Repairing, Restoring, Conserving a Federal Mirror

I recently bought a very nice federal period mirror at an antique shop that was desperately in need of some repairs. Atop the mirror sits a hand carved urn and swag. It is a very fragile carving that has deteriorated and has been broken and poorly repaired. Here is a short photo essay showing the steps required to repair and conserve the carving. I have tried to maintain the aging and original patina.

Here is what the mirror looked like when I purchased it.

This is a close up of the carved urn. If you look carefully you can see the gray epoxy someone used to repair cracks and missing pieces.


Here’s a closer view of a poor repair.


And some more bad repairs.


Here is a shot of the back. That thin vertical piece of wood is all that holds the urn to the mirror frame. The urn was barely hanging on.


A closer view of the back.


Scary looking, but all the broken pieces had to be separated to remove the old epoxy and figure out what could be salvaged and which pieces had to be replaced.


Once I had the glue cleaned off, I laid all the pieces on a straight edge to line them up. From here I can see exactly what needs replacement and repairs.


It is hard to see because I used a piece of antique wood, but at the very bottom I have glued in a long, triangular piece of wood to attach the two pieces of the carving.


On top of that I added another piece to bring the new wood up to the level of the original carving.


Look close and you can see a couple of more pieces of wood glued into the left handle.


All additional pieces have been glued back together, new wood has been carved to blend in with the old and some filler has been used to hide cracks and chips in the old gesso.


All the repair areas have been primed with a burnishing sealer and is ready for gilding.


Gold leaf has now been applied. It is much too bright and must be aged to blend in with the original patina.


Patina has been added and blended into the original carving. Brown paint has been mixed from scratch and touched up. Repairs are barely noticeable. Urn was firmly attached to the mirror frame. It is now a nice antique worth several times what I paid for it.

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