Lafayette Carriage 

Studebaker National Museum

HISTORIC OVERVIEW

 Lafayette BaroucheThe Lafayette carriage, known as a Barouche, is a coachman driven vehicle designed to carry two to four passengers. The driver is positioned at the front of the carriage and the passengers sit facing one another, with the rear passengers protected by a folding leather top. The body of the carriage is suspended from the running gear by four leather braces attached to multi-leafed C-springs. President Monroe, as an expression of this country's gratitude for Lafayette's military service, invited the General to return to the United States for the country's 50th Anniversary Celebration. The barouche, built in Baltimore in 1824 by coach builder John Curlet, was provided to the Revolutionary War hero for his personal use during part of his tour of the United States. The carriage's association with General Marquis de Lafayette, and the fact that it is one of only a handful of early 19th century vehicles, establishes its significance and makes it one of America's Treasures.

PRE-TREATMENT CONDITION

Before Treatment: Lafayette CarriageThe Studebaker National Museum, the current owner of the barouche, contracted B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. to conserve the vehicle as part of a Save America's Treasures Grant. Upon delivery, the carriage was thoroughly examined and documented prior to treatment. Preliminary examination revealed that the Lafayette barouche had been partially “restored” by Studebaker automotive company employees in the early 20th century; over painting the body and running gear with black cellulose nitrate (automotive) paint and replacing what remained of original upholstery. The carriage, while structurally sound, was found to be in unstable condition having areas of actively flaking paint on all wooden surfaces, and paint loss associated with active corrosion, on all iron components. The leather roof covering, determined to be a late 19th century replacement, was in poor and unstable condition, having multiple tears and losses associated with acidic deterioration or “red rot” of the leather. Examination revealed that the leather components or elements covered with leather were a combination of deteriorated original materials and / or unstable replacements. The interior textiles, replaced in the late 19th or early 20th century, were in stable condition having only minor tears, insect damage and moderate levels of embedded dirt and grime.

TREATMENT

Before Treatment: Over-paint RemovalMicroscopic cross-sectional analysis of the varnish and paint layers revealed that the barouche had been painted at least twice since its time of fabrication. Originally the carriage body and running gear had been painted a straw yellow color trimmed and striped with dark green. The initial treatment proposal specified only cleaning and stabilization of the current black paint, leather, metal and textiles. The cross-sectional analysis of the paint suggested further treatment by selective over paint removal in areas on the running gear and carriage body; the proper left rear wheel and the underside of the driver's foot or toe board areas were selected by the curators. Over paint was removed from the running gear to reveal a nearly intact layer of brown paint, finished with broad, black striping. However, removal of the brown and black paint to reveal the original straw yellow and green paint layer was complicated by the fact that these layers had similar solubility. While feasible, time and budget constraints permitted limited removal of this layer. Slow and meticulous removal of the multiple layers of paint on the foot board revealed an elaborate painting of an eagle clasping an olive branch. Unfortunately, the thicker areas of paint had been sanded prior to having been repainted, causing damage and loss on the eagle's head and body; conservators at B.R. Howard & Associates selectively in-painted the areas of damage to visually improve the design. Other areas of lifting and flaking paint were stabilized and areas of loss were inpainted to improve the appearance of the barouche. All metal components were cleaned, chemically stabilized, polished when appropriate and given a protective lacquer coating using reversible acrylic resins. The severely deteriorated leather covering on the folding top was removed and replicated using a vegetable tanned cowhide; the existing wool broadcloth headliner was cleaned and re-installed with the new leather covering. Some of the curved metal decoration that was covered with braided leather had areas of loss; original braiding was stabilized and areas of loss were visually improved by carefully replicating the braided pattern. All textiles were dry cleaned and areas of damage were stabilized by B.R. Howard & Associates textile conservator. Upon completion, the barouche once used by the General Marquis de Lafayette, was returned to the Studebaker National Museum, located in South Bend, Indiana, for exhibition.


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