Mar 27, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
At some point during the 19th century, the gun cabinet in the front hallway of Lorenzo was shot with a .30 caliber pistol. The 18th century sofa in the formal dining room not only has remnants of its original upholstery on it, but is a nearly-unique fold-out bed and one of only a handful in the entire country to still exist in such good condition. And numerous pieces of Lorenzo’s furniture are inscribed not only with Lincklaen family names and initials, but also of the local Cazenovia furniture makers who crafted the pieces.
These are just a few of the curatorial discoveries found by state history conservators and shared last week with the docents of Lorenzo State Historic Site as they returned to the site to prepare for the upcoming 2013 tourist season.
“This is one of the greatest furniture collections in all of New York state,” said David Bayne, furniture conservator for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites. “Lorenzo is one of the crown jewels in the New York state collection.”
Lorenzo was built in 1808 by John Lincklaen, one of the founders of Cazenovia. His family owned and lived in the house until 1967, and nearly every item in the house is original to the home and to the Ledyard Lincklaen family.
During his March 18 presentation, “Discoveries in Lorenzo Furniture,” Bayne explained some of his more exciting curatorial finds in the Lorenzo collection, or what he called, “things you don’t see on the regular tours,” saying they were stories that can add interest and spice to the interpretation of Lorenzo.
Perhaps the most exciting and important discovery at Lorenzo involved the formal dining rom camelback sofa, which dates to about 1760. It was covered in green velvet in the 1930s, although a 1906 photograph showed the piece to have an arts and crafts-inspired patterned upholstery.
A few years ago, former Lorenzo Director Russell Grills asked Bayne to take the sofa to the state conservation lab and see if there was anything interesting under the green velvet upholstery. When Bayne and his colleagues removed the velvet, they found a plain white linen weave underneath that pre-dated the sofa covering shown in the 1906 photo. In fact, the sofa arms and back were covered in the original 18th century materials, “virtually untouched,” in what turned out to be “the most original fabric of any sofa in the country,” he said. They also found a piece of the circa-1906 linen, with the beige and brown colors unfaded, underneath the frame.
“That was totally a ‘eureka’ moment. It was the kind of thing where you run up and down the hall,” he said.
But that was not all they found. As they continued to deconstruct the sofa as part of the conservation process, they discovered that the back was detachable, which was typical of such a sofa, and also that the arms were detachable — which was not typical. This was probably to make it easier to ship, but also because the upholstery was all slip-covering, none of it was nailed to the frame (until the 1930s green velvet).
They also found “mystery blocks” nailed to the sofa frame and covered with linen, which none of the conservators had ever seen before, as well as a board nailed to the frame that was totally inaccessible and, apparently, functionless.
So Bayne contacted experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who looked at the Lorenzo sofa and figured out that the apparently functionless board was part of a large board that would have spanned the entire interior of the sofa to act as a sort of mattress support. Then, after speaking with a curator at a historic site in Albany who had similar “mystery blocks” on a sofa in their possession, it was determined that the Lorenzo sofa actually folded out into a bed. It would have had kick-down legs under the extension, which are now gone.
“So more than likely this is what the Lorenzo sofa was like,” Bayne said. “It was for guests or visitors for extra sleeping arrangements.” He said it probably also was used for family servants: maids, nurses or nannies that would have needed to be near the family during the night.
All of these unique discoveries, as well as the presence of the original fabric, made the Lorenzo sofa an international textile and furniture sensation. The Met organized an entire conference around the sofa and Bayne and his staff presented the sofa at an upholstery conference in Sweden. Bayne and others have also published multiple articles about the sofa, he said, “but we’d like to publish something in a Lorenzo publication.”
Today, the Lorenzo sofa is back in the mansion’s formal dining room, covered in a reproduction linen weave of the original 1906-era upholstery.
Another more recent discovery from the Lorenzo furniture concerns the formal dining room “harvest table.” The conservation study revealed that the table had not only drop leaves, but also swivel top, swivel legs and drop down legs to hold up a table extension. “It’s a very interesting, very clever table,” Bayne said. “Something you wouldn’t normally see.”
But more interesting than that — especially in furniture and conservation circles — is that the table, which was built in 1834, was almost certainly made by renowned 19th-century cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. “So your table is now a Phyfe,” Bayne said. “There’s probably many more in Lorenzo too.”
Other furniture discoveries Bayne has made in Lorenzo in recent years include Lincklaen family names on some pieces, the furniture maker names on many pieces — names such as Benjamin Clarke and Nehemiah White, who were Cazenovia furniture makers — and the original colors of certain pieces of furniture, such as the dining room chairs.
One of the more fun discoveries by Bayne involved the front hall gun cabinet. The cabinet, which dated from the 1830s or 1840s it was believed, was damaged during the installation of Christmas decorations in Lorenzo, so Bayne took it to his lab for repairs.
Inside the cabinet he found an inscription that read “Made for LL [Ledyard Lincklaen] by LG Wells [a Cazenovia cabinetmaker], 1843-5;” another inscription under that read, “perhaps 1846-7.” Also written inside the cabinet doors was a list of dates when someone loaded the guns (Bayne said he did not know why, perhaps something to do with the freshness of the black powder); and on one of the cabinet door hinges he found the name “Clark” cast into the hinge. Research revealed that the patented hinge was made by the Clark Manufacturing Company of Buffalo. “So this probably came over here on the Erie Canal,” Bayne said.
But for the conservators, the most exciting part of the gun cabinet was two small holes in the front left door panel.
“It turns out the cabinet’s been shot,” Bayne said.
Archeological examination found a piece of metal embedded in the back panel of the cabinet, which turned out to be a .30 caliber pistol bullet. From the angle of the hole, the shot was probably accidental, and the fact that the bullet did not go through the back of the cabinet suggests it probably hit another gun stored inside, Bayne said. The second cabinet hole was probably made from a rifle ramrod accidentally striking the wood, he said.
While Lorenzo is staffed by full-time employees, it has had enthusiastic corps of volunteer docents for about 40 years. Every year, site administrators offer training programs to the returning and new seasonal docents to expose them to as much cultural resource information as possible, said Barbara Bartlett, Lorenzo director. This exposure “enhances their ability to give great tours and help interpret Lorenzo,” she said. “It’s always fun and interesting to have anecdotes that enliven a tour.”
Jacqueline Vivirito, Lorenzo’s curatorial associate who assisted Bayne with parts of his work, agreed. “It was an excellent presentation. We’re always excited to learn something new about Lorenzo — it adds a layer of depth to our historical interpretation.”
Before Lorenzo reopens for the season, there will be one more docent training program that will also be open to the public. Staff from the state’s Peebles Island Conservation Center and program participants will discuss period reproduction dress. They will show reproduction examples and offer how appropriate period clothing has enhanced historic programming for various museums, exhibitions, special events, demonstrations and school programs.
The program is free and will take place at 12:30 p.m. Monday, May 6, in the Cazenovia Public Library community room. For more information on the program or on Lorenzo in general, visit lorenzony.org or contact Diane Voss at 655-3200, ext. 100.
Lorenzo State Historic Site will open to the public for its 2013 season on May 17.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.