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Tuesday, May 30 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Architecture + Wooden Artifacts) Treatment of Appleton Organ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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In 1982, the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art installed a fifteen-foot, sixteen rank pipe organ. Built in 1830 by the well-known Boston craftsman Thomas Appleton, this organ survived nearly musically unaltered, an unusual fate for such instruments and largely the effect of benign neglect. It is considered to be amongst the finest examples of Appleton's work, in addition to being the earliest known extant organ by him. At the Met, it has served as an important part of the musical instrument collection and has been played semi-regularly since 1982, to the delight of both public and patrons. In February 2016, the Department of Musical Instruments closed its galleries to the public to begin a two-year gallery renovation project. This offered a rare opportunity for museum conservators, alongside an outside restorer, to undertake a substantial evaluation, documentation, and treatment of this important organ. The work undertaken on the organ can be divided into two categories: treatment of the musical mechanism and treatment of the casework. Treatment of the mechanism was critical at this point in time for satisfactory function of the instrument during performance. For the Appleton organ this included pipes, bellows, and windchest and was considered essential work in the scope of this project. Often this type of intervention requires a conservator of musical instruments to collaborate with outside builders and restorers who are expert in dealing with the musical implications of their interventions. Such collaborations are not necessarily straightforward and require time and compromise to obtain the best possible outcome for the instrument. Intervention on the casework, was performed in house by the two musical instruments conservators. The organ casework has suffered the effects of cumulative light damage over the thirty years since installation. The mahogany boards and veneers have faded significantly and the restoration coatings of beeswax had become dull and grey-tinged. Conservation work focused primarily on the development of a two-part coating system which would protect the wood from further light damage and at the same time improve its aesthetic authenticity. It is clear that a treatment begins long before a conservator begins to touch a work of art and, further, that musical instruments bring their own challenges in terms of conservation, use, and display. The environmental challenges of the display location, feasibility and longevity of our interventions, appropriateness of restoration work, monetary and time costs, and role of the instrument within and outside of the institution all needed to be weighed. While time and monetary costs of treatment are always significant factors in the decision-making process, in this case, the consequences of not intervening weighed heavily in the equation. The guarantee of further deterioration, at least in the short-term, a lack of aesthetic authenticity, and loss of public access to a playing organ in a museum collection, coupled with the fact that opportunities for intervention are rare, argued in favor of treatment of mechanism and casework.

avatar for Manu Frederickx

Manu Frederickx

Associate Conservator for Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Manu Frederickx received a master's degree in musical instrument making from the Royal Conservatory in Ghent in 2002. He has worked as an independent maker and restorer of harpsichords and plucked string instruments, and trained in the conservation of wood at the Royal Academy of... Read More →

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