It's a momentous day.
Spring cleaning of the best kind is in hand.
As I write, the frieze which runs around the tops of the morning room walls is being taken down, to be whisked off for a thorough wash and brush up. To be honest, this is a job I never really believed we'd be able to tackle, or at least not for a very long time. My cognitive map of art restoration has been cobbled together from TV snippets of 'Antiques Roadshow' and 'Fake or Fortune' - all plummy accents, garish corduroys, and long-lost Rembrandts. On these programmes, any talk of professional cleaning and repair tends to be reserved only for big ticket items, where speculating to accumulate a tidy profit is the name of the game. "An expensive business", I've unconsciously surmised, and without any further research, consigned the restoration of the frieze, which we wouldn't be able to sell even if we wanted to*, to the '25-Year......Possibly.....Maybe Plan' for the building.
I'm not sure what changed. Perhaps I've become so used to organising quotes for bits of work, that I just decided there would be no harm in finding out more. Perhaps after a year, we're feeling more at one with the idea that this is actually our house and we can choose which jobs to prioritise, even if they're decisions designed to make us feel happy rather than more comfortable. Perhaps as we've learned more about Edgar Wood and Frederick Jackson, the artist who painted the frieze, we feel more inclined to try to do our best for their work. More likely, it's a mix of all of these things.
It certainly helps that we've connected with many knowledgeable people since our move; and it occurs to me to seek some advice from Ant Cosgrove - founder of the fantastic 'Northern Art' Facebook page and member of the Edgar Wood Society. The outcome? A very helpful recommendation of an art restorer and a bonus visit so that he can see the frieze while it's still in situ. Although Ant has his finger firmly on the pulse of the contemporary art scene, especially in the north-west; he has a passion for LS Lowry and a special interest in Frederick Jackson and Edgar Wood because of the home town connections they share in Middleton. It's really lovely to chat to him.
And so it is that James Bloomfield comes out to give us his advice about the conservation and restoration of the frieze. There's good news about the general condition of the painting - in spite of a few rips, and the odd splash of emulsion paint from the ceiling, the canvas and original oil paint are judged to be in reasonably good order. James doesn't seem to bat an eyelid at the tears; and he's confident that the alien household paint splashes can be cleaned away as well as 120 years of soot, dust and general grime. What's more, he's able to give me a tantalising glimpse back in time as he cleans a small section of the canvas so we can look at the original colours preserved below the dirt.
We decide that the restoration costs, which turn out to be a good chunk less than my pessimistic fantasies, are worth it for the transformation of the painting and the room that will result from the work. With James also giving thought as to the best way to rehang the canvas to prevent further deterioration, we feel we are doing what we can to secure the frieze for another hundred years. Since this is the only remaining Frederick Jackson mural that is thought to remain in situ (out of four that are known to have been painted), this seems important to us.
As one work of art leaves us for a while, we welcomed a hugely exciting and almost unbelievable new arrival this week. If having the mural restored was a long-term hope, acquiring another piece of Edgar Wood furniture was a complete pipe dream.
But then the phone rings.
Ant Cosgrove is on the line and he seems to be talking about an auction.....a sideboard 'by repute' acquired from the owners of an Edgar Wood house......'Halecroft'.......Manchester...........1890.....do you think you might be interested in bidding? The auction's in 3 days time.
An email follows with a link to the auction catalogue and some additional information, including background research that the Edgar Wood Society have pulled together proving the provenance of the piece. Although Edgar Wood items rarely come up at auction, the hope is that this one may go under the radar of the big Arts and Crafts dealers because it is being listed by a small auction house. If it sells within the guide price range, it is actually vaguely affordable.
Then there are the photographs. The first thing that strikes us is the similarity in style between some of Briarcourt's pieces of built-in furniture and the Halecroft sideboard cupboards. The strong geometric motifs are so distinctive. They provide such contrast with the flowing organic lines of the other decorative themes in our interior and with the exquisite carved frieze that crowns the backplate of the auction sideboard. Just 5 years between both houses being built, perhaps it's not too surprising to see the parallels - but thrilling to notice the design progression.
And then there's the fact that Dunc just happens to be on holiday this coming week. Making a trip to the saleroom uncharacteristically possible. Hmmm.
We take the plunge and commit to bid. And after a couple of fitful nights, the big day arrives.
Aside from eBay, neither of us has been involved in an auction before. With contractors to wait in for, I have to stay put, so it's all on poor Dunc. The lot is due to come up towards the end of the sale, and much as I try to put it out of my mind, it's difficult to settle. We stay in touch via text and as the time approaches, I tune in to the online streaming of the auction. With the camera trained on the auctioneer, all I can do is follow the bids without knowing which are from Dunc, but my heart sinks as the price climbs. With the bang of the gavel, I try to console myself that it wasn't meant to be and with so many other expenses in the pipeline, it's probably for the best. But there's no denying the disappointment.
And then the text arrives.....
* In listed building terms, the frieze is considered part of the fabric of the house, so must be left in situ.