Curwen Bed Hanging

Mask of Panjurli

Restoration of the Curwen Bed

The Peabody Essex Museum undertook a project during 2009-11 to preserve, conserve, document and reinterpret a rare, complete set of bed hangings and associated bed from early 19th-century New England.

At the time of construction, the mahogany bed and its complex set of bed hangings represented luxury furnishings for an American home. The bed hangings and the bed frame reflect the influence of Neoclassicism, a reinterpretation of the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome that was fashionable in Europe and the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Made from colorful block-printed cotton fabric, probably imported from England, the bed hangings' uniform stitching and construction details suggest the work of a professional upholsterer. The set consists of 40 objects; 34 bed-hanging pieces and six items of bedding and under upholstery.

The bed and bed hangings descended in the Curwen family of Salem, Mass., and entered the museum’s collection in 1900 through the bequest of George Rea Curwen (1823–1900). The museum displayed the bed along with other furnishings from the Curwen collection in the Dow Period Rooms in the Phillips Library, among the earliest period rooms in an American museum. The bed hangings were periodically evaluated and measures implemented to limit light exposure and improve environmental conditions. The increasing fragility of the textiles, however, prompted museum staff to plan a large-scale conservation, documentation and reinterpretation project to address the needs of these important objects.

The project involved a multi-departmental team of museum staff, specialists and consultants who researched, de-installed, documented, conserved, photographed, filmed, re-cataloged and stored the original Curwen bed-hanging set. The museum commissioned reproduction fabric from a Massachusetts firm that uses digital printing technology to recreate historic fabrics. A local seamstress, working in conjunction with the textile conservator, created and re-installed a reproduction set of bed hangings that returned the bed to its original appearance. For the re-installation of the reproduction bed hangings onto the bed frame, the textile conservator used conservation upholstery techniques and methods that involve the least amount of intervention with the bed frame and other original materials so historical information was not lost or compromised.

 

Generous support for the Curwen Bed-Hanging Project provided by The Coby Foundation Ltd. Additional support from the Fund for American Costumes and Textiles, given in memory of Anne Farnam by her mother, Nancy Forgan Farnam.

Images

Curwen bed hangings and bed, before conservation.

Curwen bed hangings and bed, before conservation.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
PEM Photographer Walter Silver and intern Rachel Miller photograph the Curwen bed in the Dow period room.

PEM Photographer Walter Silver and intern Rachel Miller photograph the Curwen bed in the Dow period room.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
The Phillips Library Reading Room with worktables, photography studio and packing station.

The Phillips Library Reading Room with worktables, photography studio and packing station.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen surface cleans textiles.

Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen surface cleans textiles.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and project assistant Katie White surface clean and mark textiles.

Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and project assistant Katie White surface clean and mark textiles.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Surface cleaning textiles.

Surface cleaning textiles.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Curator Paula Richter and consultant Natalie Larson measure and document textiles.

Curator Paula Richter and consultant Natalie Larson measure and document textiles.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Project team de-installs the coverlet.

Project team de-installs the coverlet.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Project team moves the coverlet.

Project team moves the coverlet.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Coverlet de-installed in preparation for photography.

Coverlet de-installed in preparation for photography.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Preparing the coverlet for photography.

Preparing the coverlet for photography.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Coverlet during photo shoot.

Coverlet during photo shoot.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Consultant Natalie Larson and PEM Collections Manager Matthew Del Grosso document textiles.

Consultant Natalie Larson and PEM Collections Manager Matthew Del Grosso document textiles.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
PEM Collections Manager Matthew Del Grosso removes upholstery tacks from valance.

PEM Collections Manager Matthew Del Grosso removes upholstery tacks from valance.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
PEM Registrar Carrie Van Horn prepares archival storage; inner valance on photography mount.

PEM Registrar Carrie Van Horn prepares archival storage; inner valance on photography mount.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen inspects upholstery tack holes marked with colored toothpicks.

Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen inspects upholstery tack holes marked with colored toothpicks.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and project assistant Katie White surface clean the bed sacking and roping.

Textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and project assistant Katie White surface clean the bed sacking and roping.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Seamstress Meegan Williams and project team install reproduction bed hangings.

Seamstress Meegan Williams and project team install reproduction bed hangings.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Seamstress Meegan Williams, textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and PEM Curator Paula Richter review photographic documentation during reinstallation.

Seamstress Meegan Williams, textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen and PEM Curator Paula Richter review photographic documentation during reinstallation.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Completed reproduction bed hangings installed on the Curwen bed.

Completed reproduction bed hangings installed on the Curwen bed.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
Completed reproduction bed hangings installed on the Curwen bed.

Completed reproduction bed hangings installed on the Curwen bed.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.