Epoxy Fill Repairs on a Bombay Blackwood Armchair (non-structural)

Every so often an object arrives at the shop that’s a bit baffling; I can see the obvious form, but have no real idea of where it originated and that’s a puzzle and so, I can’t leave it alone. Obviously the form pictured above is a chair that is carved, or a carving that looks like a chair…but as a practical matter I do like to know as much as  I can about the origin of a piece before I begin, in order to proceed with sympathetic restoration.

Resources available through the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, led me to a description of a chair remarkably similar to our example above. Obtained in Bombay, India circa 1868 by Mr and Mrs Paul Naylor and subsequently given to the V&A†, that chair is described as part of a “… vast group of furniture called ‘Bombay blackwood’…made in the Bombay Presidency out of blackwood… a variety of rosewood. ‘Bombay blackwood’ furniture is typically based on English furniture forms made from about 1850 to about 1880…it is highly carved, usually with foliage and mythical beasts.”

An illustration of a print advertisement of Liberty & Co of Regent Street, London for their Indian Furniture and Decoration imports
Illustrated in this advertisement is an Easy Chair bearing very close resemblance to our subject. Along with a date, it provides us with a description of the wood from which it was made. A plate from the excellent book: India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display by Saloni Mathur, University of California Press, 2007 ISBN: 9780520252318

When our subject armchair pictured above (ca. 1870) came into the shop about nine years ago, it was one of a pair that both had damage typical for their age of around 150 years. This damage from normal wear was compounded twice; first,  when the furniture made in a hot and humid climate of India was moved to Wisconsin with our significantly drier climate and second, being loosely shipped overseas in a container full of objects. It may not look it from the picture that you see, but this was one wobbly chair. And as always, the older the piece the more numerous the repairs (of varying quality) that it has received over time.

Apart from structural issues, there were numerous losses and damage to the carved elements, not surprising given that almost the entire surface was covered in pierced carving. Many of these losses were not structural in nature, but were large enough to compromise the appearance of the piece. I couldn’t put my hands on enough wood of proper species and size to fill these voids, so I made reversible epoxy repairs.

Well, that’s not technically correct…I made epoxy restorations since I was replacing something that was missing not repairing something that was broken. What is more,  exposed edges of breaks are much more likely to catch passing textiles or the edges of other objects, enlarging the existing break; and this happening over time could lead to real structural issues so these restorations do have a preventative aspect. So, it was not a purely cosmetic restoration, done to satisfy aesthetics; the happy outcome was to have it succeed in both appearance and preservation.

The feet of objects are always areas ripe for deterioration since who knows where or in what the item has been left standing over the decades. The front feet of this armchair (sculpted in the form of the heads of unidentifiable creatures) had suffered some loss. The loss on the proper left foot had been stuffed with some sort of friable granular substance which had been dropping away, so it was carefully removed.

Presentation wp 2 Anglo Ind 2

Once the area of loss was cleaned the foot was checked for movement; that is, flexed to see if the gap would change in dimension when the foot was compressed from the sides and it did not. The newly exposed surface was given a thin coat of Hide glue, and once dry, the two-part epoxy was added and left to cure for 24 hours. The epoxy was carved to approximate the original appearance of the areas of loss.

Presentation wp 2 Anglo Ind 3
Anywhere you see the white epoxy, there was material lost. A nice wedge shaped piece. Color was layered in to bring the repair’s appearance into harmony with its surroundings.

The loss on the proper right foot was much smaller and had not been filled

Presentation wp 2 Anglo Ind 4
The proper right foot had much less damage; it just needed some dental work compared to the maxillofacial undertaking necessary on the left foot.

On the second armchair, there were losses to the back where it rolled over and terminated, not surprising given its exposure and the brittle nature of the wood.

Anglo-Indian Armchair 2 Back Rail Loss
You can see that at some point a nail was driven in across the joint of the two panels. This nail likely acted as a wedge that exacerbated the eventual loss of material.

Though the epoxy is quite sticky and clay-like in consistency, it won’t simply hang in mid-air, so a little staging was provided

Anglo-Indian Armchair preparartion for epoxy fill
The clamps here are “spring” clamps, very handy. These have quite pointy ends which in this case are simply placed inside the pierced openings of the carvings; there is not much clamping pressure, just enough to hold the staging in place.

A number of steps were not photographed here, a fibrous armature was inserted and glued into drilled holes, the epoxy was shaped around it to conform to the surrounding material surface, and then color was added in layers

Anglo-Indian Armchair: shaping and coloring epoxy fill

Was the design source for this chair was similar to this plate from an 1847 design book? Note how the upholstery rolls over the arms:

Easy Chair in the Italian style va 1847
The practical cabinet maker & upholsterer’s treasury of designs : house-furnishing & decorating assistant : in the Grecian, Italian, Renaissance, Louis-Quatorze, Gothic, Tudor, and Elizabethan styles : interspersed with designs executed for the royal palaces, and for some of the principal mansions of the nobility and gentry, and club houses. by Henry Whitaker, active 1825-1847


© 2019 Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.




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