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Posts Tagged ‘restoration’

At one end of the spectrum is the mixed metaphor – relatively harmless, but wrong. At the other end is the potentially deadly* mix of seemingly tame cleaning agents found under many a kitchen sink – ammonia and chlorine. The back story here is that when I was in fourth grade (ancient history, I know), a classmate of mine’s brother landed himself in the hospital, having torched his respiratory system, and not by spouting mixed metaphors.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies the conventional wisdom, luthier version, that if you introduce a metal structural element into the wood and glue universe of the violin, you are asking for complications, eventually. There are inconvenient exceptions, of course, but as far as I know, they appear only rarely in the context of making. Violin making, that is.

As far as restoration goes, screws, nails, metal anything – big no no. For one thing, we don’t want to disrupt the synergy between various parts of an instrument by relying on a material, so radically different, that it won’t move with the wood. Secondly, it’s hell when you hit a screw with the chisel you just honed to a razor edge.img_0676

Recently, a project came to me that might have been a straightforward neck and button graft. Is there something on that Restorer’s Mind page about “a never ending stream of firsts”? I may have to edit, if not. This 18c Testore family cello had at some point had full edging replacements, top and back, attached all around with glue and small nails. It’s possible that purfling (characteristically only etched in) was added to disguise the joint. When I began this project, the neck was broken, the button compromised and the upper back edges were a mess.

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When I started removing deteriorated wood, this is what was left! I found it useful to go exploring with a magnet, before committing my nicely sharpened tools to wood.

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It might not be possible to know the circumstances that resulted in this odd and unlikely wedding of wood and metal elements. The edges were not underlaid, but simply glued and nailed with the aid of some judicious kerfing  on the interiors of the more extreme curves. When? Long enough ago for the upper back edges to deteriorate dramatically.

I replaced those edges with new wood underlaid into the back in a manner that would preempt the need for additional, need I say, nefarious reinforcement. Much more comfortable for the player, I should think, and easier on the sweater, too!

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*I do not, in fact, know if this chemical combo is deadly. But to the 9 year old brain, it was a sensible conclusion.

And about the nails, there are plenty left in the c bouts, and the lower bouts to provide many years of puzzlement and consternation to future restorers.

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Recently, an opportunity presented itself and this restorer’s mind had to say yes.

On a chilly Saturday morning in late September, a handful of adventuresome photo nerds (including myself) were granted access to the long abandoned Victory Theater in my home city of Holyoke, MA. The event was offered by MIFA (owners of the property), Matt Christopher’s Abandoned America and Matt Lambros’ After the Final Curtain. Access to the building was intriguing enough, but tutelage from a couple of fine photographers made it a rare deal. My motivation was to learn some new things about my camera, the same one that I use regularly in my workshop. I have long been convinced that my little Nikon Coolpix is smarter than I am and anything I can do to reduce the disparity is valued highly. The venue was a real bonus, appealing at once to my odd attraction to decrepitude and the promise inherent in a possible restoration. Throw in a little Nancy Drew, a little Doctor Who, a fascination with urban spelunking and love of alternate realities, and you have a stew that pretty much describes my morning. I had fun.

The Victory Theater is thrice renowned for what it was, for what it currently is not, and for what it might still become. Opened in 1920, it was a vaudeville house in a thriving manufacturing city. By the time it was condemned in 1979, even its life as a movie theater was over as Holyoke suffered a huge economic decline, along with too many other post-manufacturing cities in America. The Victory is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts and there is a campaign in place to procure funding to restore this cultural/architectural treasure. Take a look. If you’re curious, check out the links. Think about contributing.

Click on an image to start the show. And thanks for indulging me. More about fiddles next time.

