Recently we were fortunate to have four furniture experts from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation come on-site to consult with us on furnishings at Montpelier, both from our permanent collection and items on loan. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation staff who came were Ron Hurst, vice president for collections and museums; Tara Gleason Chicirda, curator of furniture; Christopher Swan, conservator of furniture; and Albert Skutans, conservator of furniture.
Their expertise helped to further confirm much of the research that we have already done on several of our pieces, and led us as well to many new avenues of research. They identified the types of woods used in the construction of many objects, and hypothesized about their likely dates and regions of origin. This information has allowed us to do even more pointed research, and has already helped us begin to decide which pieces are most suitable to represent the furnishings at Montpelier during James and Dolley Madisons’ residence.
Some of the details that Ron, Tara, Chris, and Albert looked for in determining the origin of pieces such as beds and tables included the types of joints holding pieces of wood together, the patterns of detailing such as turnings and inlay, and nearly-microscopic evidence of paint residue or upholstery on stripped pieces.
Many times their expert opinions helped to prove the possibility that James and Dolley could have owned a piece based on the period of construction. However, there were also a few objectswhich were judged to have been of a style or form that did not come into being until after James died and Dolley left Montpelier, therefore making them inappropriate for display at Montpelier.
Chris and Albert, whose specialty is furniture conservation, spoke with us about the condition of many of the pieces, and advised us on what kinds of treatment to consider for objects which need to be stabilized and conserved before they can be safely put on display.