History Nebraska Blog

A Seat of Honor

The oak chair that had been sitting so long in our vault had been used in the House Chamber of the second Nebraska State Capitol.  The first State Capitol was built in Lincoln between 1867 and 1868.  Due to poor construction and inferior materials, the building began to crumble.  By 1881 the first wing of a second State Capitol was completed and the entire building finished in 1888. The second Capitol suffered the same fate as the first, so talk of building a third State Capitol began in 1915.  The third Capitol, still in use today, was completed in 1932.

Capitol chair, before treatment

Photo of the State Capitol Chair before treatment.

The chair, along with a desk also in the NSHS Collection, was used by Henry Bock of David City, Nebraska who served in the legislature. When construction was completed at the new Capitol, legislators were offered their old desks and chairs.  The desk and chair were eventually donated to the Museum of Nebraska History. 

Cyanotype of the Second Nebraska State Capitol Building

Cyanotype of Second Nebraska State Capitol Building (photo credit Nebrask State Historical Society)

The structure of the chair is composed of wood and cast iron components and has a leather covered seat padded with cotton.  The bottom of the seat is made of burlap straps.  Iron alloy tacks hold the leather seat cover against the wooden seat.  The chair swivels and is height adjustable with the iron alloy gears and springs beneath.  At the end of each leg is a small wooden castor, attached with iron alloy hardware.  The chair has a high back with eight rails and a carved foliate motif decorating each side of the headrest. 

photo of damage to chair's seat cushion, cracked leather     photo of damage to the underside of the seat, hanging burlap straps

(Left) Damage to the seat cushion, before treatment; (Right) Damage to the underside of the seat, before treatment.

Although the wood components were structurally sound, the leather seat cover was torn and distorted from wear, loss of stuffing, and stiffening that had occurred over time.  On the underside of the chair, three of the seat’s supportive burlap webbing strips had failed, and hung below the seat.  The original cotton stuffing was falling out of the bottom since the burlap strips are not in place to contain it; fragments of insect casings were visible in the seat stuffing beneath the chair.  The surface of the chair was dusty and dirty overall. 

photo of the chair during treatment, right side cleaned, left side uncleaned

Photo of the chair during treatment, right side cleaned

The first step was to reduce loose surface dust and dirt from the surface of the wood using with a soft brush and low-power vacuum.  Solubility tests were carried out to determine the best solution to reduce the thick accumulations of surface grime on the wood without disturbing the original finish. A safe cleaning solution was applied and was cleared with deionized water on swabs.

technician cleans the surface of the wooden chair

Conservation Technician, Vonnda Shaw, cleans the surface of the wooden chair

The original stuffing was removed, as it was determined that the chair seat would need a more rigid material to support it in the correct shape.  A penetrating oil was applied to the iron alloy elements and bristle brushes were used to help loosen rust. The chair stand was removed from the seat base by unscrewing it to make the interior of the seat more accessible. The torn burlap slip cover was detached in order to access the bottom of the leather. The torn burlap slip cover underneath was stabilized using cotton muslin and embroidery floss. Tears in the leather were bridged from the front to temporarily hold them in place using a thin, heat-set adhesive film.

conservator applies adhesive strips to leather seat

Conservator, Rebecca Cashman, repairs the leather seat with adhesive strips

An adhesive was applied to the underside of the leather seat followed by a thin sheet of spun polyester fabric. The seat form made from stable materials was then put in place so that the leather could reform in a proper configuration due to the exposure to moisture from the adhesive.

conservator fills losses in leather seat

Conservator, Rebecca Cashman, fills losses on the leather seat

Once the seat lining adhesive was set, the temporary mends were removed from the front, and a fill solution was made using a liquid adhesive with leather shavings mixed in to it which was toned with black pigment. 

A clear paste wax mixed with dry pigments was selectively applied to the wood and leather elements of the chair. Once dry, these elements were buffed to form a continuous protective coating.

The encased burlap slip cover and repaired burlap straps were placed on the underside of the seat, holding the cushion in place.  The chair stand was then reattached to the seat using its original screws. Although the chair can never be used as a seat again, it is now stabilized, clean, and better preserved for the future.

underside of chair repaired     overall photo of chair after treatment

(Left) Underside of chair repaired; (Right) Capitol Chair after treatment


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