Brunswick couple hired to conserve Nixon’s Oval Office desk, other pieces of historic Washington furniture
BRUNSWICK, Maine — When the furniture used by U.S. senators during the past 150 years starts to get a little creaky, Jon and Linda Brandon will get the call.
The Brandons own East Point Conservation Studio in Brunswick, located in Fort Andross. Recently they learned they had won a five-year contract with the federal government to maintain chairs, desks and cabinets of substantial age and immeasurable historical value. Many of the objects in question come from the Legislative branch’s chamber of the U.S. Senate.
Some pieces are ceremonial, but most, according to Jon Brandon, are used regularly whenever the Senate is in session.
“The chamber is full of historical furnishings, mostly 19th Century Renaissance [style], and they’ve never had a coordinated conservation plan for it,” he said. “But all of that stuff gets used, and they’ve noticed that over the last 150 years it’s gotten a little worn down and away.”
When the federal government distributed a request for proposals two years ago, East Point Conservation Studio submitted its bid for a multi-year, comprehensive maintenance plan.
True to bureaucratic form, a year passed before the Brandons heard back that they were on the “short list” for the contract.
Recently they learned they had won.
Jon and Linda will travel to Washington, D.C. for two weeks in August while the Senate is in recess, to inspect the collection and perform an initial assessment.
Capitol staff will set aside a room for them and they’ll do some work on-site. However, pieces that need more extensive work will be shipped to their studio in Fort Andross for finishing.
The couple are to develop a long-range care plan for about 30-40 pieces, whose dates of construction range from 1800-1900. After the initial conservation plan, the Brandons will return to D.C. once a year to inspect and maintain the various pieces.
The collection includes a mahogany desk once used by Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.
The desk, estimated to have been built in about 1898, still bears holes where Nixon affixed one of his infamous recording devices.
“The point of this project is to stabilize objects and repair damage without harming the object’s historical integrity,” Jon Brandon said.
“The first thing I was told when I was shown the desk is that the holes are to be left untouched — and they are such a valuable part of the desk’s story that, of course, I wouldn’t dream of filling them in.”
Brandon is East Point Conservation’s principal conservator. He has trained at the Smithsonian Institution and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Linda is an associate conservator for East Point Conservation.
They moved to Maine in 2001 and have been based in Brunswick for more than 10 years.
At the moment, the studio is repairing and refurbishing a 217-year-old bed that once belonged to Major General Henry Knox, for whom the Maine town, county and Bucksport fortress were named.
The bed was made for Knox by Benjamin Farthingham, a Charlestown, Mass., carpenter who became a lieutenant in the Continental Army and served with Knox.
“I do a lot of work with museums and most of it is because of reputation,” Brandon said. “But this is the most intact bed I’ve ever seen.”
While explaining the Knox bed’s history, another customer arrived with an ancient clock that once belonged to the last lighthouse keeper on Baker Island, off the southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island.
The clock, which now belongs to the Bar Harbor Historical Society, was damaged by an electrical fire while in storage.
It’s just another day in the business of conserving artifacts that tell the story of our country’s history.
“I’m lucky that most of my days I get to do things that are interesting,” Brandon said.