 

 

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Being a restorer is a little like jumping into a movie mid way. First, you have to figure out what’s going on. Then you have to keep the plot interesting, the characters viable, the scenery and costumes true and the concept and signature in line with the filmmaker’s. All this without knowing for how long, or to what outcome, because you’ll be jumping out again before the credits. Hopefully, no one will know you were even there, but in your old age, perhaps you will be lucky enough to lean back and in your mind’s ear hear that resounding chorus, “Wow that was a great flick!”, and know you had some small part in it.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaxVwD-HvNU

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This post could easily be a sidebar to two previous posts. It describes a variation on a button doubling, in this case including an ebony crown and a tricky bit of edge replacement. More importantly, in my mind, as another example of a Disappearing Act, it expresses again the “Restorer’s Mind”.

This fiddle came into my shop after a memorable night of live bluegrass, performed on the stage that apparently ate that little piece of maple, which, in its absence, has inspired this post. “Is it possible that it’s in the case?” I asked my client. Sometimes I get lucky, but not this time. Maybe it was inadvertently kicked off the stage and since swept up by the janitor. Perhaps it landed in the dust accumulating in the open back of the bassist’s amp. Maybe it secreted itself in the upturned cuff of the bassist’s jeans (always blame the bassist if you can, if there is no horn section). In the slim chance that there is a baritone sax around, the likelihood is that the missing piece will end up in the bell. Not likely in a bluegrass set. In any case our little bit was gone, gone, gone.

Being a restorer, I am always thinking about what I might otherwise be throwing away, and if there is any chance it might be useful. Rather than searching through my stores of repair wood, I found the perfect match right under my nose. There is a certain amount of wood that has to be taken away in the course of repairing the back button. With some careful planning and a fine toothed saw, I was able to “harvest” a chip that could be reoriented and fit to fill the gap left by the wayward chip now seeking its fortune in Nashville. Here is a series of thumbnails, any of which can be enlarged. Hopefully, you will get the sense of the procedure.DSCN0311DSCN0320DSCN0324

 

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In my shop, this is a typical approach to assuring a match when some bit of original material is missing. The first thing I think about is what is about to land on the floor. There’s likely to be some good stuff there.

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Years ago, I opened an instrument for repair. I was not the first to do so. I was not even the second. My most recent predecessor had not only signed his name, but also left a numbered legend with corresponding arrows clearly identifying his contribution amongst the multiple repairs in the old fiddle. To seal the deal, he used a blue ball point pen, further distinguishing himself from the mere mortals who had signed previously with a lowly pencil. I’m sorry this was before my obsessive picture taking days.

Sometimes, when I open an instrument and see a repairer’s signature/label, I hear myself thinking: Ah, Kilroy was here. Kilroy? Who the heck is Kilroy?  This was an amusing lunchtime digression. Here is a little bit of Americana from urbandictionary.com:

 
In December 1946 the New York Times credited James J. Kilroy, a welding inspector at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, with starting the craze. Usually, inspectors used a small chalk mark, but welders were erasing those to get double-paid for their work. To prevent this, Mr Kilroy marked his welding work with the long crayoned phrase (“Kilroy was here”) on the items he inspected. The graffito became a common sight around the shipyard and was imitated by workers when they were drafted and sent around the world. As the war progressed, people began opening void spaces on ships for repair, and the mysterious Mr Kilroy’s name would be found there, in sealed compartments “where no one had been before.”
“Kilroy was here…”

So today I decided to put the infamous “Heap of Cello Bits”, which I own, back in the drawer, since I just had another substantial cello job come in that I will actually get paid to do. Instead, I decided to pull out a violin of mine, 19th century French something or other, which I think may be a good candidate for a restoration workshop I may attend this summer. My thinking is that if I can get the cracks repaired ahead of time, I can spend my week away grafting the neck and doing some retouch. I find both of these activities good “travel tasks” because they require a relatively finite set of tools and materials. Retouch is a never ending area of exploration and will always inspire good exchanges with colleagues. And if I can get a graft done too, then I return home with a project solidly moved along.

