It was an exciting day in the Archives as we welcomed Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Murals and Polychrome Surfaces from McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio. Stefan arrived to work on one of the treasures seen by many in our Reading Room over the years – an original 1912 Wright “Bent End” propeller. Mr. William H. Eicher gifted the propeller to Special Collections and Archives in December 1978. The Bent End propeller was one of a series manufactured by the Wright Company for use on the Wright Model C standard commercial production airplane in 1912.
During his visit today, Stefan evaluated the propeller and proposed a treatment which includes surface cleaning and stabilizing the lifting paint. The paint is most notably lifting over the fabric on the ends of the propeller. During production, fabric was wrapped around the ends of the propeller to reinforce the wood and prevent it from splitting during flight. Over its life, the fabric has reacted to changes in temperature and relative humidity, causing the paint on the surface of the fabric to crack and lift off. The flakes of paint cannot be reattached, but the remaining paint can be stabilized to prevent and slow further flaking.
In order to safely transport the propeller with minimal loss, an initial stabilization was required. Stefan applied a facing to the surface to help prevent further paint chips from detaching during the road trip back to the lab in Oberlin.
After the initial stabilization, Stefan wrapped the propeller in plastic. The staff then helped to carefully carry the propeller to his van. Lacking a freight elevator in our building, we used the public elevators, which was a tight fit.
The 105 year old propeller is on its way to Oberlin, Ohio for some well deserved treatment. It seems especially appropriate that we are sending the propeller to Oberlin, home of Oberlin College where Katharine Wright graduated in 1898.
While the 1912 propeller will be under treatment for several months, the 1905 Wright Taper Tip propeller continues to be on display in the reading room. We invite you to come in and take a photo of yourselves with the Wright Brothers under the 1905 propeller. We would love to see you!