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Student Blog: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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​Left: Preservation carpentry at Colonial Williamsburg: here Sarah is working on an 18th-century staircase from a Virginia home. Right: Miniature furniture currently on display in the Hennage exhibit at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The miniature clock case I treated is at right. (Images: Caroline Shaver.)

​Greetings from Williamsburg, Virginia! I have been interning for my 3rd year in the wooden artifacts lab at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation since July 2020, and am wrapping up my final months before graduation. I have been so excited to be here, having the opportunity to work on some truly incredible cultural heritage from colonial America. My projects have ranged from preservation carpentry to miniature furniture, and upholstery to musical instruments. It has been a jam-packed year, primarily revolving around installation of new galleries in our renovated and expanded Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. In addition to lots of hands-on treatment, it's been a wonderful opportunity for some bigger-picture preservation projects, including exhibition installations, object surveys, and material research projects.

But for this blog post, I'd like to share one of my recently-completed projects, the treatment of a ca. 1800 miniature tall case clock. It stands less than three feet tall, and is a perfectly scaled-down version of a standard tall case clock. 

While I only treated the mahogany case, this clock includes miniaturized clock works made by a well-known clockmaker, Christopher Weaver, who lived and worked in Delaware from the 1780’s-1815. This clock is a gift to our collection from the Hennage family. The Hennages and their gift of a very fine and important collection of early American decorative arts are the subjects of a new exhibition (in which this miniature clock is featured): “A Gift to the Nation: the Joseph and June Hennage Collection.”

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​Left and center: Miniature Tall Case Clock before and after treatment. Right: “Fashion Show" with clock pediment designs! (Images: Sarah Towers.)

​While the clock works were treated by objects conservation colleagues, the case came to the wooden artifacts lab as it was in need of structural stabilization and paint consolidation as well as aesthetic compensation for lost veneers and distractingly discolored old repairs. Crowning the hood was also an inaccurate, awkwardly-shaped restored pediment that was not original to the case. I could talk about any part of this very complex treatment, but I'll focus on the pediment needs, as they were a particularly exciting challenge. I was asked to make another reproduction pediment, one that was more stylistically appropriate to this case, for both the region (mid-Atlantic, likely Delaware or Pennsylvania) and the time period. ​​

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​Working 'Wee': from a blank piece of mahogany and a drafted design (left) to carving tiny scrolls (middle) and inlaying and painting maple stars smaller than a quarter (right). (Images: Sarah Towers and Caroline Shaver.)

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​Before treatment pediment (top) and after treatment pediment (below). (Images: Sarah Towers.)

We decided to embark on this restorative process as it is so important to an accurate and sensitive interpretation of this object. While we can’t know with certainty exactly what the original pediment looked like, collaboration with colleagues and extensive research helped us determine a better model on which to base a new pediment design. I scaled down models of other comparable clock pediments, and we were able to try them “on” a little bit like a clock fashion show! As luck would have it, we chose the profile of a clock in the Winterthur Museum collection as the best representative for a more appropriate design, which I designed with moldings that were based on our clock, and other tweaks to the form as needed to adapt to the miniature scale. And then I got to work carving a pediment out of mahogany, inlaid with tiny 5-point Federal stars. This took many hours of work, and it was a real challenge to carve something so small. When the new pediment was ready, I was able to safely remove the other restored pediment from the clock hood without damage. We will store this other pediment in our archives, as part of the history of this object’s life. 

​I hope you have enjoyed this small glimpse into the life of a wooden artifacts graduate intern at Colonial Williamsburg!​​

— Sarah Towers, WUDPAC Class of 2021

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WUDPAC Class of 2021​ Fellow Sarah Towers talks about her wide-ranging work as an intern in the wooden artifacts lab at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
7/5/2021
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