Sitting on history: Conservation and reproduction of 19th century auditorium seats

Daniel Kurtz, Thomas L. Heller, and Susan Glassman

Abstract

In 1887 the Wagner Free Institute of Science, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, purchased approximately 489 ‘orchestra seats’ from the Grand Army of the Republic Post 1; also know as the Meade post. The exact age of the seats is unknown but they have been in continuous service at the Wagner since their purchase. The seats are fabricated from 5 plys of birch veneer approximately 1120th of an inch thick and are ornamented with a pierced geometric design. The seats were examined and rated according to their condition. Five treatment categories were subsequently established. These include: surface cleaning only, re-adhering loose laminations, minor structural repair (less than 30% surface loss), major structural repair (more than 30% surface loss) and replication. Approximately 60 seats have been placed in the replication category because of their extensive structural problems. This paper will examine the curatorial rationale to replicate the seats, the collaboration between the curator and conservator in setting parameters for the replications, as well as the techniques, methods and materials employed in accurately reproducing copies of bent laminate 19th century seating forms.

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