Return to Previous Page

A Summary of the 1992-1997 Selective Paint Removal Treatment at Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant drawing room <br/>Philadelphia Museum of Art <br/>1993
Mount Pleasant drawing room
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Though there was little change to the woodwork in the drawing room of Mount Pleasant during the twentieth century there were significant changes to the finish layers on top of it. Both the woodwork and the plaster of the interior spaces have had a succession of paint and wallpaper applications over the last one hundred and twenty-five years as the use of Mount Pleasant shifted from a location for refreshment and entertainment in the Park, to a club house for early automobile enthusiasts, and finally to house a museum.

In December 1992 the Philadelphia Museum of Art initiated a selective paint removal project with the goal of removing the buildup of paint layers from the carved elements in the dining room, drawing room, and the second story hall. There was concern that the accumulation of paint was obscuring the details of the carving. Analysis of the paint done at the onset of the project determined the existence of at least thirteen layers of paint on the woodwork, including the carved elements, in the dining and drawing rooms. By removing the majority of the over-paint, the expectation was that the carving could be returned to its original crisp appearance. A painted surfaces conservator was contracted by the Museum to perform the paint removal, establish the earliest colors on the woodwork, and repaint in the original colors.

A Craftsman Revealed

Mount Pleasant <br/>Photo by Joe Mikuliak<br/>March 2005
Mount Pleasant
Photo by Joe Mikuliak
March 2005
Of all the Arts which are either improved or ornamented by Architecture, that of CABINET-MAKING is not only the most useful and ornamental, but capable of receiving as great Assistance from it as any whatever. Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman and Cabinet-makers Director, London, 1762

In January 2006, a two year preservation project to stabilize and restore the timber-frame roof and balustrade of the main building and restore the dormers and re-shingle both the main house and the two pavilions was concluded. This allowed Museum staff the rare opportunity to experience the main house without the furnishings removed from the house at the beginning of the project. Inspired by the visual immediacy of the interior spaces, Museum staff chose not to re-install Mount Pleasant in the previous configuration. When Mount Pleasant opened in the spring of 2006, visitors were invited to share the experience of the empty rooms, to move freely through the house for a closer inspection of the architecture and ornamentation, to look through the windows at the surrounding landscape and views of the Schuylkill River, and to focus on the site first and foremost as a work of architecture and explore its own complex meanings. The presentation images and text provide an account of one of the interpretive approaches used while the house was unfurnished.

A Carver’s Art

Abraham Swan, The British Architect, London, 1745
Abraham Swan, The British Architect, London, 1745
Detail of plate 54
Courtesy H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., Reference Library, Philadelphia Museum of Art
All Sorts of Carving, in Wood or Stone, and Gilding, done in the neatest Manner. Bernard and Jugiez, The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 25, 1762

Carver and gilder Martin Jugiez had already been working in Philadelphia for several years when he and Nicholas Bernard first advertised their partnership in 1762 as “Carvers and Gilders, at their Looking Glass Store, in Walnut-street, between Front and Second-streets”. Jugiez, a precocious and creative artist, was working in an assured and mature style from the time of his arrival in Philadelphia as a youthful master. A foreign-trained artisan, he brought with him the ability to create exceedingly expressive sculptural woodcarving in the latest “Modern” or rococo style rapidly being adopted by prosperous Philadelphians as its growing wealth and sophistication transformed the Quaker city during the second half of the eighteenth century. Jugiez promptly began collaborating with the leading architects and furniture-makers in the city, producing work that was imaginatively adapted from the influential British pattern books that helped to transmit the new style to the Atlantic world.

Restoration of the Pediment Appliqué

Mount Pleasant drawing room
Mount Pleasant drawing room
Photo by Christopher Storb
Remember, a chip on the shoulder is a sure sign of wood higher up. Brigham Young

The physical work of restoring the carving on the chimneypiece in the drawing room at Mount Pleasant took place during spring and summer of 2010. The appliqué pediment and rosettes were the first elements to undergo treatment. The information gained from studying Jugiez’s working methods constructing an architectural appliqué provided important information for the subsequent task of recreating the missing frieze carving.

A Tablet for the Drawing Room

Mount Pleasant drawing room, c. 1900
Mount Pleasant drawing room, c. 1900
Colonial Architecture for Those About To Build, Wise and Beidleman, Philadelphia 1913
The forms in detail seem to be incessantly changing, splashing up and sinking back… Do they represent anything? Sometimes they look like shells, like froth, sometimes like gristle, sometimes like flames. It is abstract art of as high an expressional value as any that we are offered today so much more pretentiously. Nicholas Pevsner on Bavarian rococo interiors in An Outline of European Architecture, London 1943

The frieze appliqué of the chimneypiece in the drawing room of the main house at Mount Pleasant has been missing at least since the site was purchased by the City of Philadelphia in 1869. The fragile nature of its construction and its location about shoulder high, gave it little chance of survival once the house became essentially uninhabited after the deaths of Jonathan Williams in 1815 and his wife Mariamne in 1816. By the 1840’s Henry J. Williams, son of Jonathan and Mariamne, was sub-dividing the property and renting lots to brewers and ice-dealers, reflecting the commercial development occurring along the Schuylkill River after the completion of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in 1834. Throughout the 1850’s and 1860’s Mount Pleasant was used as a “public house”, as the area surrounding the nearby Engle and Wolf’s brewery at Fountain Green became a popular recreational location for citizens and tourists culminating in the tenth annual “Sängerfest”, a festival of German-American singing societies, held in Philadelphia in 1867, when thousands of participants and spectators attended a picnic held on the grounds of the brewery and Mount Pleasant.

Carving the Invisible

Mount Pleasant drawing room
Mount Pleasant drawing room
High chest of drawers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, c. 1765, carving attributed to Martin Jugiez
Philadelphia Museum of Art 1927-91-1
Photo by Christopher Storb
November 2010
He who calls what has vanished back into being, enjoys a bliss like that of creating. Barthold Niebuhr

The witness of the missing appliqué on the chimneypiece frieze provides only a hint of the lost original; only a starting point to recreating Jugiez’s carved applique for the frieze. Numerous pieces of furniture with carvings attributed to Jugiez survive and, along with the original carving in the drawing room, aided in channeling the spirit of the missing work while the new frieze appliqué was designed and carved. Understanding the structure of Jugiez’s style, the “choreography of his carving” as one scholar has described it, was crucial to creating a modern appliqué that would fit as seamlessly as possible into the existing scheme of carved ornament in the room.

Return to Previous Page