Ellen Moody: Sherman Fairchild Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ellen Moody, UD graduate student in art conservation, levels out the gesso, a compound of glue and chalk, which can be carved, sanded, and gilded to restore losses in the table she is working on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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12:04 p.m., July 28, 2010----This summer, I am interning in the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. My supervisor is Pascale Patris, the conservator responsible for gilded surfaces, and our project is the conservation of side tables after a design by Matthias Lock. Acquired in 2007 to complete the Kirtlington Park Dining Room, one of the museum's mid-18th-century British interiors, these 18th-century tables are in the style of William Kent, a designer known for bold, architectural furniture embellished with large, classical ornaments.

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For a conservation student keen for experience with gilded surfaces, this table provides a variety of different gilding methods and effects. Surfaces range from sandy to punched to burnished, and most of them have been gilded twice with two different techniques. They have also been overpainted with an array of materials, including oil, bronze, colored pigments and bitumen, all of which have darkened over time, obscuring the gold leaf.

One of our goals is to reduce this overpaint, whose complexity, in combination with the varied surfaces on the table, require us to fine-tune our cleaning techniques section by section. This project has allowed me to practice what I learned in my first-year cleaning course at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, requiring both solvent and aqueous systems with cleaning agents such as chelators and surfactants, to uncover the glimmering gold.

In contrast with these modern cleaning solutions, we are using traditional materials to restore the table where it has suffered losses. I learned how to make gesso -- a compound of glue and chalk -- which, when made pliable by the warmth of one's hand, can be applied to losses and then carved, sanded and gilded. Performing these steps with Pascale's guidance has been fun, as well as instructive. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to work with gesso, a ubiquitous material in different types of art objects, and to gain a fuller understanding of gilded surfaces.