American Conservation Consortium

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Before treatment.

Conservation Treatment of Horse-Drawn Vehicles

After treatment.

American Conservation Consortium is one of only two or three firms in the country that specialize in conservation of horse-drawn vehicles.  Our focus is to preserve the original structural and decorative components of these important historic objects.  We offer the following conservation services for coaches, agricultural equipment, carriages, sleighs and similar objects:

  • Structural Repairs: Gluing of splits and breaks; replacement of missing parts; consolidation of weakened areas; design of missing parts.

  • Surface Treatment: Consolidation and reattachment of flaking paint and varnish; removal of over-paint and over-varnishes; in-painting of losses; application of removable protective coatings; repainting if necessary with historically-appropriate and reversible materials and techniques.

  • Treatment of Attachments: Minimally invasive upholstery treatment; cleaning, polishing and protective coating of metals; leather treatment; gilding conservation; treatment of other materials associated with horse-drawn vehicles.

  • Collection Surveys: Brief assessment of the condition of each horse-drawn vehicle in a collection to allow prioritization of treatment needs and suggestions for long-term preservation.

  • Transportation Services:
  • American Conservation Services had a custom-designed trailer built for transporting horse-drawn vehicles to and from our conservation studio.  It will accommodate vehicles up to 8 1/2 feet tall (more if the wheels or top seats/trim are removed) and up to 18 feet in length.

    Pitfalls of Traditional Restoration

    Traditional restoration of horse-drawn vehicles has consisted mostly of repainting surfaces and remanufacturing components to produce a new-looking object. This approach is fraught with limitations.

    bulletOriginal paints and finishes are destroyed, causing a decrease in historical and economic value.
    bulletRepainting uses modern materials that can not replicate the depth of color or the complicated scheme of original paints and glazes.
    bulletOriginal color schemes are misrepresented, due in part to a lack of understanding of the original application process and in part to insufficient analysis of the existing layering sequences.
    bulletOriginal structural and decorative components are replaced, such as upholstery, wood and metal parts.
    bulletThe marks of use, wear and history are lost, with resulting surfaces often appearing much smoother and more polished than they were originally.
    bulletMost restoration work of decorative surfaces is inferior in design and execution to the original.

    The painted and decorative surfaces are a significant component of a vehicle and represent much of its visual impact. A vehicle that has lost these surfaces is little more than a reproduction, a shell empty of history. Fewer and fewer original surfaces exist due to over-restoration and we are in risk of losing this important part of our cultural heritage.

    Conservation to the Rescue

    Normally, original surfaces can be stabilized, preserved, and brought to a presentation appearance that is far more beautiful and accurate than a restored object. The scholarship, analytical capabilities, and technical ability exist to allow sensitive, ethical treatments of horse-drawn vehicles. This expertise has not developed within the carriage restoration field, but rather is part of the fine and decorative arts conservation professions.

    This relatively new application of conservation technology to horse-drawn vehicles follows a progression that has occurred for other types of objects as well. Originally, conservation efforts grew out of a dissatisfaction with traditional restoration of paintings and fine art prints. In the 1920's, laboratories were established at several museums to pool the skills and knowledge of scientists, curators, scholars and restorers in the preservation of original fine art surfaces. The new breed of professionals blending of these skills were called conservators. By the 1960's, society's view of furniture, textiles, metalware and other decorative arts objects had changed to include them as important historic and cultural artifacts, not just utilitarian items. As such, they were considered worthy of the same quality of conservation treatment afforded to paintings. Today, these wide-spread attitudinal changes are reaching to horse-drawn vehicles, industrial machinery and automobiles. Conservation can help preserve the original components, surfaces, and integrity of these historic artifacts in many ways.

    bulletUltraviolet fluorescent microscopy can reveal the identity of intricate layering systems of paint, glazes and varnishes. Not only can colors be identified, but the nature of the paint types can be categorized. Additional appropriate analytical techniques, such as radiography, spectroscopy, and infra-red illumination, can provide information on the nature and condition of the surfaces.
    bulletCustom treatments can be designed that remove later over-paint, revealing and preserving original layers, including the all-important glazing layers, that are lost during traditional stripping. Loose paint or varnish flakes can be reattached and stabilized. Missing areas can be inpainted to produce an unified appearance.
    bulletThe latest conservation materials can be used that are stable, identifiable from the original and removable in the future. Conservators realize that work done today will eventually deteriorate itself, and they make allowances for ease of future re-treatment.
    bulletPreservation activities can reduce the risk of future deterioration. These can include application of protective coatings, as well as techniques for minimizing destructive stresses on composite materials.
    bulletA team of conservators, curators and consultants can collaborate, each contributing specialized knowledge and skills.
    bulletCondition Reports and Proposed Treatments outline specific detailed treatment needs of a vehicle, often listing several equally-viable treatment options. Meticulous written and photographic documentation of a treatment is provided to aid in future interpretation and re-treatment.
    bulletTreatments adhere to the professional Code of Ethics of the American Institute for Conservation.

    Neglect of horse-drawn vehicles, in consort with over-restoration, is threatening the survival of these wonderful ties with our past. It would be a tragedy for history to loose the contributions of these skilled artists and artisans. Conservation can help save the original surfaces of a vehicle, maintaining or increasing its value, while at the same time preserving an important part of our cultural patrimony.

    American Conservation Consortium, Ltd.

    American Conservation Consortium provides a full range of conservation treatments for your horse-drawn vehicle. Our staff is highly trained in conservation of historic surfaces and maintains a rigorous proficiency of the most recent developments in the profession.

    Marc A. Williams, President, received his Masters of Science Degree from the Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program. He has served as Chief Wooden Object Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Analytical Laboratory, as well as Director of the Smithsonian's post-graduate Furniture Conservation Training Program.

    American Conservation Consortium has been chosen to provide sensitive, ethical treatments by curators and directors of:  

    bulletThe Atlanta History Center
    bulletMount Vernon
    bulletCanterbury Shaker Village
    bulletThe Museums at Stony Brook
    bulletThe Gene Autry Museum
    bulletThe Museum of the Horse
    bulletThe State of California
    bulletOther museums, historical societies and private clients.

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    American Conservation Consortium. Ltd.

    4 Rockville Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016, 860-386-6058,

    Copyright 2008, American Conservation Consortium, Ltd., all rights reserved