Treating the Old Senate Chamber’s Gilded Eagle and Shield

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United States Senate, Washington, DC

A major restoration of the Old Senate Chamber of the United States Capitol was undertaken in 2011-2012. As part of this restoration, Harvard Art undertook the conservation treatment of the Eagle and Shield, the focal point as you walk into the Old Senate Chamber.

The Eagle and Shield, carved and gilded sculptures from the early 19th century, have been displayed together and apart over the years and undergone multiple restorations. Upon arrival at Harvard Art studio, the sculptures had a dull restoration layer of metal flake paint on them and the accents had been crudely gilded.

The first step we took was to do a careful analysis of both pieces which had been created by different hands. The analysis provided information on the original gilding methods, the materials used in the different restoration campaigns and guided our choices for appropriate removal of restoration layers.

We uncovered much of the original gilding and revealed rough previous repairs. The Harvard Art team made structural, ornament and surface repairs and preserved as much of the original gilding as possible. Where the original gilding was not in good enough condition, the surface was regilded and toned to match.

We are honored to have been entrusted with the conservation of this iconic piece of our nation’s cultural heritage.