behind her midas touch
Restoring a golden glow to neglected, often broken and dirty gilded antiques is a magical experience. Art Conservator, Deborah Bigelow, has been transforming works of art and architecture with superior technical artistry for decades.
I often laugh when asked whether I always knew what I wanted to do. The answer is a resounding NO! After graduating from college, I was hired as an assistant registrar in a Baltimore, Maryland museum. From the moment I entered the Walters Art Gallery conservation lab and realized fixing works of art was a possible career, I wanted to be an art conservator.
Several years later in 1975, my first project as a Conservation Technician for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites was preserving a life-size 18th-century French carved and gilded eagle that Robert Livingston, our first ambassador to France, brought back from Paris.
From that experience, I learned that little was published on how to gild or how to repair gilding. Upon winning a Rotary International Technical Training Award to study at the London College of Furniture in 1980, my sights were already set on making gilding conservation my niche in the field. I spent an internship at the Victoria & Albert Museum learning as much as I could from their gilding conservator, Malcolm Green, and wrote a dissertation on gilding. It ultimately led me to organizing the Gilding Conservation Symposium in 1988 and publishing the papers in 1991. Gilded Wood: Conservation and History remains a valued text throughout the industry.
Returning to New York in 1982, Deborah Bigelow Associates began conserving gilded antiques for Berry B. Tracy, curator-in-charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Over the next two decades work expanded to other art museums and private art collections in the United States. Passionate about gilding conservation, I created a resume full of object treatments, lecturing and teaching at the Smithsonian among other institutions, and spearheading the conference and publication described above.
In the 1990's, I met Bill Gauthier who was employed at Sepp Leaf Products in New York City. We joined forces in 1998 to take on more challenging art conservation treatments and creative gilding projects. Through 2005, our business, American Burnish restored rare antiques, gilded three site-specific art installations for world renowned artist, Walter De Maria and designed and produced original gilded glass for commercial projects from Florida to South Korea.
Renovations began on the 1907 Telephone Building I own that housed our Beacon, NY studio in 2003. Today, it's home to other creative businesses (including my new Gilded Twig studio) that free me to pursue interesting projects at home or in far off places. I recently spent eight months in San Francisco, conserving an 18th century French Salon Dore period room housed in the Legion of Honor.