Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Evolution of Furniture Conservation


The profession of furniture conservation had its roots in the woodworking tradition. Early repair was done by carpenters, who were the makers of the pieces as well. By the 18th century, cabinetmaking had developed as an occupation distinct from carpentry and joinery. Examinations of surviving cabinetmaker’s account books of this period show repair of furniture to be one of the services they offered. At this time, though, it is doubtful that the economic and social structures had allowed the development of full-time repairpersons. The late 19th century was characterized by an intense discovery of the past, with its subsequently engendered desire for “things old”. A flourishing group of repairers, restorers and forgers was afforded an existence by this change in societal attitude.

By the 1930s, scientific examination was being applied to works of fine art and the materials used for their restoration in order to understand better deterioration and preservation issues. This was the beginning of the true profession of conservation. By the 1960s, the transformation from restoration to ethical conservation had begun to occur in the furniture field. Today, even though great strides forward have been made, there is still an abundance of misinformation about furniture deterioration, restoration and care being presented to the public in books and by personal contact with cabinetmakers, repairpersons and restorers who have not adjusted yet to the shift to conservation philosophy.

-Marc A. Williams, Keeping It All Together: The Preservation and Care of Historic Furniture

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