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| has modified some of the structural members and
nailing pieces so that they allow the boards to swell and shrink without
cracking. The reproduction looks like the thoroughly immobilized original, but
has a secret life all its own.
Though they had no wide boards to worry about in the ladder-back, the Hagertys made one basic change in their reproductions--they added an inch to the depth of the seat to make the chair more comfortable. Museum authorities approved this change, as they have the modifications to the other Hagerty pieces.
The original ladder-back had been made of maple and birch, while the slats had been fashioned of ash. Early chairmakers favored any combination of these woods--together with oak and hickory--because they were strong and generally available. Eighteenth-century chairs were either left in the natural wood and perhaps oiled and waxed or covered with a paint made from skimmed milk and the metallic oxides (often that reddish-brown pigment called barn red) sold by itinerant peddlers. When the chairs were left unpainted they gradually acquired a dark golden hue--a patina resulting from light affecting the surface of the wood.
To duplicate this patina artificially, a stain was demanded, and as it is difficult for an amateur to get a harmonious effect in staining different woods, the Hagertys decided to make their ladder-back of one wood, maple. A New England manufacturer of waxes and wood finishes became interested in their problem and devised a special oil-base stain which has a tendency to begin fading after four or five years--about the time the piece begins to assume a natural patina.
The Hagertys sell their two-part stain-and-wax finish separately and the householder applies it after he has assembled the piece. Currently, the Hagertys are working with a large paint company which produces a line of colonial colors, so that Cohasset Colonials will be able to offer paint kits of barn red, apple green and mustard yellow with the furniture.
The Hagertys stumbled badly over the final problem posed by their ladder-back. The original chair had a split-ash seat; as weaving split ash is practically a lost art (and the purchaser would, naturally, have to weave the seat after he assembled his chair), it was decided to substitute split reed, which is often used in modern reproductions. The reed showed a distressing tendency to dry out and break, so the Hagertys experimented with natural rush, which was also used in the colonial pieces. The natural rush proved to be too difficult a material for the householder to work with,