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Michaela has been the Objects Conservator at Historic New England since 2001. Michaela will tell us why the rocking horse at Marrett House in Standish, Maine, is her favorite thing, and why it has a nickname.
In the conservation lab, any object that has a face is instantly special and requires a fun name. This was a very fancy toy, so he deserved a fancy name! We thought Malcolm Rockefeller was perfect. (I recently treated another special friend that we named “Marlin” Brando. He lives at the Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts. Maybe you can find him and say hi.)
In 2012 we did extensive conservation on the Marrett House rocking horse. This is my favorite kind of object to treat: mixed materials. The leather tack needed repair and replication of some parts. The saddle blanket was missing, but I was able to find a few threads of the original and make a similar replica. Some of the real horse hair from the mane was missing so I ordered new horsehair, dyed it to match, and gave him some hair plugs! One of the cast iron stirrups was missing, so I made a mold of the existing one, made an epoxy cast, and painted it to match. All this work made Malcolm look much better: fit for exhibition, but still looking his age.
After the conservation work, Malcolm traveled in a custom-made crate to Washington, D.C., for display in the special exhibition, Deacon Peckham’s Hobby Horse, at the National Gallery Art.
Several years after Malcolm returned to his playroom at Marrett House and during a routine collections team cleaning, Collections Technician Adam Osgood found the original iron stirrup in the attic. I removed my replica immediately and put the original back on. (See, it pays to never throw anything away!) I keep the epoxy reproduction stirrup on a shelf in my office.
The Marrett family was very proud of their history and were careful to preserve many of the furnishings. The three daughters from the last generation to live in the house, Caroline, Frances, and Helen, spent considerable time and resources organizing and preserving the house as they wished it to be presented. When the property came to Historic New England in 1944, the rocking horse was one of the many hundreds of family heirlooms that came with the house. Except for its brief excursion in 2012 to the National Gallery of Art for the Deacon Peckham’s Hobby Horse exhibition, the toy has remained on display in the children’s chamber at the house.
Read more about Marrett House, the family, and the collection.