Behind the Scenes at MSHP

Serving as the winter archives intern with Mackinac State Historic Parks has kept Jessica Marks busy, from inventorying the library to labeling archival boxes, to … gilding candlesticks?

Currently, half a dozen candlesticks and a cross based on original hand-carved 18th century versions from Canada are being gilded. Once finished, these gilded wooden candlesticks and crucifix will replace the anachronistic metal versions located on the altar in the Church of Ste. Anne at Colonial Michilimackinac. This will then complete the representation of a Roman Catholic Church altar on the edge of New France in the 1700s.

Gilding is the process of taking gold and covering an object with it. The gilding technique that’s being used on the altar pieces is oil gilding. This is where a “leaf,” which is a 2.5 inch square of gold that’s about as thin as tissue paper, is carefully applied to an adhesive surface. To guide the leaf’s wispy behavior, a brush made from squirrel fur called the gilder’s tip is used to control the leaf with static.

After applying the gold leaf, it gets messy. The gilder switches to a regular boar hair brush, and then the leaves are lightly brushed on the object with a light tapping motion. This motion causes tiny flakes of the leaves that weren’t on the adhesive to scatter about the work space, while more importantly working the leaf onto the object.  The final step is to smooth out the leaves already on the object to attain a golden gleam. This is achieved by using a brush in light, swirling motion.

Jessica noted this has been an interesting project to work on, mainly due to of the nature of the gold leaf. It’s flimsy, reacts to static, and defies gravity by floating which causes it not to land where you want it to half the time.

“Also, turning ordinary objects, such as a wooden candlestick, into an imitation golden candlestick is a fun, hands-on experience,” she said.

You can see the finished gilded candlesticks, and cross at the Church of Ste. Anne once Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the season on May 2nd.


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