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Tri-Umlaut

The Chair of the Venerable Bede... the short version (Pt2)



And now we return to the recently produced inspired piece.

Bede Inspired
Being this chair was meant to be used "in the round" the wall-side form was removed from the design. The symmetrical pattern of curves that does exist is a combination of the tiered curve of the original's right arm side and the deep slope existing currently on that of the left (though both current shapes show indications that they are resultant of damage to the original, rather than original design features). The chair was also reduced in overall height from the nearly seven foot tall original to a more manageable 47" to the peaks of the back. The stacked frame-and-panel style of the original was maintained, however simplified. The overhanging curtain supports were removed completely. Rather than oak, maple was used on request of the patron. While it is completely unknown as whether the original had any painted elements (no evidence remains), milk paint made with a natural pigment similar to woad was used to paint the relieved portions of the carved panel.  Layout of the knotwork form was achieved with a pair of dividers while chisels and gouges did the heavy work. Scrapers and sharp chisels held at a high cutting angle smoothed the background.

The stool is original, owing it's form to the general appearance of the chair. There was no foot stool with the original Bede's Chair, nor were there any examples contemporaneous to the inspiration piece.
The finish, beyond the painted portion, is five to six layers of glair varnish laid over several coats of boiled linseed oil. The patron requested a the finish be historically accurate to the era and style of the piece, be waterproof, and have some durability. While an oil and wax finish may develop sufficient durability and water-resistance, the process actually requires a number of years to achieve. Thinly layering glair into and onto the wood developed a milti-layer shell in the wood itself, which seals the pores of the wood into a hard natural plastic that remains highly waterproof. Glair is hygrophobic, hence it's facility in protecting paintings on rigid substrates (Ikons, Dyptics, etc). When layered with oil above and below, a resistance to abrasion is indicated as the polymer nature of both the oil and the albumen proteins react like layers of more and less tightly woven cloth. The only other known alternative which would have achieved the same ends would be an amber varnish made by grinding amber into dust then boiling it slowly in linseed or walnut oil. Both safety and expense in collecting enough amber to create such a varnish led to the decision to work with the less expensive option of glair over oil.
Cennini and Da Vinci both mentioned glair and amber varnishes respectively for protecting paintings and painted wood furniture. Da Vinci also recorded a recipe for creating fake amber by mixing egg whites and linseed oil in a section of sheep intestines, then boiling the lot for some time. After several hours the intestine was removed from the boiling water and allowed to cool and the glair/linseed oil combination to congeal. Once dried, the intestine would be unwrapped and remaining would be faux amber stones made from the mixture. Given the polished appearance of dried glair over oil on the recently constructed piece, there is little doubt as to the veracity of this procedure creating something resembling amber stones.

A final point of interest regarding the oil and glair finish is on the painted section itself. The original milk pant went on in layers which required some smoothing after each coat. The result was a very matte powder blue color. Following several light coats of oil, the paint took on a much deeper color and the "crackle" effect known to milk paints became apparent. Visual depth was enhanced as the layers of oil developed. When several thin layers of glair were applied, the color deepened further: the sheen of the glair provided a very deep appearance to the painted portions, while making the blue hue appear much darker than the original un-treated paint had appeared. Under scrutiny, the layers of paint, oil and glair give the same effect as seen in Champleve and Clossone style enamels on metal. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this effect on the finished piece. I will have to experiment more with this effect as time and resources allow.

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