September issue 2000
By Glen Hart
Recently I had the privilege of restoring a 1903 Steinway, model B (7 feet), art case grand piano. I trained in New York City and gild under the name “Hart of Gold” in Grand Junction, Colorado. The owner of the piano contacted Steinway and Sons and was referred to me for restoration of the cabinet.
The methods I used on great works of art throughout history requires the water gilding method. The process of water gilding is an art that takes many years to learn and perfect. Recipes of the old masters were carefully guarded secrets and the beauty of these traditional recipes is that they are fully restorable.
An object that is oil gilt is difficult to look at. It has no depth, no dimension. The eye is not directed anywhere and has nowhere to focus.
Burnished water gilding, on the other hand, is alive with light. At one angle the gold appears white while at another is black. As you walk around it the surface “crawls” with light and it never appears the same twice. One look at it for years and still be inspired. With the proper combination of burnish and matte finishes, a good gilder can direct the eye of the viewer where he wants it. The object takes on depth, dimension and beauty, which is achieved in no other way. These nuances are not self evident to the untrained eye and ofter the observer has no idea why he prefers one work over another.
Approximately 6,500 full of sheets of gold, cut into 60,000 individual pieces, were laid on the piano and the process took 16 months to complete.
SPECIAL SUNDAY EDITION
June 19, 1983
One Hundred and Thirty Years of Service to Music
John H. Steinway, great grandson of founder Henry Engelhard Steinway and, at that time, Chairman of Steinway & Sons had talked with George Michalski on several occasions over the years.
In the spring of 1985, he met up with George at Hammel Music in Linovia, Michigan. When Michalski put pictures of his prized piano in front of the Chairman, he told George, “Sir, you have a true treasure”.
George solicited Steinway’s opinion on whom should perform the interior restoration. Former employees, Lloyd Meyer and Bob Philbin, were his choice. The two had founded Camilleri Pianoworks in New York where they carried on the Steinway tradition of excellence.
Michalski took the Chairman’s advice and in November 1986, brought the Golden Grand to Camilleri Pianowork’s restoration studio in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.
From STEINWAY by Ronald V. Ratcliffe
The Ayuso family, father and two sons, were responsible for the elaboration of numerous pianos for Steinway & sons. Juan Ayuso was a French citizen, born in Bordeaux to parents who had emigrated from the Basque region of Spain in 1848. Juan and his sons Eugene and Severo were principally wood carvers and their ornate designs reflect great craftsmanship in shaping instrument cases – including the wooden legs, pedal lyres, and music desks – into the most graceful and intricate forms.
Ayuso-carved Steinways were coveted by the elite. Wealthy citizens like F.W. Woolworth, George J. Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt commissioned Steinway’s gifted artist to carve custom piano cases for their estates. His famous Steinway 50th Anniversary piano designed for the White house and now resting in the Smithsonian showcased his exceptional talent. Intricate seals of the thirteen original American colonies were meticulously carved around the piano as Juan turned wood into treasured art.
From STEINWAY by Ronald V. Ratcliffe
In 1897 Joseph Burr Tiffany (1856-1917), from the illustrious family that founded Tiffany & Co., was appointed to head the newly established Art Case Department for Steinway & Co.
J. Burr Tiffany received an aesthetic education in the family business and subsequently studied with Adrian Pottier, nephew of the founder and principal in the New York design firm Pottier and Stymus, which had previously decorated a number of Steinway pianos. Pottier and Stymus along with Herter Brothers were the most celebrated American furniture makers of their time. Tiffany is credited with the promotional coup of getting a Steinway piano to the White House. He oversaw the design and execution of the piano, serial number 100,000, which was presented in 1903 during the term of Theodore Roosevelt.
Tiffany held his post until 1912 and under his guidance many of Steinway’s most significant pianos assumed their place in history.