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Tuesday, May 30 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Architecture + Wooden Artifacts) Aimee Spencer Gorham’s Wood Marquetry of the Pacific Northwest

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The old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest provided the raw materials for the creation of a flourishing wood products industry during the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1905, the Lewis and Clark Exposition touted Portland, Oregon as an ideal "City Beautiful”, inspiring architects, artists and craftsmen to celebrate the regional beauty of pristine natural landscapes by building with native wood materials. It was in this forested backdrop that Aimee Spencer Gorham produced, from 1936 on, a series of site-specific large-scale wood marquetry murals under the WPA Federal Arts Project. She is best known for her work at Timberline Lodge, the greatest New Deal project of the area, where two of her pieces grace the walls of that temple to rustic regionalism. Under WPA programs, Gorham produced marquetry murals for Oregon State University's School of Forestry, Portland Public schools, regional art centers in Oregon, and for the New York World's Fair in 1939. She established a workshop of furniture makers from Timberline Lodge that executed her designs beyond the New Deal era into the 1950's. In 2015, efforts began for conservation treatment of Gorham's 1938 mural "Send Us Forth To Be Builders of a Better World", the first since its installation, and the first technical study of Gorham's work. The mural, measuring 128 square feet, was designed specifically for the entrance foyer of Chapman Elementary School in Portland. Gorham used an extensive selection of domestic and exotic wood veneers to achieve remarkably varied effects of chroma, grain and chatoyance, that were identified during treatment. The veneers were adhered to plywood panels that were only then gaining popularity for interior decorative wall paneling, built-in furniture and cabinetry for modern architectural applications. The plywood substrate, quite novel at the time, provided the structural stability that allowed Gorham to extend the dimensions of her compositions to grand formats, resulting in panels that have remained quite planar despite the unstable environmental conditions in which they have been housed. The Chapman mural had suffered considerable surface damage due to delamination of the veneer, scratches, vandalism, and inopportune previous coatings that had obscured the glowing figural effects of the wood grains. A group of conservators and researchers of diverse specialties (architectural, wood science, paintings, wood panel, objects) undertook the treatment, employing an interdisciplinary approach to address various aspects of the project. The mural was reinstalled in its original location in the summer of 2016. The paper will discuss the conservation treatment of "Send Us Forth to be Builders of a Better World", and the particular technical aspects of the marquetry mural, in the context of Aimee Gorham's opus and her access to new innovative engineered wood materials manufactured in the PNW. Gorham's marquetry was a unique product of her time and place that combined the Arts and Crafts-inspired ancient technique of marquetry with the newest, cutting-edge industrial wood products of the era, mechanical presses, and industrial furniture coatings.

avatar for Nina Olsson

Nina Olsson

Owner, Precision Mat, LLC
Nina Olsson is a conservator of paintings in private practice and researcher established in Portland, Oregon in 2001. Since 2015, Nina is also president and co-founder of Heritage Conservation Group, LLC, a group of Portland-based conservators of various specialties. From 2011-2014... Read More →
avatar for Suzana Radivojevic

Suzana Radivojevic

Wood Scientist, Ligno Logic, LLC
Dr. Suzana Radivojevic is concurrently an Adjunct Faculty in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Oregon, and a wood scientist and a founder of a research and consulting firm, Ligno Logic LLC. She received her B.Sc.F.E. in wood science and technology from the University... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 2:30pm - 3:00pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom A Lobby Level, West Tower