A Glass Act

One of the most exciting things about art conservation is having the opportunity to work on legendary and unique artworks.  So we were excited when Etienne Drian’s famous jazz screen recently went up for auction at Christies, and were hoping we’d get to have a look at it.

We knew there was some conservation issues, and wanted to be the ones to deal with them.  Fortuitously, the new owner contacted us, and our dream quickly became reality.

The screen is unique;  it’s made out of 24 panes of mirrored glass which have been inserted into 8 painted brass frame panels.  The image is painted in reverse onto the back of the panes — so in areas where there is no painting you just have a mirror.  It also has a rich history, that you can learn more about here.

The screen was brought to us with a couple of problems:  first off there was some flaking and loss of paint, as well as a pane of mirror glass that had been broken into three pieces. The painted black frames were scratched and damaged, and the replacement hinges were too small and structurally inadequate.

Our first step was to carefully remove the panels from the frame, a feat all on it’s own. We placed each panel onto foam pillows for protection.  On closer inspection, we noticed that the paint layer was bubbling, indicating that the paint was asphaltum (a sticky black resin), and that the damage was probably a result of extreme heat and/or exposure to fire.

We then had to set down the flaking areas and inpaint any losses.  This was a challenge on its own since as I mentioned above, its been painted in reverse, and as such, the inpainting had to be, too!

Once that was done and the media layers were stable enough to be moved, we placed the completed panels in custom made slotted boxes fitted with foam, and moved on to the broken panel.

The breaks were pretty big, so we made custom wood strips to act as a temporary frame while we fit them back together.

We adhered the splits with a silicone glue, and then reinforced them with a metal lattice secured with epoxy resin.  You can see our test on our own broken glass below.  We then laid down a piece of treated Mylar so the resin wouldn’t stick to anything, and popped an additional piece of glass on top for added pressure while the silicone and epoxy dried and the splits were secured.

 Meanwhile, in another part of Lowy, folks were busy removing the tarnished, rusty hinges, drilling four sets of new holes on each and every frame, and installing new, custom fitted hinges after powder coating the frames.

Once both sides were finished with their work, the two met up to replace the panels into the frame.  We needed to see how it looked before we once again dis-assembled the piece and shipped the whole thing to the client’s, where we would finally put it all together and situate it into its new home.  It looked pretty cool.

 All in all: a fun, neat and different project.  I love the way this photographs, with the mirror reflecting back the camera and the background of the room…and maybe we’ll get to see this restoration on the pages of Architectural Digest one day, it’s certainly a winner of a piece.