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McLoughlin House Chinese Lacquer Sewing CabinetChinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet

NPS McLoughlin House

Marguerite McLoughlin's Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet Ca. 1830

Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet

The Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet was a gift to Marguerite McLoughlin, wife of John McLoughlin, considered the Father of Oregon. A grateful member of the Fort Vancouver community gifted Marguerite, and one can imagine the excitement this beautiful cabinet must have caused in Fort Vancouver. It is one of the few items in the collection which belonged to the family.

Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet ButterflyChinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet

The cabinet consisted of four parts: cabinet, cornice, table, and sewing box. It was meant to be used in its entirety or as separate entities, as the owner chose. While the McLoughlin House does not display the item in parts, the design allows the table to be a working table for sewing, with a lip to keep items from rolling off the edges. Our goal was to allow the piece to continue to be capable of disassembly, while stabilizing so legs would not fall of it it was moved during cleaning. A flexible plan was devised.


Prior repairs proved challenging in both finish and structure.
Broken and rotted screws were removed in several areas.
All hinges were loose or had already come apart.

Several areas of the sewing cabinet and table had structural problems due to
rotting wood, including the cabinet base. Our goal was to stabilize and strengthen with minimal invasion, and to preserve and protect the lacquer finish from further degradation. Microcrystalline balloons suspended in pigmented rhoplex provided strength to desiccated areas.

McLoughlin's Sewing CabinetMcLoughlin's Sewing Cabinet

Other items to repair were leg-to-table connections,
cornice + pediment mount, and hinges.

The lacquer was severely damaged on 50% of the exterior carcass: environmental shifts, both in temperature and humidity, caused lacquer to lift, discolor and fail.
Wood smoke and direct sunlight further damaged areas, causing the left-facing side to exhibit a thermochromatic shift, seen clearly right.
Lacquer was extremely unstable in these areas.

thermochromatic damageChinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet

MPFC cleaned the entire cabinet, which was a month of patient small movements, both wet and dry, using over 6,000 cotton swabs. A dry rub "polished" the cabinet.

We adhesed loose and lifting lacquer by softening then gluing. We infilled with paints over barriers, selectively. The goal of the infill was not to fool the eye, but to cover the bare areas from a distance, so a visitor did not see gaping holes of missing lacquer when first encountering the cabinet. In a few areas we infilled patterns and/or gold.

To view many before and after treatment images:

cornice beforeMcLoughlin House Chinese Lacquer Sewing CabinetMcLoughlin House Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinetcornice after
Before, left, and after treatment, right.

Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet LFside
Before, above, and after treatment, below. Thermochromatic damage can be seen on the bottom of the cabinet in both images.
Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet LFside

For more information on the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, visit the NPS site or the McLoughlin Memorial Association site for events.


We offer a free one hour assessment in your home or office
toward the restoration of your antique, contact us for an appointment.

Contact Information

dkatiepowell [@] aol.com / mitchellrpowell {@} aol.com
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503.970.2509 / 541.531.2383

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