Almost as soon as the Salon Doré was de-installed from Gallery 11 late last year, the comprehensive conservation and restoration project began (and continues today in full view of the public in Gallery 13). Before a single component of the room was removed, however, months of planning and research went into readying the Salon Doré for this massive undertaking.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the project is the sheer magnitude of effort and diverse knowledge required to conserve and restore an entire architectural environment. Usually a conservation project only involves a single object. Preparatory research can take months to complete, and includes everything from studying the object’s history, to analyzing the materials found in the object, and determining the specific treatment each material needs. With the Salon Doré project, curators and conservators must expand this process to address the needs of over 120 objects.
I recently spoke with Maria Santangelo, associate curator of European decorative arts, to learn more about the research that went into the de-installation, which took place over a period of 14 days.
Brinker Ferguson (BF): What went into planning the different stages of the de-installation?
Maria Santangelo (MS): Scheduling the closure and de-installation of the Salon involved coordination across numerous departments at both the Legion of Honor and the de Young, since it affects nearly all of our staff and visitors. Before any of the paneling was removed, we went through a period of intense documentation. Every individual element in the room was measured, photographed, and labeled so it could be tracked and documented throughout the restoration process.
The actual physical de-installation took place over the course of two weeks this fall under the supervision of head objects conservator Lesley Bone. Some elements, such as the fireplace mantel, were moved to the conservation lab at the de Young while most of the paneling was installed on racks in the British gallery [Gallery 13] to await treatment.
BF: How did archival research contribute to the restoration of the Salon Doré to its original integrity?
MS: Once we tracked the genesis of our room to the hôtel de la Trémoille, Paris, the original 18th-century building plans of the hôtel provided the correct structure and dimensions of the room. These plans confirmed the room was square with two sets of doors to the north and south, and a large pair of windows opening to the west or garden. After determining the basic, historic structure of the Salon we worked with architect Andrew Skurman to prepare preliminary plans and renderings of the room.
BF: What has been the project’s biggest challenge thus far?
MS: Restoration projects such as the Salon Doré are always challenging since they involve so many individuals, both inside and outside the Museums. In addition to our department, this project places significant demands on our head objects conservator, Lesley Bone, and her staff. Our director of facilities and operations, Patty Lacson, is managing the building side of the renovation, including the numerous engineers, lighting consultants, and contractors involved.
The importance of this project and the Salon Doré itself was not lost upon the Museums’ community. Generous private donations led by our departmental support group, the European Decorative Arts Council, and Cynthia and John Gunn, have supported the renovation of the Salon Doré from the earliest stages.
We encourage you to visit Gallery 13 to see how the conservation is progressing.
In my next blog post, I speak with conservation technical assistant Tegan Broderick to learn more about her current work restoring the plaster over-door panels of the Salon Doré.