Conservation…the final frontier… boldly treat objects no one has dared treat before…..

The project which is re-constructing the Hinton House state bed to its original “angel” tester configuration is not over yet, but the end is in sight, and the combined efforts of various skilled people have started to coalesce in to what the state bed expert Annabel Westman reckons to be the most exciting and ambitious bed restoration project to have taken place in many years. I am making the last major wooden components, the carved feet, that will be covered in the same crimson velvet that features on the outer valances, cornices and curtains. I am using limewood (Tilia species *), which has ideal carving properties, easy to work, and close-grained. The lime tree that the timber is from was felled on Temple Newsam Estate over 10 years ago, and I have had several planks of it air-drying since then. Carving of such heavily 3D, essentially sculptural work, has been new territory for me, and like everybody involved with this project, I have learned a lot, not the least of which is the importance, in sculpting/carving from a solid, of first making a maquette in something pliable, such as clay, in order to arrive at the design, or something close. A big thank you to artist Catherine Gray for taking me in hand on that. Moreover, I owe a lot to a previous generation of curators, such as Christopher Gilbert, Anthony Wells-Cole and James Lomax, for an extraordinary leap of faith in appointing me to help look after the heritage assets at Temple Newsam, and for great leadership afterwards. If I have achieved anything worthwhile in my career as a museum professional, it is to them that I largely attribute it. Someone else to acknowledge and thank is the late Sir Yehudi Menuhin, whose book Unfinished Journey had quite a marked effect on my own journey. A few words about his trusteeship of West Dean College, and the college itself, was enough for me to research this institution, and end up studying there.

The accompanying exhibition on beds and bedding, which will open late in 2011, will be a worthy addition to the lexicon of ground breaking Temple Newsam exhibitions on country house themes. As the project nears its completion it is worth reflecting on the efforts of the previous generation of curators to whom Temple Newsam House, as a great museum of decorative and fine art, owes its existence. Make it so.

Posted by Ian Fraser

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