Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Museum Worthy?

by Barbara Owens

Some things are simply so prolific you need only mention their name and instantly you can picture it clearly in your head.  Let’s test it out: Leonardo DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa”, Jan Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”, Edward Barcolo’s “Barcalounger”


The Barcalounger: you know it well, but does it really belong grouped with such iconic works?  No, probably not, but it is nonetheless in the collection of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society where it was recently treated by SAC.  Are you asking why Buffalo would have such an interesting and quirky piece?  It is because the Barcalounger, of course, was originally manufactured in Buffalo where it was introduced in 1940.

The original Barcalounger is not much different from the Barcalounger of today – save for the changes in upholstery and styling.  The concept remains the same, chair goes into reclining position, you are helpless to its power, and quickly find yourself napping.

As most conservators who treat furniture will tell you, furniture conservation has intrinsic challenges.  Centuries of the various styles of furniture and upholstery that reflect changing tastes and decorating trends can fill volumes.  As a conservator you could treat a piece each year and perhaps never see the same style twice.  But nearly guaranteed, is that you will probably never be asked to treat a Barcalounger.  So when The Buffalo and Erie County Historic Society (BECHS) asked us to treat theirs, how could we possibly say “no” to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

A barcalounger is cool.  It is a piece of Americana.  And conserving a chair that nearly folds out to a bed is a unique experience.  Here are the answers to your immediate questions: 1) No, we did not test-drive it.  2) Yes, it still “lounges”.
Textiles in need of repair, restoration and art conservation, barcalounger vintage, antique, historic
Close up of the chair seat before treatment
The Barcalounger before conservation treatment of the upholstery, textile historic repair and restoration

The BECHS chair was in desperate need of treatment.  The chair’s original upholstery was splitting and had several areas of loss, and the polyurethane foam was disintegrating.  However, the mechanics of the chair were still sound, as was the frame.

Following conservation, the chair would be part of the exhibit, "Bflo Made!" highlighting things that were “Buffalo born”.  More than 700 products, inventions, and artifacts in the Bflo. Made! exhibit highlight Greater Buffalo’s pride in its commercial and industrial heritage and present-day manufacturing and research.  What else came out of Buffalo you ask?  How about the pacemaker, the jet pack, the kazoo, Cheerios, the disco floor (yes, I mean THE disco floor, as in the one that Travolta graced with white disco suit and finger pointed strait in the air in the movie Saturday Night Fever).  The chair remains on permanent exhibit and if you happen to be in the great city of Buffalo, New York check out BECHS.

We will probably never have the chance to treat another Barcalounger, which makes this treatment so memorable.  In our day-to-day work, SAC tends to do conservation of items with similar themes: flags, maps, prints, and what seems like an endless amount of period clothing.  And while each of those items is always amazingly rich in history and so often the pieces are historically significant, it is so refreshing to do something completely different from anything else.

Barcalounger art conservation, textiles and upholstered furniture, Buffalo history
The Barcalounger post-treatment

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