Conservation Care: 15th Century Gothic Chest Gets Cleaning and Restoration
Posted: January 25, 2017
While the estate has been closed in January, collection pieces like this 15th century Gothic chest are getting some special attention.
The chest, made from first-growth English oak, usually is found in the Main Hall, a prominent spot where it greets visitors when they first arrive to Ford House.
After centuries of exposure to dirt, dust and humidity, it was time to give this gorgeous piece a thorough cleaning.
Mark Gervasi, a Ford House conservator for 25 years, removed the piece from the Main Hall to his third-floor workspace.
The chest features beautiful hand-tooled carvings of flowers, leaves and fleurs-de-lis. Its hinges and escutcheons (flat metal plates bearing a coat-of-arms) are wrought iron. It has the original 15th century hardware, and inside there is a till, or small box, built in. Such chests were once used in lieu of closets or suitcases, although we don’t know the story behind this particular piece’s origins.
Gervasi closely examined the grain in the oak, then used a small tool – almost like what a dentist uses – to carefully extract layers of wax and grime from even the smallest crevices in the wood grain. “I pulled out piles and piles of old wax,” he said. While wax is used to protect these pieces from the elements, over time it builds up and even traps in dust and dirt. Plus, at some point many years ago, someone used white wax on the dark oak piece. All of that had to go!
Once all the grime was removed, Gervasi added a new layer of dark wax and polished the piece to protect it. He also completed some structural repairs to the wood, and secured any carved wooden details that had become loose -- in fact some had nearly detached! He also cleaned encrusted grime on the metalwork.
The piece has always been a fixture of the Main Hall at Ford House. This black and white photo from 1930 shows the beautiful chest in the same place where it sits today. After our conservation projects are complete, it will return there for visitors to enjoy (we re-open Feb. 11, 2017). All of Gervasi’s work will help keep this rare antique in good shape for the next 600 years!
The cleaning process also gave us a chance to get a rare look inside the chest: