Papier-mâché that barks : Woof ! Crack ! Woops…

Conservation of a mechanical pull-toy bulldog

by Ségolène Girard


Seg is speaking !

Remember me ? So much happens all the time in Nico’s workshop that my past articles about the conservation of a Horse Racing Game are far buried under other wonderful adventures…One of which I was part of just recently and I am going to tell you about !

When I met Nico in 2013, I was a second year student in paper conservation in Paris. I now graduated some time ago, and it happened that the development of a new product for conservation brought me to speak for AIC’s conservators annual meeting in Houston in May 2018. It is a long journey from home therefore I did not give it a second thought when I learned I was going: I told Brittany we should Skype ASAP, as I had the most exciting news !

Indeed, we never shared that piece of information with you dear readers, but Nico and I met online…and never in real life at that point. It started with a comment on her blog and we became Skype pen-pals. Actually we chatted so much at that point that it felt like we had visited each other’s workshop dozens of times and shared many coffee cups vs tisane’s (hour difference obliges).

We lost no time and decided I would come from Houston to her Seattle workshop Memoria Technica for a few weeks – once the AIC’s one week conference would be over. She had a great piece that needed the expertise of a paper conservator, and I expected no less from her !

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We would soon realize that if we already had very similar furniture taste, we were also clothes dopplegangers…if that is not long-term friendship investment !

 


 

CHAPTER 1: A SAFE KIND OF BEAST

The object in question is this papier-mâché bulldog barking pull-toy from the late 19th c. … with an unintended pulled apart head. The dog was never meant to look so scary and actually probably made the pride and joy of a small kid – which cracked us up every time we looked at it, I mean how scary would it be to cuddle now ? It would have taken a very brave kid to handle this dog, or a nice fixing, for which we would need all the bravery we could ask the conservation fairy for. Luckily I am always excited by a good challenge and I found myself in the best location to get inspiration from, in this new setting that a horologist conservation workshop is compared to the pristine white, minimalist, feng-shui paper conservation operating space.

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A view of the bulldog during conservation, in Memoria Technica Workshop

 

So let’s roll our sleeves up and start with the necessary understanding of what is on the slab, meaning knowing the origins and components of the bulldog, and what caused its arrival in the workshop.

« A late Victorian British Bulldog pull-along toy, flock finish, papier-mâché, with green/black glass eyes, opening mouth and bark operated by chain from collar, moving head, wooden castors, coconut hair in collar, 13″,25 » [1]

Would be the description of those sympathetic growling toys, very popular in the late 19th c. as pets for wealthy children. With no doubt we had a fine specimen before us, let alone for a few components differences, such as a collar made of horse hair instead of coconut fibers.

The explanation for this extravagant collar is a far-back French penchant for exotic animals that went wild in the 19-20th c., when beasts from foreign countries such as lions would be brought back to Paris and walked proudly in the streets. That way, Dali’s personal art critic Babou the ocelot would pee on his prints regularly, and Josephine Baker favorited sleeping with Chiquita the cheetah, while a sweet story tells how Rosa Bonheur’s lioness walked painfully in the stairs to call her mistress and make sure to die in her comforting arms.

Those who would rather walk a dog, accessorized their fierce looking pet with a long hairy collar evoking a mane, thus reducing risks. Naturally, toys followed the trend.

 


CHAPTER 2: A TERRIBLE ACCIDENT

Dismembering the bobble-head to inspect the insides of the bulldog, we found another both funny and interesting piece of information: the head is made of two hard papier-mâché parts, and covered with a thin cast paper “mask” that covers both parts and refines the face features.

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View of the head molds where they split in two parts, and where the diaphragm sits

 

On both parts a paper tag is pasted from the inside, on which is written on one side “Alphonsine… [date]” and on the other “Alphonsine… [different date]”. Alphonsine is a French soft-sounding girl name, particularly fashionable in the 19th c., which means….this would have been our bulldog’s model name ! Very fitting is it not? Both parts would be assembled thanks to this mark-up differentiating them from all the other heads on the toy maker’s bench. We can imagine there were several breeds, each with a different boy or girl’s name to disntiguish the toy model, as we still do today with dolls.

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Inside the papier-mâché jaw, a tag that reads “Alphonsine april 19th” in French

 

A hidden mechanism in the collar allows the dog to bark by pressing in your palm on the extremity of the leash, basically like a pump similar to that of a motorcycle making the distinctive “tac tac tac” or “bark bark bark” sound ! It is enhanced by a diaphragm hidden in the jaws, which also open up and close alongside the barking. Unfortunately, being one of the best feature of this toy, the use of the mechanism slowly caused pressure on the head and led to the cracking of a rigid papier-mâché head not big and strong enough to withstand those repetitive moves.

The right back foot also suffered pressure from the inside on the castor wheel and a too short paper mold. Cracks and deformation appeared here and there on strategic areas supporting the structure, such as the ribs or the twisted right front leg. The tail broke with another kind of pressure, and one we can imagine too well: the repeated pulling of small children on that fragile appendage.

 

Someone attempted repairs with glue at two different times, as characterized by different looking glues, each times on the tail and on the broken leg. Those repairs are irregular and dripping over the whole area, forming a thick oozing shell of shiny appearance around the cracks. Hair is caught in the hardened adhesives and the paper got darker.

 

The hair is missing in several areas because it is only flocked, and a lot of tears are naturally joined with paper flakes and entirely missing areas. There are major losses to the collar hair. Fun notes, if the collar hair is made of horse hair, Nico had doubts about the flocking origins. Regular diameter, shortly cut (around 5 mil.), fair and hard…it does not look like any other animal than one that is human ! Ahem…any thoughts about this? It will not impact our treatment thankfully.

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Horse hair from the mane is partly missing around the collar

 

 


CHAPITRE 3: ALPHONSINE GOES TO THE CONSERVATOR

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General view before treatment

 

After taking some photographs and reporting all of the above in details, we suggested the following operations.

 

1. Dry cleaning with a hepa filter vacuum

We removed the head from the neck and secured the detached parts with pillows and textile tape on the leash. Covering the mouth of the vacuum hose with fine mesh, we started dry cleaning the outside and inside of the object’s surface. With help from a soft brush in some instances to guide the dirt in the aspiration, and sometimes with a “metal air pump” from our conservator horologist’s workshop that we found helpful to avoid hair loss.

Indeed, the process was very slow and risky as the hairs were not very well fixed and those that were detached gathered in corners and grooves. We removed as much dirt as possible, but did not insist where no humidity would be needed during further treatment, as humidity fixes dirt and makes it harder to remove.

 

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Tools from other specialties often proove useful when having limited visibility, here a dental mirror helps guiding the cleaning process with a hepa filter vacuum

 

 

2. Dry cleaning and wet cleaning of the gesso covering the tongue and gums

Most of the dirt accumulated on the colored gesso was in the mouth as dirt tends to stick to gesso partially made with gelatine. After dry cleaning the mouth covering with rubber sponges, and erasers on paper and stable areas, we proceeded to wet cleaning with methylcellulose. Cleaning a mouth with synthetic saliva sounded appealing, and it proved to be efficient although used short term and followed with a quick water “rinse” with wet cotton swabs. Where dirt was really hard to remove, 5% methylcellulose gel was applied topically. It allowed the area of dirt to swell and remove it with a wet cotton swab afterwards.

 

 

3. Removing glue with synthetic clay

Removing glue with laponite and solvent can be pretty satisfying… but oil and scissors are still not part of the conservator’s toolbox, and removing what is close to chewing gum in hair became rather challenging with no user guide.

Soaking pieces of laponite with acetone or ethanol we made sample zones and with different timers, we were able to assess the following:

Layers of glues had been intertwined during two different old repair sessions, therefore steps would be taken to remove the glue and what would be residual.

 

We started with a laponite poultice with acetone to remove the first layers, applied through non-woven fabric and sealed around the tail. After 10 minutes, we were able to lift easily the first layer of glue, like nail polish chips. It had to be repeated a few times to access the second layer of different glue. But in places where it had no “second layer of glue” intermediary and was directly applied on hair, there was a pigment migration in the glue which loss could not be avoided through removal of the glue.

 

In order to remove the second layer of glue, we applied laponite soaked with ethanol and water – or it would dry too quickly following the same method as previously described. After 15 minutes, we were able to cut through the thick layers, but mechanical removal was dangerous and hard to control grabbing hair with the blade of the scalpel. Therefore we used pointy tweezers with which we would pull pieces of glue little by little. When it would harden again, we would soften it with the poultice to repeat the process. It was a long and repeated method, as the glue would harden very quickly once the poultice was removed. Softening it longer than 15 minutes did not help as the hair would then be caught in the really soft glue along with the painted paper underneath. In some places, to avoid loss of pigment and hair, residual glue was abraded dried, then smoothed with ethanol and a brush.

 

4. Repairs with strips structure

One of the biggest challenges was the crack on the head. As explained earlier, because of its direct relation to the way it was made, it meant we could not just mend it without taking into consideration the origin of the skull alteration. The inevitable crack would appear again under the pressure of  the mechanism on the two parts of the head mold if we just pretended nothing happened. This probably is one of the great and few occasions we have as conservators to make a point for what we do versus restoration.

Restoration would consist in covering up the default in the object, causing more tension on an already fragilized area, and dragging further damage and loss in time. Conservation here is the balance between: respecting the general overlook of the object, not repeating characteristics that could bring further damage, with care of not denying them for legacy.

Our job as conservators is to make sure to prevent the cause of alteration to strike again, without changing the first goal or intention of the object.


For that matter, we needed to find a way to consolidate the crack layer by layer, with a material that would be strong but still thin and flexible enough to put no stress on the tear. We pasted one sheet of 30 gms Japanese tissue on Tyvek with Lascaux that was cut into 15 x 5 mil. strips once dry.

 

With a mixture of Lascaux and wheat starch paste (50:50), they were adhered through the original laminated papier-mâché, starting from the bottom, drying with continuous pressure of a Teflon bone folder. Once a strip was applied it was sandwiched with a piece of 30 gms Japanese tissue pasted with thinned wheat starch paste until reaching the upper layers.

 

 

 

The inside of the skull where it splits in two naturally from the mold design, was reinforced with a large strip of the Tyvek repair material, pasted on the papier-mâché on the Japanese tissue side with the Lascaux + Wheat starch paste mixture (50:50).

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Applying a large strip of repair material along the split skull from the inside

 

5. Infills

Working in a horology conservation workshop, we found that using “too many different materials would be the enemy of well-made” so we kept using the 30 gms Japanese tissue we had at disposal. Pasted pieces were slits in some areas, and when the gap was to large, it was first stuffed with cotton linters.

 

To ease the process through and through we bandaged the head in strategic areas, using book conservator materials. Repairs were held still with first-aid bandages and artists clippers while the repairs would dry. Access was still pretty intricate and hard to access in many places, where we had to apply continuous pressure…by hand.

 

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Getting creative

6. Retouching

Infills were finished with a toned 17 gms Japanese tissue – the color of the papier-mâché – before final retouching.

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Toned Japanese tissue of the papier-mâché colore, levels the infill before retouches

 

We retouched using with 3% hydroxypropylcellulose in ethanol and raw pigments chosen for their stability characteristics. Both are picked from the tip of a medium hard brush and juxtaposed on the infill until desired color effect is reached.

 

7. Hair flocking

We found that hair flocking was not disrupting the general aspect of the object in areas of loss. Therefore, since we were unsure of the nature of the hair and with no definitive or unique solution yet for this field of conservation, we just did not add hair on the infills. However, the dog was the perfect cobaye for an idea we have had in our mind for a few years now…a future article will tell you all about our idea to make fake hair on such pieces. To be continued! (The link will appear here)

More before-after pictures:

 

 

 

And here are two sets of pictures Nico sent me after I left, that illustrate quite well our collaboration :

 

Above – right chop corner was mended and retouched by Nico, and the left one by myself. She looks less « crazy » now that her grin is back in shape, don’t you think ?

 

Here on the leg, I thinned down the glue and started aligning the gap while I was still in the workshop, and Nico completed the conservation treatment with the remaining infill layers and retouching.


CHAPITRE 4: AU REVOIR CHÈRE ALPHONSINE

Dear Alphonsine looks better now if I dare say of my own work. Although she came in very poor condition, it was possible to gain back some of her past lush with rounded-up conservation and keep her integrity intact.

Racing horses cannot be made from donkeys, therefore, some distortion is still present – but believe me when I say three weeks were not enough to shape the face into her past glory. More months would not have been enough either, as, remember: the head is made of two hard papier-mâché molds, covered with a thin papier-mâché “mask” which was not of the same shape exactly. When the thin mask broke in the middle, it had already changed shape from the pressure applied from behind with the other two parts, and elongated on the nose, thus a strange shape confined under paint.

We lift it up to a close appearance to was it used to look like (both parts of the face are asymmetrical on all the pull-toy bulldogs we found), but did not insist, as the client wanted the mechanism to work again – who knows for how long. Trying too hard to reshape the head would have just make it break again, eventually, as you remember the two small « mask » could not whistand the large « skull » pressure.

Therefore we compromised to bring the tear together but did not insist more than allowed. Leaving to a conservator with more time (if that exists) the possibility to shape it one day again, as all materials employed are removable, compatible, and durable in time.


As I was working there three weeks only, you will sadly not see in this article how to put back in place a crooked leg (which could have been graphic), or hear the bark (not suitable for all audience either) of Alphonsine. This is a mission for Nico and I know we will get a ticket for the show.

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General view shortly before I left after three weeks of work

 

I wish to thank her, once more and always for all the light and fun she brought me through this collaboration. Meeting her met all my best wishes, and working together on this really challenging and fun piece was the absolute cherry on top of the Twin Peaks famous pie. She introduced me to a lot of talented and kind people that went accross the shop for work or encouragement and I am glad to say she is well surrounded – and to say this to them that will recognize themselves, I cannot start naming them as I don’t have enough fingers to count them.

More than this, I made a great friend in Nico and confirmed a passion for my job, which I hope everyone can say also. Goodbye for now with a picture from the farmer’s market in Seattle (in case you still had doubts that the two of us really met). À bientôt ! – Yours truly, Ségolène

(to be continued when I am back in the studio)

[1] As seen in Hartley’s auction on September 27th 2014 : https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/hartleys/catalogue-id-srhar10003/lot-a1b46a28-633f-4b31-84f1-a3f70167a3c2

Barbara Dumont, Anne-Laurence Dupont, Marie-Christine Papillon, Gaël-François Jeannel. Technical Study and Conservation-Treatment of a Horse Model by Dr Auzoux. Studies in Conservation, Maney Publishing, 2011, 56, pp.58 – 74. <10.1002/anie.200905131>.

Jeffrey Warda, Irene Brückle, Anikó Bezúr & Dan Kushel (2007) Analysis of Agarose, Carbopol, and Laponite Gel Poultices in Paper Conservation, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 46:3, 263-279 http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/019713607806112260

Horology is Hot

Really… I know that sounds kind of like a buzzword… but horology is hot! People are engaged with horology, cultural heritage and preservation right now! And it’s awesome! I am so excited that friends and colleagues are getting so much attention.

My favorite object in the world (!!) is headed to London to be featured in a new exhibition on Robots!

 

The clockmakers museum also moved to a new gallery at the Science Museum in London. Now folks visiting the Science Museum will have the exposure to a collection that holds such an incredible and rich history for horology. It’s all such wonderful news and momentum for our field.

And to top it off, Atlas Obscura just published on article on yours truly….you can read it here!

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Let’s keep it going! Get involved! Be engaged! Study! Create! Explore! You know where to reach me if you need a push.

 

 

Dearly Beloved Banjos

We are gathered here today for a number of important updates. It has certainly been some time since my last post. I have been working on quite a few projects in the mean time. One being the launch of my colleague David’s new website: Lindow Machine Works. Check it out if you get a chance – his many talents and broad range of work are finally showcased. If you want to know more about his Lindow Rose Engine – there’s an easy to navigate Menu of his products (thank you again to Alexandre David for the amazing photograph of the Lindow Machine). If you are interested in his gorgeous custom clocks – there’s an incredible number of photographs showing the many movement styles he offers, dials, and finished cases in his Movement Gallery.

