Whether massive in size or sensitive in material, many pieces that come to The Conservation Center present unique challenges that our conservators are always eager to take on. Most recently, this challenge came to us in the form of a giant teapot from the Springfield Art Association.
The oversized ceramic object is one of dozens made from the same mold, yet only a few still exist today. Created in the 1800s at the workshop of Englishman Alfred Meakin, each teapot is approximately 3’ tall and 6’ in circumference. While Meakin decorated each piece differently, they all proudly display the maker’s name in gold-leaf, along with the name of the company or individual to which the pot was gifted. The front of the Springfield Art Association’s teapot reads “Presented by Alfred Meakin to B.H. Ferguson, Springfield, Ills. USA”.
"The pot was fun to see the first time. Its size is something to marvel at and it does draw a lot of attention," said Josh McCauley, our Objects Conservator who worked on the teapot. The pot was previously featured in ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’, which boasted the pot's ability to serve over 2,000 cups of tea.
The Springfield Art Association houses the teapot in Edwards Place, a house museum owned by the Association. The house belonged to the Edwards family, who lived in Springfield in the 1800s. The Edwards' name was synonymous with political power in Springfield in the mid-nineteenth century. Built in 1833 and remodeled in 1857, the historic Italianate home was a center for social activity in Springfield; prominent citizens and politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, David Davis, and more frequented the mansion for lavish gatherings and events.
While in Springfield, prior to her marriage to Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd lived with her sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards and her brother-in-law Ninian Wirt Edwards in their home at 2nd and Edwards Street. Mary and Mr. Lincoln courted and wed in Ninian and Elizabeth’s house; contrary to popular belief, this is not the Edwards Place that remains today on 4th Street. Edwards Place was owned by Ninian’s youngest brother Benjamin and his wife Helen. Ninian and Benjamin were both sons of Ninian Edwards, the Territorial Governor and third Governor of Illinois. Although the Lincolns did not court and marry here, Edwards Place is also the current home of the "courting couch", where Lincoln and Mary sat during early days of their romance. The famous couch was originally property of Ninian Edwards. The Association displays the courting couch in Edwards Place, as the original house it stood in was torn down in 1918. Many, many years later the couch would leave its second home at Edwards Place to spend a brief tenure at The Center when it visited us for treatment in 2014. Click here to read all about it.
Benjamin Edwards, who owned Edwards Place, had three daughters. His middle daughter Alice married Benjamin Ferguson, who owned a chinaware store in downtown Springfield, and ultimately became the president of Marine Bank. The giant teapot was proudly displayed in his shop, and was later donated to the Association to live alongside the teapot, courting couch, and other wonderful examples of Victorian furniture, many of which belonged to the Edwards family.
As we began our formal examination of the piece, we noted the teapot exhibited moderate grime and accretions throughout. There was a 12” fracture located at the bottom of the teapot’s lid, and a 4” fracture located at the top of the text. There was a 7” fracture on the backside of the piece, and a 6” fracture located on the right-hand side of the handle. The handle itself was broken into seven pieces, and the broken fragments exhibited heavy adhesive residue as well as chips and losses at the break lines. The piece also exhibited adhesive residue where the handle was formerly attached.
There were paint and glazing losses throughout the middle and lower sections of the pot, and the pot appeared to exhibit several areas of previous restoration. The handle itself was broken into seven pieces, and the broken fragments exhibited heavy adhesive residue as well as chips and losses at the break lines. The piece also exhibited adhesive residue where the handle was formerly attached.
Our Objects Department began by surface cleaning the entire teapot in order to remove the accretions and the adhesive residue from the previous restoration attempts. This proved to be a difficult and tedious process, but was imperative in ensuring our next phases of treatment were successful. After the cleaning was finished, the handle fragments were adhered together and attached to the pot using reversible conservation adhesives.
The losses on the handle that were structurally necessary were filled and inpainted using conservation methods and materials. Lastly, Josh inpainted any glazing losses.
When the Springfield Art Association received the teapot back, they were elated at the results. "I was astonished when the teapot returned from The Conservation Center," shared Betsy Dollar, the Association's Executive Director. "I have never seen it with its handle, it was broken long before my arrival. The repair work is superb. It looks magnificent."
The teapot is now proudly back on display inside Edwards Place, where visitors to the Springfield Art Association can continue to marvel at its grandeur for years to come.