Shared space: Conserving a leather Sedan Chair
This leather sedan chair was on display at the Assembly Rooms, Bath. Staff from the Roman Baths Museum and Pump House contacted CMAS conservators with concerns about the condition of the item following an active pest infestation in objects displayed close to the chair.
The chair was removed from display and treated to remove the pest infestation using a non-destructive heat treatment.
On closer examination following the pest removal treatment it was determined that the chair was too fragile to return to display, and in need of a little TLC.
The leather exterior had been damaged and repaired a number of times during the life of the object. Notably, blue chalk script on a back panel identifies HF Keevil as the repairer of the chair in April 1942 following an air raid!
Many of the old repairs were failing and risked more significant damage if the loose areas were caught. Some small areas of fresh damage and loss had been noted, possibly due to areas being caught and knocked whilst the item was on open display; a common occurrence, for example by the bags of unsuspecting visitors.
In addition the textile interior was extremely fragile with large splits and tears and unravelling braiding.
Due to the size of the item, its fragility and the combination of materials from which it is composed this project has proved challenging. The complexity of the textile repairs necessitated the expert assistance of specialist textile conservators from the studio Textile Conservation Limited. The large size and the fragility of the sedan chair’s surface meant that transportation was not recommended, requiring the work to be carried out on site.
The whole sedan chair has undergone a deep clean to remove the ingrained dirt accumulated from years of open display. Curatorial staff have already commented on how much brighter the object appeared after just a simple dry clean. The fragile areas of leather were reinforced with flexible blended patches to secure them, but allow movement of the leather with handling and changes in environment. The textile conservators have carefully colour matched and dyed supporting fabrics and nets and delicately secured the original textile to these support materials.
Working together on the project could have been problematic for the conservators, due to the limited working space available we were virtually working on top of each-other! However, the opportunity to share knowledge, equipment, lighting and support for the often uncomfortable working positions has proved extremely advantageous and the project has been extremely successful.
The treatment of the Sedan chair is nearing completion and it is hoped that the Sedan chair will return to display at the Assembly Rooms later this year.
Beth Baker, Senior Conservator