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David and I also presented a paper in Montreal at the American Institute of Conservation for Historic and Artistic Works 44th Conference on Guilloche work in conservation. The paper will soon be available through the post prints journal through the AIC.

Here’s an excerpt to peek your interest:

“The rose engine lathe is used in a broad scope of work that varies from decorative ivories to pottery, clocks, watches, and snuff boxes as well as glass molds, the printing of stamps, stock certificates, and plastic injection moldings. It stands as an enigma to all but a small group of artisans that use these machines. Despite the broad range of use, the techniques employed by these machines are seldom explained in books and publications. Often, the use of the rose engine in the creation of an object is not mentioned, even in instances where the machine was used to decorate the entire piece. In conservation a working knowledge of how an object was made is not only useful, but may be as crucial as knowing the materials with which it was made. With little scholarly work on the subject we endeavor here to scratch the surface and give a brief account of both the machine’s history and how it was used in the hope that it will foster further study. To this end we conducted a literature review, produced a catalogue of sixty common patterns, and prepared and treated twenty-eight metal samples. The samples consist of composition 353 brass, nickel silver, and fine silver. Using common non-conservation based treatment methods we aim to show how patterns become distorted and demonstrate the effects of oxidation on the reflective surfaces that give guilloche its characteristic flash. It is our hope that this will spur discussion about how to treat these highly reflective surfaces, as the characteristic flash of guilloche is arguably its most important tangible property.”

In addition to working on this paper with David, I have partnered with Al Collins on another project in the works. I’ll give you a sneak peek….maybe you can guess what it is?..

Coloring book!

In another effort to bestow upon me an appreciation for American horology David took me to see a fascinating private collection of clocks. This gentleman has spent years collecting and rescuing American Banjo clocks. The incredible breadth of information he has compiled must make him the leading scholar on this particular branch of American horology. And now without further ado… perhaps the most elaborate and extensive collection of American Banjo clocks…..well almost – there is another thing I must tell you about first –

I have to say I have been lucky to see some beautiful American pieces up close – such as a Howard Company regulator (photos of such to come soon) and this amazing American screw clock and patent model that will soon be sold by Jonathan Snellenburg at Bonhams auction house. I am absolutely smitten with that patent model. I mean – GOSH! – just think about cutting that worm with such precision over such a length when it was made! WHAT?! HOW?!

 

And now! More Banjo clocks than you ever thought you’d see in one place. You’re welcome. 

bmighty

 

And last, but not least – the most important Banjo of all….

Banjo Edison Bloom – aka little ink spot.

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Metropolis II

Metropolis II by Chris Burden is a beautiful and complex modern art piece that poses interesting questions for conservation practice and future maintenance. I have heard that it costs in excess of $200,000 to operate per year and yet is not run on a daily basis. The cars alone require a considerable amount of care – as the wheel bearings wear out from regularly running at speeds of over 200 scale mph. Watch the video above to see it running!

“Created by artist Chris Burden, Metropolis II (2010) is a complex, large-scale kinetic sculpture modeled after a fast-paced modern city. The armature of the piece is constructed of steel beams, forming an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of eighteen roadways, including a six-lane freeway, train tracks, and hundreds of buildings. 1,100 miniature toy cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour on the specially designed plastic roadways. Every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulates through the sculpture. “The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city.”

Situated in the center of the grid are three electrically powered conveyor belts, each studded with magnets at regular intervals. The magnets on the conveyor belt and those on the toy cars attract, enabling the cars to travel to the top of the sculpture without physical contact between the belt and cars. At the top, the cars are released one at a time and race down the roadways, weaving in and out of the structure, simulating rapid traffic and congestion.

Metropolis II is on long-term loan to LACMA, thanks to the generosity of LACMA Trustee Nicolas Berggruen. Beginning January 14, 2012, the work will be on view on the first floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) and run on weekends during the scheduled times below.

  • The cars are attached by a small magnet to the conveyor belt that brings them to the crest
  • The only motorization of the cars is the conveyor belt to the top
  • Once the cars cross over the crest and head downward, their entire movement is by gravity
  • They travel at a scale speed of 240 mph, plus or minus
  • The tracks they take are Teflon coated to reduce friction
  • The tracks are beveled at 7 degrees to give added torque for speed when they come through corners and curves”

Taken from a press release from LACMA available here.

