Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Curious Curator: Framed Delft Tiles

Most can recognise a delft tile upon looking at one and generally understands its historic link with the Netherlands. That is almost a given with any of the typical blue and white pottery the world has come to identify as Delft. Many will also know that its inception was the Dutch answer to the craze Europeans had for the Chinese porcelain that was arriving on the docks in the 17th century thanks to the rising middle/merchant classes emulating the upper classes and the Dutch East Indian Company.  Essentially, delft is pottery covered in a glaze containing tin oxide which is white, shiny and opaque.
The pottery underneath is usually red or brown earthenware. Delft pottery received its name from the factory which it originated in the 17th century in Delft, Netherlands, however, delft style is also applied to wares of similar nature made in 17th & 18th centuries in London, Bristol, and Liverpool.
 At the estate we have two framed Delft tiles on exhibit. Rarely are these noticed by the casual visitor who is often busy listening to the interpreter, however, there they are, affixed to a wall.  One depicts the Temptation of Adam by Eve, the other the western love of all "orient" exotic, an Arab gentleman sitting on a river bank with a city in the background.    If you look closely at the tiles, you can see some pitting is occurring in the tin glaze, leading to loss in various areas.  In some cases exposing the base earthenware or biscuit, as the tile base is called.
What may be further appealing is the notation on the back of the tile, on what looks and feels like a butcher paper used as framing paper applied to the back of the piece, 
"Taken from a house in Middelsburg, Holland. Said to be 250 years old. Given by Mrs Victor Ross to Mrs R.S McLaughlin, Xmas 1939"                                                                 
Noting the interesting claim of provenance, but also the deteriorating backing, I set about to take action on researching the history of these tiles and preserving the written note, in Adelaide McLaughlin's handwriting.   

Step 1: The first step was to remove the butcher paper which
scored very high on the acidic level in a pH test
This exposed the grey felt

Step 2: Removal of the felt pad. This came away with ease, as no adhesive had been used,
historically. Pressure mounted, the years of being under the butcher paper had allowed for some of the fibres to adhere themselves to the rough tin glazing of the back, but these came away easily with a natural bristle brush

Step 3: The exposed tile with the opaque tin glazing.
How a biscuit tile is made: the earthenware biscuit is dipped into the tin glazed mixture; baked. Once dry the image is stencilled onto the front of the tile; using charcoal and a dot method. An artist connects the dots and adds any additional elements; baked a second time; polished for market.

Step 4: When I removed the butcher paper backing, I reinforced the inscription with pH neutral document repair tape. I opted for this method due to the fact that the inscription was being replaced onto the fresh backing I was creating for the tile/frame. If this had been a stand alone piece, or visible and not for posterity against the wall, I would have used the Japanese tissue and wheat starch method to mend the areas of loss.

Step 5: Acid free and lignin free tissue backing replaced the previous butcher paper. This was applied to the back of the wooden frame that encapsulates the tile with an inert adhesive. The condition of the wood frames are decent, showing no evidence of wood rot or insect damage. The butcher paper inscription is applied, with an interface between the acid free tissue and original butcher paper due to the high levels of acids in the butcher stock.  This is affixed with inert adhesive.

What did I learn about the delft tiles within our collection?  Lets take a look at the inscription once again. 

  "Taken from a house in Middelsburg, Holland. Said to be 250 years old. Given by Mrs Victor Ross to Mrs R.S McLaughlin, Xmas 1939"   

Taken from a house is Middelsburg & said to be 250 years old- the Parkwood delft tiles are not vivid blue and white, but rather purple brown manganese. The use of purple brown manganese for delft came into vogue in the 18th century and was widely used for tiles portraying biblical figures. Purple Brown Manganese delft tiles most often originate in the Bristol factories. Date, 250 years old in 1939- maybe an exaggeration by a few years.(??)
Originating in Middelsburg?- Middelsburg is reknowned for delftware, but actually did not have a huge part in manufacturing the tiles. This is a legend that may stay a legend, as I cannot prove or disprove any further.

Who was Mrs Victor Ross- this was a wonderful curatorial discovery, from my perspective.

Victor Ross, originally from Walkerton, Ontario, went from financial editor of the Globe to becoming the VP of Standard Oil in 1919. In 1922, now living in New Jersey,  Mr. & Mrs. Ross purchased a summer home in Pickering Village, Clarendon Woods, a 18 bedroom English country style manor, originally built and owned by Lord Hyde and Lord Somers.
Readers may recognise the property today, as the Manresa Retreat of the Jesuit Brothers.

When Victor Ross died, he was President of Standard Oil and Vice President of International Petroleum, a likely friend and guest of the McLaughlin Family, and giver of delft tile gifts in 1939.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Parkwood Spring Cleaning aka Preventive Conservation Work Part II

Reflections of Alyssa:

Since the beginning of our annual spring clean, I have had the opportunity to dabble in a few different tasks alongside the volunteers including sheer washing and silver polishing.  Then last week during reading break Samantha asked Mariah & I to come in for ceiling and chandelier cleaning. The scaffolding arrived on Monday and we set out to not only clean but explore a part of the house we never get close enough to. Now I have cleaned quite a few different places in the estate but this was my first scaffolding experience. With that comes my first time up close and personal with all the details so naturally I had questions. And if you know me, you know that is nothing new. Questions are my favourite

Once the first section of the hallway was done we had created a flow and rotation of the instruments. First we used the longer brush to dust the surface than the smaller brush to get at the detailing in the ceiling. The Q-tips were for cocoons or smaller spaces that we thought needed a bit more attention. The last part of our process was the sponge that picked up dust and dirt from the flat surfaces. We started by the front door of the mansion cleaning all the corners, tops of the door ways and chandeliers ending in the dining room.

