A Piece of Every Day Life: Furniture and other wooden objects of everyday life in conservation-restoration

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Speakers at the second day of the conference. Image courtesy of photographers Henrike Steinweg and Anselm Pranz (2019).

By Carola Klinzmann
Translation by Angelika Rauch and Peter Godaniburg

To put furniture and vernacular objects at the centre was a long-standing wish of the VDR (Verband der Restauratoren/German Association of Conservators-Restorers) Furniture and Wooden Objects Speciality Group. In recent years the focus of conferences has mainly been on courtly furniture. “A piece of every-day life“ was the subject of a multi-faceted conference held from 9th to 11th May 2019 in Nuremberg. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum was the perfect venue where 123 guests listened to 25 talks and eagerly engaged in discussions.

DAY 1

Introductions were made by Anne Harmssen, representing the VDR executive board, and by the director of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Großmann. The first day started with introductory talks on the deeper meaning of furniture from a philosophical perspective that were fascinating and enlightening. Hans Ottomeyer talked about furniture styles and guilds in Munich in his entertaining and distinctive manner. In order to create a systematic inventory of family heirlooms, Thomas Dann from Lippe, a region of North Rhine-Westphalia, visited 300 households. His analysis of 1,500 pieces of furniture in the context of this study was received with great admiration. A treasure for the future! Similarly structured was Matthias Stappel’s and Thomas Ostendorf’s search for the “Master with the Tinrider” (Meister mit dem Zinnreiter). They gave us background stories and detailed technical examinations. Identifying specific features allowed the researchers to group objects together or to attribute them to Meister Heck. These are only a few examples of the multi-faceted talks from the first day. We were taken on a joy ride from Berlin to Inntal and all the way to Romania.

CEREMONY

The ceremony to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Furniture and Wooden Objects Speciality Group took place in the museum café at the conclusion of the first day. Former chairman Ralf Buchholz was the evening’s emcee and gave the ceremonial address. He took the former chairs by surprise by inviting them to the podium where a discussion unfolded in a relaxed atmosphere. Eckehard von Schierstaedt, Hans-Werner Pape, Martin Marquardt, Bernd Kügler and Carola Klinzmann were asked to talk about the beginnings and early days of the working group and its development. They reported the very important first step in 1978—a letter to museum directors to register furniture conservators who at that time didn’t have any network at all. Subsequently, the first working group was founded in 1979 in the ATM (Arbeitsgemeinschaft des technischen Museumspersonals, later AdR). Concluding the evening was a dinner with stimulating conversations.

DAY 2

The second day was packed with interesting reports on technological examinations and on divers composite materials such as metal foils and coloured grain fillers used on furniture from the 20th century. The conservation-restoration of exceptional objects, such as chairs upholstered with fur and a droptank made of plywood from a plane used in WW2, were presented. Thorsten Weil reported his surprising findings while restoring school furnishings from 1915. The subsequent changes to the treatment concept were discussed at length.

Some colleagues enlightened us on their practical approach in dealing with museum pests and mould infestation, which contributed to the topic of collection care. There were two talks from colleagues from Switzerland. One was about technical innovations in the manufacturing of chairs in the Guichard workshop, and the second one was about wooden measuring sticks for masterpieces of the Basel furniture guild. The new presentation of the so-called Schwälmer Stube of the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Kassel divided the audience. The reactions ranged from “horrible” to “accomplished”. Ilja Braunmüller presented all aspects of the handling and manufacturing of wheelbarrows in a very illustrative and engaging way. Four wardrobes from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nuremberg, dating between 1650 and 1800, were the subject of Kristina Schielinski’s diploma thesis. Thankfully she stepped up and spontaneously presented her work replacing a cancelled talk.

COMMITTEE MEETING

The well-attended meeting, in which a new committee was elected, concluded the eventful day. Wolfram Bangen unfortunately stepped down, and Christian Huber replaced him as the new chairman. Angelika Rauch stays on as vice chair. New to the team are Daniela Bruder and Harald Kühner. Sincere thanks to the parting chairman and congratulations to the newly elected!

DAY 3

Quite distinctive objects of every-day life were topics on the third day. Amongst them were a writing desk and a wheelchair from the Ruhr Museum Essen presented by students from the TH Köln (Technical University Cologne). They investigated the history and dating of the objects and vividly explained their conservation concepts and implementation. During his studies in 2007, another TH Köln graduate, Philip Mandrys, restored a Rhöner flour chest. The elaborate reconstruction of the chest allowed him to get closer to comprehending its construction principles. Other topics were the restoration of the functionality of a weaving loom as well as a collection of medical chests. We learned about the transition of slot machines from every-day to heritage objects from a very entertaining talk by Jessica Midding (Deutsches Automatenmuseum in Espelkamp) and the conservator Uta Wuttke.

The program spanned a wide range of topics from philosophical, art historical and anthropological aspects of furniture research to the detailed examination of singular objects. Conservation treatments were the focus of this versatile conference, and we got to know various collections and specific challenges. Guided tours formed the enjoyable conclusion of the event.

Sincere thanks to the organisers Wolfram Bangen, Christian Huber and Angelika Rauch for a successful conference.

AUTHOR BYLINE

Carola Klinzmann has been head of the furniture conservation department of the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel (MHK) since 1999. She has had various apprenticeships and internships and graduated from the Technical University in Cologne in 1997. Carola worked as a freelance conservator in Cologne and Hamburg before taking up her current position in Kassel. She was chair of the VDR Furniture and Wooden Objects Speciality Group from 2013 until 2017.

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To put furniture and vernacular objects at the centre was a long-standing wish of the VDR (Verband der Restauratoren/German Association of Conservators-Restorers) Furniture and Wooden Objects Speciality Group. In recent years the focus of conferences has mainly been on courtly furniture. “A piece of every-day life“ was the subject of a multi-faceted conference held from 9th to 11th May 2019 in Nuremberg. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum was the perfect venue where 123 guests listened to 25 talks and eagerly engaged in discussions.
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