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Inside the conservation lab: Adventures in bamboo and rattan

February 22, 2013

Bamboo Settee
Before treatment, Objects Conservator Michaela Neiro surface-cleaned the settee to better reveal its current condition.


The new year has brought another exciting project to Historic New England's conservation lab. An early nineteenth-century Chinese "made for export" bamboo, rattan, and cane settee and set of chairs have come into the conservation lab for analysis and treatment. Years of light and water damage have not been kind to these objects, resulting in an uneven appearance and missing design elements. As part of a treatment, conservators typically investigate traditional methods of manufacturing, since knowing how the object was made and what materials were used will guide us in the complex decision-making, repair, and stabilization process.

Bamboo Chair
There is sufficient information remaining in the original material to determine the intended design. Areas of loss are fitted with replacement pre-toned and shaped pieces of rattan.

An interesting fact about the construction of the bamboo and rattan furniture is that it was done without the use of adhesives. When we are securing the loose original elements and fitting the replacement pieces, we are following the same method, using wooden pegs, tight fits, and exact shapes. The curvilinear elements were originally formed by soaking the rattan and then placing them around a shaping form. We will use the same method with our replacement pieces. 

All of this work is being done not only to secure, stabilize, and preserve this suite of furniture, but also to prepare it for display. Visitors can see the settee and chairs at Quincy House in Quincy, Massachusetts, this summer.

Conservation in tropical clime

Posted by Raquel on February 18, 2016
I would like to know if you found any preservation substance inside the Bamboo, because the pieces placed in Cuba suffer deterioration by beattle attack...

Bamboo/rattan preservation

Posted by Alex Carlisle, Supervising Conservator on February 18, 2016
Good question Raquel, but we did not identify any pest damage or application of a preservative on or in the bamboo or rattan. Since bamboo and rattan are not native to North America, we may be safe from the sort of insect damage you may encounter in tropical climates. Sorry I could not be of more help.

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Inside the conservation lab: Adventures in bamboo and rattan