Like I said above this was my first scaffolding experience and I would have to say it was an interesting one. Usually when I do things over and over again I begin to feel more comfortable with it, but I found working on that scaffolding a bit more difficult to adjust to. Feeling this way lead to discussing it with my cleaning partners which lead to all sorts of questions, naturally! First off, 80 years ago who would have been doing this job? How would they have reached these high parts of the mansion? Would it have been a man or a women up on, say a ladder? What would they have been wearing? Ladders and dresses sure would not have mixed 80 years ago and would have made the job quite difficult. Although dusting would have been the housekeepers job, something like the chandeliers would have been done by a household valet or maintenance man.

The Integrated Pest Management program is a very important aspect to the preservation of Parkwood. Pest management means putting out phermone traps and keeping track of the insects that may have made their way into the mansion. If insects are found than they are dealt with by our Curator. To be honest this job can be a bit overwhelming sometimes with 15, 000 square feet of heritage to cover. It may not seem like a huge deal to have a few insects hanging around, but in reality certain types can do a lot of damage to the collection of artifacts because they will eat wood, wool, leather and even sizing (ink). Whenever a project like this is happening pests are always on our minds. Prior to the beginning we had discussed the fact that we may come across cocoons or spider webs. I was expecting to find more cocoons in the areas we were cleaning but we only found three. While removing dust from the chandeliers we started to find a few lady bugs and than I realized that they were not all lady bugs but actually a form of beetle which is called “varied carpet beetle”. All the insects were dead, but the larvae stage is when they do the most damage. This raised further concern since we dealt with a carpet beetle issue in the Billiard Room several years ago.
One of my favourite things about Parkwood Estate is that there is always something “new” to discover if you just take the time to see it. On a regular basis I find things I have not noticed before and always end up discussing it with my colleagues. What was so great about being up on the scaffolding was that I was able to explore a whole different section of the house. Details that I had not seen before because they were either too small or hidden. My favourite discovery was the detail in the hallway that was hidden in a crevice that connected the front hall to the side hall. The only way I noticed it was when I stuck my head in crevice to do some dusting. It fascinates me that an area not on display would be decorated like the rest of the hallway. So much time and effort went into this section of the hallway that no one really gets to see, now why would anyone do that? Was it originally built that way or did the McLaughlins' add to it as time went by?
Another interesting part of the hallway is the mural, the Enchanted Wood, by Fredrick Challener. If you have been to Parkwood you know exactly what I am talking about. It has a few family members in the main panels but all around the room is nature, animals and LOTS of birds. Well when we were cleaning the tops of the door way leading into the serving galley we noticed birds that live behind the exit sign.  Finding detail like this is what makes these mundane jobs much more fun.
A few more photos show parts of the dining room ceiling that are absolutely beautiful but no one ever gets close enough to really appreciate it. For example, the trim around the room that is attached to the silk damask covering the walls. From a standing position we notice it is a gold colour trim but when you get closer you begin to see the intricate work that was put into the creation of it.
Throughout this whole process I have not only cleaned and dusted but I had the opportunity to explore a new section of my favourite National Historic Site. With this process also comes the responsibility of protecting the artifacts and the estate itself including walls and doors. The moving and positioning of tthe scaffold could we had to be wary not only for our safety, but also  for the safety of the Estate. Being close to the silk damask walls or the mural in the hallway or even the paintings in the dining room means you have to be very careful, it’s not just a quick and easy dusting duties.  
Mariah spending time with RSM

Additional commentary from Samantha: Alyssa has been working at Parkwood NHS for the last few years in a variety of capacities, most recently as a preventive conservation tech or housekeeper in lay terms, although our housekeeping is very different from what one would define as housekeeping. She is able to reflect on some of the general preventive practices that she does routinely, integrated pest management, monitoring relative humidity and lux levels in terms of light and light damage on textiles while working away on the ceiling and chandeliers.  I am able to comment on her statement that she loves asking questions, which is a genuinely superb attribute since she is a sponge absorbing information.



Thursday, 26 February 2015

Spring Cleaning aka Preventive Conservation Work at Parkwood

Reflections of Mariah:

This week I was given the task, along with my partner in crime/co-worker Alyssa, to give the upper half of the estate a little TLC. As mundane as that may sound, you may be surprised to learn that the ceilings are just as, if not more, intriguing than the grandeur of the main level. Several feet suspended in the air (via scaffolding) I discovered a whole new world. Parkwood Estate is known for its incredible architectural detail, and this week I was able to confirm it extends literally from floor to ceiling. I was amazed by the intricacy of every carving within the crown moldings and ceiling tiles. Little treasures spied at every corner. Did you know, for example, that the pattern decorating the ceilings of the Dining Room is in fact made of delicate little flowers? 

Next time you find yourself at Parkwood Estate, I suggest look up! A new perspective of our adored mansion awaits you.  

Additional Commentary from Samantha (Curator):
When we set out to do some of our ceiling work, and no coincidence that it paralleled reading week, I asked that the staff involved reflect on what their assigned chores were and write about the experience for me.
I am sharing with you their thoughts and notes this week.

The work on the ceilings involved dry dusting, a mechanical process, to rid the ceilings of surface soils, cobwebs and cocoons.  We used several materials, two kinds of brushes with sable bristles; a special conservation sponge for flat surface cleaning (not a magic eraser); Q-tips(TM) for bugs and cocoons. 

A wet cleaning process is possible, but for that work or paint infills/touch ups a licenced conservator would be hired and is currently not needed or in the budget.