Ornamental Separator

Upholstery CSI: Reading the Evidence

On view in Rachel Elisabeth and Joshua Ryan Wilkinson Gallery , gifted by their mother, L. Kay Wilkinson
This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of Don and Elaine Bogus


When most people look at furniture, they admire the craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker. But the look and function of seating furniture often hinged on the talent of another trade – that of the upholsterer. In Upholstery CSI: Reading the Evidence visitors will discover the secrets of the 18th-century upholstery trade. Beginning with a bare chair frame, the upholsterer layered webbing, linen, stuffing, and show fabric to create a fashionable piece. Unfortunately the 200-year-old fabrics rarely survive the passage of time and changing fashions.

This exhibition received an Excellence in Exhibition Award from American Alliance of Museums in May 2019.

Easy Chair upholstered, Eastern Virginia, 1750-1775
Sofa, London, England, ca. 1760

Being able to read the evidence left behind to reconstruct the 18th-century appearance is the task of the modern-day curators and conservators. This exhibition explores the work of Colonial Williamsburg upholstery conservator Leroy Graves and the non-intrusive upholstery method he developed that is now used by museums worldwide. The goal of the Graves Approach is to restore a piece to its earliest appearance without marking or disturbing the frames or surviving upholstery.

Side Chair, Splat-Back, New York, New York, 1790-1800
Armchair, upholstered, England, ca. 1760

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Sitting pretty: “Upholstery CSI”: Preserving antique furniture at Colonial Williamsburg

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