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Screen Restoration – Rhodes Mansion, Capitol Hill, Seattle

antique restoration screen c1700 Itallian painting on leather plum studio2 seattle waA most determined and richly eccentric Patron has been gradually restoring a terracotta mansion from this 1920’s on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. The mansion was built for the Rhodes family founders of the noted Seattle department store.  The top floor features a luxurious library

overlooking Lake Union. Leadedglass doors are  fitted on mahogany book cases throughout.  The original shelf finish on panels and woodwork was bleached, cracked, and sun damaged to varying degrees.  Intrigued by this splendid interior, and tempted by its proximity to my studio, I overcame my reluctance to undertake, what I knew would become, a lengthy , on-site job and got started.

The window glass was treated with protecting film beforehand.  Most of the surfaces responded well to cleaning and treatment with fine abrasives, colored glazes between layers of hand mixed and applied shellac with rubbed out top coats ans wax, resulted in a warm and lustrous finish.
The seven sets of casement windows were furnished with matched pairs of allegorical screens, made up from 17c Italian Paintings on leather.  These whimsical, and sometimes violent fantasies, depict hunting parties, seductions, harpists in shaded glens and other well borne pastimes.
We decided on a modest level of treatment for most of the screens; light cleaning, some in-painting for color losses and re-varnishing a couple of the screens that had suffered water damage.  The leather component of the screens that were badly torn, posed a problem that needed careful and skillful mending.  Leather is notoriously difficult to restore or mend.   I certainly needed my inner mantras: ‘practice reversibility, practice on scraps – if still in doubt, get informed help.  So I called ‘Talas Art Conservation Supplies in Brooklyn, New York, who Fed-Exed the magical mending supplies.
These screens with still the worn, cracked, and faded evidence of age, are back in place, dream like traces from another world.
At PlumStudio2, here in Seattle, I welcome antique restoring  projects like this.  It’s rewarding to see something this precious given a place in a fast moving society like the one we’ve created.  It’s not only a privilege to be invited, hired, to work on these antiquities, its a part of our history worth preserving.  I sometimes wonder what artist I’ve been asked to collaborate with.  Who were they, where were they, and what would they now think of this piece were they able to view and judge it?
The library windows are furnished with embossed and painted shade / screens custom built in 1925. The painted screens feature figures engaged in hunting and seem to have been cut from a 17c. Oil painted leather tapestry. These paintings were then inserted into leather clad and stamped screens. The backgrounds were modified and the stamped pattern carried up to the figures .One of the paired screens had suffered water damage and was torn with extensive shrinkage, plane deformation and paint losses.  The owner interviewed two conservators some time ago who tendered substantial estimates with no assurances of a successful outcome. The project was then offered to me.  I’ve had previous trials with leather screens and recognize some of the hazards. I decided I could rescue this piece and went ahead with the project.
The painted leather was released from its frame and placed in a humidified chamber until it relaxed sufficiently to be flattened. The borders were re-cut and new leather attached with lining fabric to the back side to correspond with the frame opening. Heat sensitive, double sided adhesive film was a key element. After attaching the resized leather painting to the frame imprinting was done with gouache colors and coated with reversible, U.V. resistant varnish.
This old screen featuring a young falconer once again graces the library of the Rhodes mansion overlooking Lake Union.