Cherry joined me for the Covid lockdown – we were stable companions for the duration! She had been well loved, well played with, and was looking rather battered as a result.
Cherry had been restored in the past and had a (now threadbare) velvet saddle and a glass marble for one of her eyes. There were cracks which extended into the wooden substrate and followed the construction lines of the wooden horse. Where the stirrup had been used Cherry bore the scars, her paint was broken and crazed and she was discoloured, both from the old restoration and from her aged original varnish. Her leather work was dry, overpainted, cracked and in places the leather had broken, making the toy unsafe to use. Only remnants of her mane and tail survive.
At the Museum Cherry is well known and loved. So it was important not to make so many changes that would make Cherry no longer recognisable. The balance between old and new had to be as sympathetic as possible.
The surface of the paint was cleaned using sponge eraser and the old restoration layer removed with a mild solvent. The cracks in the ground were structurally sound so the underlying gesso was consolidated with a traditional consolidant and the gaps filled with an acrylic/filler mix before colour matching with a water soluble paint. Old knocks from the stirrup were left in keeping with her age and use.
Cherry had one painted glass eye, the other was a black marble which had been inserted and adhered using a material called AJK Dough, now largely unused in conservation because it tends to creep and shrink over time. A new glass eye was painted to match the original eye. The AJK dough filler – which extended up to the ear and cheek of the horse, was removed and replaced using a strengthened filler, which was carved and sanded to the shape of the eyebrow and cheek. The eye was inserted using an epoxy resin filler to the rear and around the eye socket. The eye area was then painted to match using water soluble paints.
The original saddle was revealed under the velvet restoration! This rocking horse must have looked magnificent in it’s hey day! The leather had been cut down and re-shaped when it was restored in the past. So sadly this could not be re-instated.
Although the velvet was recoverable the braid was not and it was decided to replace the velvet using new braid. Some old braid was kept on the seat to show what had been there before.
After washing the velvet was backed with dyed silk crepeline, and some new velvet, dyed to match was used behind the cantle. The original daisy pins were cleaned and re-used and the saddle was re-constructed. Extra protection was added to the seat using polyester padding and the re-construction was done in such a way that the threadbare seat could be re-covered in the future without interfering with the main fix.
The skirt had lost portions of it’s grain leaving the suede under surface, which exhibited possible red rot. Chemical red rot treatments have been largely discontinued – (in my experience they can leave a hardened and discoloured surface). Therefore after surface cleaning it was decided to consolidate the suede and leather/suede edges and apply a surface coating.
Tests were carried out to see which would leave the best colour and suppleness to the skin. A cellulose gel in Ethanol was used to consolidate the surface of the suede, followed by a weak solution of conservation grade acrylic resin to seal the surface. Where the edges of the grain and suede were parting acrylic resin was further applied. The skirt was finished with a coat of wax.
The rocker mechanism and stand was cleaned and re-waxed, and the metal cleaned to remove corrosion.
Finally, the mane and tail were replaced with new. A tricky decision for a conservator was whether to replace with a synthetic hair or a natural hair. Though better for the Museum environment – as it would not attract pests – it was decided not to use synthetic hair as this is not in keeping with the age of the horse. Natural hair was used combining 2 manes to accommodate the length of this horse’s mane. As a precaution wooden rings impregnated with a natural moth and carpet beetle deterrent were attached where they would not be seen under the mane. Cherry was returned with pheromone pest traps which could be placed nearby at the museum to monitor any pest attack.