It’s always a minor thrill to open an instrument. Tonight it was the French fiddle and while there were no serious surprises, good or bad, it was definitely one of those “Kilroy” moments. Kilroy, Kilroy, and Kilroy.DSCN0352DSCN0349

What’s with all the labels? I thought, and then realized that they were all identical except that the handwritten dates spanned 30 years. Our Kilroy in this case is Milton O. Wickes, in case that’s not clear yet.

Currently, the accepted practice among professional restorers is to do the work that needs to be done, be as subtle and/or as eloquent as one can, and leave as little extraneous evidence as possible. My own practice adheres to this principle. Because, in another lifetime I may have been a fantastic spelunker, I conjure images of a pristine, never been explored cavern. Go in, have fun, and pack your crap out.

Still, when I encounter these “indiscretions” in the form of signatures, labels, narratives and veritable road maps, perpetrated by someone other than the original maker, I admit to feeling a little guilty pleasure. Can I puzzle out the whys and wherefores of Mr. Wickes’ three major encounters with this violin? What about that fiddle I had years ago with the simple inscription “do not scrape?” That was a puzzler. Or the Simoutre family history inscribed in a fiddle. Or my favorite, the handwritten apology from a noted Italian maker, for his sloppy repair work: “Repairs according to the price paid.”

Like so many things, I guess it’s a matter of degrees and context. I’m glad Mr. Wickes didn’t plaster his labels all over the inside of a real Joseph Guarnerius, although that would have been the least of it. Labels are removable. Pencil lead is easily washed off. Ballpoint pen, not so much.DSCN0359

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I have a hard time following directions. Specifically, I fail at following recipes. This is not because: 1. I cannot read  or 2. I have cognitive disabilities. In fact, sometimes I just have a better idea, or an alternate method that works for me. Or maybe there’s no Dutch Chervil in the cupboard (whatever the hell that is). Generally, this truth is an asset for me and not a liability. I suspect it relates to my being self- employed. But more specifically, I think it relates to the nature of my work. There are very few recipes when it comes to restoration work.

For instance, it is impossible to google “restore this heap of cello bits” and get a concise and printable course of action that may result in something worth putting strings on:
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This cello is actually not in such bad shape, since most of its parts, rather ALL of its parts, have literally come apart at the seams. Beyond that, there will be some serious planning, some random moments of ingenuity, and an otherwise brilliant trajectory of skill and awesomeness. All in a day’s work.

This, however, is a challenge:

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http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2003/11/brussels-sprouts-maple-hickory-nuts

Here is a recipe that I love, for shredded Brussels sprouts with maple glazed pecans. I can never quite get it right, for all its simplicity. It’s best when the flavors are isolated and the textures are differentiated. I know how good it can be. I excel at soups and stews, or when a visual presentation is required. But the perfection of this particular recipe eludes me. I’m thinking it might take someone who can follow directions.

Happy New Year!

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With only some regret, I’ve pulled the last of the tomatillo plants. And just tonight, while a handful of hot peppers are still turning orange on my windowsill, the last of the kale was consumed. Next year, I plant smarter, tend smarter, hopefully cook smarter and eat smarter. That’s what they all say! No traffic jams in the kitchen! Hah!

In any case, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed, and yet I keep finding the most interesting things out there.

I especially like this time of year for its odd mix of hope and resignation. I am relieved and delighted to see that the dogwood I planted just this year survived the drought and indeed has buds that I hope to witness in full flower next spring. If this baby tree had not survived, I would have been put in the awkward position of having a cosmic discussion with the Golden Retriever-in-a-can that I’d planted with it.

Likewise, the rhododendrons have buds, and the little peach tree, in spite of having lost all its fruit shortly after I planted it, seems to be healthy and willing. Sometimes it is wise to hunker down and focus on setting roots, even if it means passing on the flashy stuff.

As I walk in the woods and tidy the garden these days, I remember that there are things that are beautifully and inextricably entwined with their own decay.

It’s a good time of year to share a meal with friends, to visit children and aging parents. It is a good time of year to contemplate the dying and turn toward the living.

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