Last week we assembled Marrett House‘s 15 foot frame and panel wall and installed it. The day felt like a mini-crane day, with shoulders instead of cranes, and a mini-rush of adrenaline. When the day was over, and we’d reversed the effects of last April’s drunken car crash, I realized that time machines are not made from plutonium and flux capacitors, but patience and the right epoxy.
The broken panels and stiles were glued together using Araldite, an epoxy filler, over B-72 as a release agent. A single piece required as many as three clamping stages and often requiring a custom clamping jig for each stage. For instance, in the case of a panel split down the middle, we needed to make a jig that protected the beveled, feather edges of the panels, and use cauls to ensure that the panel glued up flat.
That same jig was much too large to be used to repair breaks in the bevel edge itself, and too narrow to repair the broken thumbnail on a stile. Each clamping jig needed to be large enough to distribute pressure evenly, but refined enough to allow us to observe the joint as we applied pressure. Because it was essential that we preserve the paint on either side of the break, if the pieces shifted even 1/32 of an inch during glue up, it would be too much, and the paint lines would not align.
The client’s goal was to preserve as much material as possible, and for those repairs to be invisible on the surface. Where paint had flaked as a result of impact, we were asked to use fillers to even the painted surface, erasing ubiquitous paint “craters”. This phase of panel repair was best approximated in Paula Abdul’s song “Opposites Attract” featuring DJ Skat Cat; as we approached the right combination of barrier, epoxy and filler, it required a process of two steps forward and one step back. We completed a series of test swatches with using araldite, Dap filler and oil paint to determine which best produces an even surface. Ultimately, we settled on ready patch, a medium-weight spackling compound that dries almost too quickly.
When it was finally time to install the panel, it was so long that we couldn’t carry it though the building. It was so long that it would have been impossible to assemble in the room itself with the added length of clamps and human bodies. So we went through the front window. Scott, Lee, Shawn and I packed the assembled wall carefully in a cage of 2x lumber, carried it from the barn and passed it though the front wall.
Preserving the existing paint surface was important to the curators at the Marrett House, and they requested that we infill paint only. After three attempts of trying to approximate the color, I wish I could say that we found a paint that blended perfectly, but that would require more than just one color. There were more than six different shades of cream along the panels due to fading, dirt accumulation and previous attempts to clean the wall. Fortunately, the curators were pleased with the even surface and invisible seams and weren’t interested in us finding the right shade of dinge with which to wash parts of the wall. For right now, they are happy with the way the primer patches help them to tell the story of this wall’s ordeal.
As self-aggrandizing as it seems (this is a company blog, after all) I can’t recommend a tour of the Marrett House this summer highly enough. As much as I would like you readers to visit the North parlor and exclaim, “I can’t believe a drunk driver drove through that!” It is even more exciting to learn about the Marrett sisters and the history of preserving their family home. One sister taught Helen Keller at the Baxter School for the Deaf on Mackworth Island and you can read Keller’s letters upstairs. There is a likely story about how the locks on doors of the front parlor protected Portland’s gold during the War of 1812. If you are lucky and intrepid visitor, you can puzzle over the attic framing, the whole of which was lifted 2′ during the mid-18th century.
It’s too bad that Scott, Shawn and Lee’s meticulous frame fixes will be invisible to the visiting public, but more photos are available to the public visiting our Flickr page, and an upcoming blog post focusing on the frame repairs.
I know in my head that it is a terrible shame that a careless criminal drunk drove a stolen car through the parlor of a 220-year-old impeccably preserved home, but in my heart I feel fortunate for the opportunity to work closely with such fine craftsmanship.
More Marrett photos, here.