Women’s Board Historic Furniture - 6/19/14

This blog is written by Tazbah Gaussoin & Marcos Martinez who are both interns at the New Mexico Museum of Art through the Governor’s Internship Program. During the course of the Governor’s Internship Program, students will garner valuable experience working within their fields of study and enhance their appreciation for public service.
The pungent smell of wax filled the lobby, a cloth and a bucket of water was standing between volunteers and 100 year-old layers of grime. Some might say that cleaning a piece of furniture can be done with a blindfold; not in our case. The Women’s Board Historic Furniture Project required volunteers from the Women’s Board (Tana Bidwell, Jean Eddy, Suzannah Sale, Charlotte Whitecomb, Peggy Ater, Kay Lewis, Kathy Brooks, Margaret Jones, Susie Herman, and Lynda Kellahin) two interns, and the Museum’s Collections Manager to conserve the many pieces of furniture of the Women’s Board room. The historic furniture is the original furniture that was made for the Women’s Board room (there are two chairs, three benches, one chest, one cupboard, and two tables) located throughout the New Mexico Museum of Art.
It all began when the Women’s Board volunteers went to the museum’s Collection Manager in hopes of learning how to clean and protect their furniture. It was then decided to ask the State Conservator to demonstrate the proper way of conserving furniture. A workshop was later scheduled to exhibit the proper procedures of cleaning and waxing the historic pieces.
We began our “cleaning mission” by first using a very mild soap with no perfumes, dyes, or harsh chemicals called Orvus. We learned that it is the same soap that is used to clean horses, so it could be found at a local feed store. Only a small quantity, about a quarter teaspoon, is needed per quart of water (Orvus is very concentrated). The furniture needed to be cleaned with a few washes with the soapy water and a cloth that is 50% cotton, and 50% polyester. The furniture is used in the main lobby of the Museum, where the public is welcomed to enjoy them, so one can imagine the amount of dirt and grime. Let’s just say that our white cloths were black in a matter of minutes! To our belief, the furniture had not been cleaned in many years. In the photo below, the difference seen between the cleaned and not cleaned is huge.

After the furniture was cleaned, with a minimal amount of wet time, a thin coat of wax was applied and then buffed. The wax used is a Johnson’s paste wax which consists of Carnauba wax, Microcrystalline wax, Paraffin, and Deodorized Napth. Johnson’s paste wax is a soft wax that will not stain, not leave residue, and will provide the right amount of protection. A plethora of wax was used; in total 3 cans of wax were completely emptied. This is because some of the pieces required multiple coats of wax, reaching up to five or seven coats! Normally that many coats of wax may be too many; due to the fact that it is historic furniture and a glossy look is avoided. Needless to say, the wood was extremely dry and soaked in all the wax. The Women’s Board furniture definitely needed some T.L.C. They don’t look a day over 20, and can hopefully be around for another 100 years!

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