You can see it running  –
Fridays: 12:30-2 pm; 3-4:30 pm; 5-6:30 pm; 7-8:30 pm
Weekends: 11:30-1:00 pm; 2-3:30 pm; 4-5:30 pm; 6-7:30 pm
Weekdays: not operational

 

7è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game -Conservation (Part II) by Ségolène Girard

Restoration of a 19th c. lottery game by M.J & Cie.

7è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game -Conservation (Part II) by Ségolène Girard


Seg is speaking !

I put aside all of the unstuck and bathed papers to dry, and to flatten under a press.

I also prepared a dampening room, consisting of a sort of tiny plastic tent (that you can close perfectly) and bowls filled with water. The cardboard lid was placed higher than the bowls, to avoid any risks of contact with liquid water. I then started to put some unheavy weights on the deformed sides. The idea is to progress gently. Everyday, I would add a little more weight, to flatten regularly the cardboard. When it would be flat enough, I could place a big weight to flatten definitely the side treated. This took me a few weeks, also because I had to treat each side individually, to have it horizontally (simple logic !).

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Meanwhile, I decided to treat the mechanics of the game.

I first removed the green felt, that was not really green anymore, nor sticking, and almost “holing”.  I then dismounted the game in order to put it right again in order to work. I gently sanded the pulverulent rust.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-02 à 19.34.20I then applied bicarbonate fluoride with a brush. In order to stop the process from too much action, I cleaned the dissolute residues with a moisten fabric, and dried it right away. On this picture, you can see the action of bicarbonate fluoride in the lower part :

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Here are the results after full treatment :

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 For the red ring, I used Paraloïd B72, which is a thermoplastic resin, used especially in ceramics and metals restoration. It is stable in the passage of time. I first applied it everywhere between the flakes network with a tiny brush, to fill the holes, and when it was dry I applied a second layer in top of it all.

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The insects holes of the wood were treated individually with a syringe and insecticidal.

I could also have used anoxia, that I did not know at the time and avoids using toxic materials. It consists in killing insects by deprivation of air. You can do it at home ! It consists in keeping the object contaminated in a plastic well sealed for at least 72 hours.

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Finally, I mounted all the parts again right at their places. The game was indeed working better. I closed the base with a non acid cardboard to replace the one that was contaminated by mold.

I replaced the fabric with a new felt cloth, antique, but never used, and with unfaded color. It was a hard part. I had to cut it exactly to fit the original place, and to stuck the sides well between the wood and the metallic parts.

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Now that the papers were dry, it was time for mending. In fact, each side where separated from each other due to wear and tear, while they used to be just one long band wrapping the box. I also had to figure out how the flaps used to be, as some of them where missing.

I torn some pieces of Japanese papers, to keep fibers on the side that will be stuck to the papers tears. This allows us to naturally extend the paper, as if it had never been torn. Cutting it perfectly would not offer a good adherence. Also, the fibers of the Japanese paper and of the ones of the object needs to be in the same direction to offer a perfect tension. I chose a Japanese paper that would approach the basis weight of my object papers.

I stuck these papers with wheat starch glue, on about 0,1 in, and put it under weights.

There you can see it on each side (top band is the one of the cardboard lid, and bottom part of the wooden base, you can even see the hole for the trigger) ;

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The white parts where painted with acrylic in order to match with the rest, but in a color slightly different to make the restoration appear. I then prepared like-sized strips of Japanese papers that I painted with golden acrylic.

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-02 à 20.33.50This is a sketch of the cardboard lid. As a wooden “T-bar” was missing (first arrow on the picture above), I replaced it with a non-acid piece of cardboard, before remounting the papers.

First, the montage of the golden strip, on both lid and base, as follows ; was stuck with wheat starch glue :

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I did an “in situ” retouch on the golden papers to tarnish them a little.

Then, I re-stuck all the pieces of papers again. Oh no I will make you wait a little longer for the final picture. Exactly a year after my first post on this game ! Boy, it’s been a rough journey. I can’t believe all of the things that happened meanwhile !

Until next time !

Up next: 8è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game – Final

Previous: 6è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game – Conservation (Part I)