Statement of Conservation Techniques, Practices and Ethics

My primary aim, as a conservator, is to respect and conserve the object’s history and, as far as possible, the patina of a piece of furniture. However, it is also true that sometimes these priorities are not those that would enhance the beauty of the object or ensure its future stability. Each project, therefore, entails individual assessment and inevitably some degree of compromise. In my conservation work I aim to achieve a happy result that will satisfy the needs of each collector (be they museum or private) in terms of enhancing the beauty of the object and conserving the original materials, but that will also ensure that each piece I work with will survive our own generation and exist to provide pleasure to those following.

As a specialist in marquetry and veneered furniture I am perpetually faced with the inherent challenge of conserving delicate surface decoration, together with the issue of restoration versus preservation of original elements and finishes. My conservation practices generally include the following techniques which are designed to facilitate the efficient repair of the piece while ensuring the preservation of most of the original materials:

  • Re-hydration gluing of marquetry

Essentially old glue is moistened and new adhesive introduced without the removal of the marquetry or the loss of original pigments behind tortoiseshell.

  • Vacuum clamping of marquetry

This practice eliminates the need for traditional clamps and ensures an even and more controlled pressure over all parts of the piece.

  • Gel cleaning

This technique, devised by Dr. Richard Wolbers, has been applied and developed at the Wallace Collection over the last decade to safely revive colourful marquetry.

  • Fume and poultice cleaning of bronze mounts

These cleaning methods enable effective cleaning and reviving of the bronze mounts whilst ensuring the preservation of the back patina.

These techniques have not only been endorsed by the Wallace Collection and other conservators I have worked with but resulted in my development of them receiving a nomination for the Anna Plowden Innovations in Conservation Award (2002) and the Pilgrim Trust Conservation Award (2002). They are primarily safer and more efficient than many common practices in restoration today being, in particular, less intrusive and therefore potentially less stressful to the work of art. My aim is to minimise the risks of conservation to which more interventionist treatments, such as the removal of marquetry prior to re-gluing or the lamentable practice of scraping marquetry, can expose the piece. Generally these techniques are quicker than more traditional repair work however I strongly feel that a fine work of art is entitled to a repair of the highest quality and there is no fast or ‘magic’ treatment in conservation. All products used during the course of my conservation treatments have been proved to be fully reversible. In addition “off-the-shelf” products, of unknown composition, are avoided.

I generally like to accompany my work with a written report detailing treatments applied and any historical observations. I have built a reputation for discovering intrinsic historical evidence within the piece, particularly with regard to manufacture details, that help illuminate the history and dating of an object and this expertise has been called on by several other museums and educational establishments.