s mark incised below. For more information on Rookwood ceramics, see Jeffrey B. Snyder’s Rookwood Pottery (Schiffer, 2005) or Anita J. Elli’s Rookwood Pottery: The Glaze Line (Schiffer, 1995). 


Hard Cider and the Harvest was a great way to usher summer out and welcome the brisker, festive seasons to come. We thank all who attended, and we enjoyed their company. (More photos can be viewed in our Facebook album.) To join us for another romantic and convivial evening, sign up now for the last Tudor Nights of 2011, “Punch Royal and Holiday Trimmings,” on December 2.

Your blogger (center) posed with two good friends who
joined her at Tudor Nights. They were wowed!  

Quakes! Hurricanes! Keeping Historic Treasures Safe

by Mandy Katz, Communications Officer


When it shakes, it pours?

Tudor Place damage from the earthquake was 
limited mainly to cracks in the plaster. But what 
does Hurricane Irene hold for us?

Tudor Place Executive Director Leslie Buhler must have nerves of steel. Barely had she and staff finished assessing the impact of yesterday’s earthquake, when she dashed off this email: Although the exact path and intensity of the storm when it reaches here is not known, I think we need to begin preparations.

Plans for Hurricane Irene, expected this weekend, include moving exterior potted plants away from windows and stowing lighter lawn furniture, according to Suzanne Bouchard, our director of gardens and grounds. In the historic house, shutters and blinds will be closed and objects removed from window areas.  Absorbent towels are going down in the basement, bomb shelter, and other areas possibly prone to water infiltration.


No such precautions were possible before the Spotsylvania fault suddenly shifted Tuesday, shocking the  region.  Tudor Place and its contents are fine, thank goodness. It apparently takes more than a little 5.8-Richter jostling to perturb what the Peter family and architect William Thornton erected in 1816. Our buildings, grounds and collections suffered no new cracks or damage, amazingly — from Martha Washington’s tea table, to Arts & Crafts vases, to the Pierce-Arrow’s hood ornament, everything’s intact.

Well, everything but this:


A few stone shards fell from the chimney of our administration building, a stately 1867 townhouse adjacent to Tudor Place’s north garden. (Note: This is why earthquake experts advise standing away from buildings if a temblor finds you outdoors.)

In a quake, avoid taking cover alongside buildings!

WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL PHOTO

A somewhat random check of fellow house museums finds our Georgetown neighbors at Dumbarton House unscathed and open for business. Across the river, in Virginia, Alexandria’s Gadsby’s Tavern is closed for several days, its chimneys’ having shifted. At Carlyle House, “John Carlyle’s 40 prints decided to rearrange themselves on the walls,” but no further damage was found, Director Sarah Coster reports. In Maryland, Riversdale Historic House is fine, but elsewhere in the Prince George’s County Park system, Mt. Calvert will need a new chimney and Marietta’s original structure may have separated from its new wing. At Beall-Dawson House in Rockville and Bowie’s Belair Mansion, damage was minor, but the words “plaster repair” did cross a few lips.

No sooner had we recovered from all the shaking and quaking, than this inbox arrival caught our eye: PROTECTING COLLECTIONS: DISASTER PREVENTION, PLANNING & RESPONSE, a seminar for museum professionals, sponsored by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts.

Time stamp on the email? About three hours before the quake.