Masonic Table Decorations Uk – Art is an important feature of many Masonic lodges, whether it is an oil painting or a unique object that aids in the continuation of Masonic studies, advancement ceremonies and rituals around the world. Masonic tracing boards are one of the most important pieces of a lodge’s historical collection, but like many forms of art they can deteriorate over time and require professional care to keep them in top condition.
Our team at Fine Art Restoration Company has worked with many Masonic tracing boards, which are usually faded or darkened due to environmental and age-related deterioration. This obscures important details on the tracing board and makes it much less legible than the original artist. In this article we cover the damage to Masonic tracing boards and how to safely restore them, as well as the background to this fascinating painting.
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Above: An 18th-century engraving of a diploma for the Freemasons of Bordeaux after Francois Boucher, ceramic statues of Masons, a Masonic memorial to the centennial of Washington’s death, and a Masonic school tracking school?
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Tracing boards are an important part of Masonic ceremonies, they are often used to explain stories, symbols and symbols to new members, thus serving as an important tool in the continuation of tradition. They play a central role in the ritual known as the “Explanation of the Tracing Board” in every lecture of the Masonic degrees. This can help add more context and awareness to those moving forward or serve as a reminder for those who have successfully completed their ceremony.
In fact, these tracing boards were not a physical art form, but were chalked on the floor or elevated on meeting place tables so that they could be erased again before departure. In the 18th century, Freemasons met in rented spaces, such as private rooms, where a worshiping master or tailor would create a design for those invited to the meeting. It was usually a simple border filled with important symbols, creating a pattern to fill. For privacy reasons, it is generally understood that these artworks can always be deleted, but they are works of art drawn over time. Out is very complicated and time consuming, instead there is allowance for special sheets, marble slabs, canvas or floor cloth.
Above: Example of Masonic tracing board with heavy surface discoloration due to contamination and old varnish
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Masonic tracing boards became popular in the 19th century and were established as part of a lodge collection. They are finished in canvas or panel and often framed around a simple wood. Each lodge began to commission artists to create bespoke tracing boards for their group, resulting in many designs that followed the same theme but were completely unique in their style. Some famous tracing boards were directly copied, including those of John Harris, Josiah Boring, and John Cole. In the mid-19th century the standardization of Masonic tracing boards was determined by inviting various members to submit their designs. In 1849, these tracing boards, known as the ’emulation’ style, became the definitive edition for British Freemasons.
Many oil paintings suffer from damage from their environment, but usually their discoloration is caused by the varnish used to coat them. Masonic tracing boards are a good example of how historical varnish can fade and obscure important elements of a painting, yellowing due to natural weathering. In addition to these natural hazards, surface darkening can also occur from fireplaces or smoking – both of which can commonly be found in collections decades after their creation.
This type of contamination also contains acidic components that can damage artwork. Today’s dark tracing board may have developed this contamination during its lifetime and requires professional attention to restore the original colors. Soot, smoke and nicotine penetrate the varnish – cleaning is impossible without careful conservation treatment.
Masonic Tracing Board Restoration: Protecting & Preserving Freemason Art
Above: A Masonic tracing board partially restored in our studio, the top half still showing the old yellow varnish, the bottom half cleaned by our conservators.
Tracing boards on canvas can easily be dented, torn or blurred by damage and damage, whether recent or historic, paint flakes and deteriorates over time, causing loss of original detail and color. Canvas is also susceptible to mold growth from humid environments, as well as rotting of stretcher bars, rusting of nails and lack of tension, which increases the risk of spoilage. The painting may begin to peel away from the lining or lack of this support and begin to ripple and ripple.
Above: Faded, weathered and flaking oil paintings can be professionally restored by our team – like this portrait restored with funding from the Historic House Foundation.
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Masonic boards of wooden panels face high problems from the environment, as the wood can expand and contract, causing splitting, breaks and warping. Normally, the oil on panel artworks is trapped by a cradle device to prevent this from happening – but our conservators often see the wood trying to escape from it by absorbing moisture from the atmosphere or losing moisture. It is important to keep all artworks in a stable environment in terms of temperature and humidity, but especially for panels that are easily disturbed by constant changes or high humidity levels.
Above: A Masonic tracing board that splits along a panel disrupts the artwork and promotes paint damage
Disasters also plague tracing boards over time, historically and in recent years Masonic artwork may have been involved in fires, floods or leaks, leaving it vulnerable to erosion. Problems can also arise from uncontrolled weather conditions and storage areas prone to pests such as rats, mice and woodpeckers. Our conservation team always recommends regular inspections of important artworks that are on permanent display or in storage locations. This allows rapid intervention if any damage or contamination is detected.
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Above: The back of the panel’s tracing board also erodes over time, including areas of staining and splitting in a Masonic tracing board restoration.
Our conservation team work to a museum level standard, trained in a wide range of materials from ancient and renaissance artefacts to modern and contemporary pieces. Often our oil painting conservators work on 18th and 19th century masterpieces, usually found in Masonic lodges on canvas and panel. In 2020 and 2021 our conservators worked on various tracing boards, all of which required removal of varnish due to yellowing, as well as small areas of subtle and historically appropriate renovation.
One of these comes from Lion and Lamb Lodge 192, founded in 1789. Their second degree tracing board of 1853 had become very faded over the years, with symbols and features covered in yellow paint. The boards measure 5 x 2.5 feet when open and were designed by Brother Frederick William Breitling PM. With Covid-19 restrictions forcing meetings to stop in 2020, this is the perfect time to set up recovery work for them – allowing the tracing board to be in top condition when meetings resume.
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Above: Our conservator cleans a Masonic tracing board, an intensive varnish removal process that takes several hours.
A Second Degree Masonic Tracing Board can be folded in half with hinges on either side. Although useful for storage and privacy, this practical material leads to heavier use and board handling than expected in a typical historical painting. Paint damage can be seen around the edges of both panels, as well as inclusions. Our conservation team evaluated the piece and developed a unique solution that removed the dark varnish while preserving the original artwork. This procedure takes several hours as the cotton swabs are frequently changed every few inches to avoid cross contamination.
After the varnish is removed, the original colors return to their intended form, all elements of symbolism become clear again. Our conservators can now work on small areas requiring restoration, which are carefully assembled to prevent further flaking and the exposed panel is filled with a protective surface before retouching with a small amount of conservation pigments. Not only is it color matched, it is completely removable for future conservation work, and for historical integrity it can never be mistaken for original paint. Because it stands alone between the two
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