Cosmos Club Restoration Complete!

Gold Leaf Studios at work at the Cosmos Club

Gold Leaf Studios' Bill Adair (front and center, with his back to the camera and wearing his signature fleece vest) at work with his team at the Cosmos Club ballroom restoration project.

After six months and 2,519 project hours, Gold Leaf Studios is happy to announce its completion of the restoration project for the Cosmos Club ballroom.

The Cosmos Club, a longtime Washington institution, has functioned as a watering hole for renowned scholars and intellectuals since its incorporation in the District in 1878. Over the years, its members have included three Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The club resides on Embassy Row in the historic Townsend Mansion, built at the turn of the 20th century in the style of the Beaux-Arts school (like many of its contemporaries along Massachusetts Avenue). The exterior is inspired by the style of Louis XVI, and its interiors evoke a variety of French historical styles, common among grand houses of that era. The Warne Ballroom, in many ways the centerpiece of the mansion, is the largest room in the building, occupying the entire west end of the second floor. Richly ornamented in a 19th century interpretation of the Rococo style of Louis XV, the ballroom is the social center of the club, and the regular host of chamber music concerts and club banquets.

Our studio was originally commissioned to conserve all the original water gilding for the ballroom, but it evolved into a full-scale restoration project. However, in our initial investigation of the room’s condition, we discovered that the original gilders had problems with the adhesion of the gesso on the chain rail. We found four separate gilding layers on the chair rails.

It was clear that the original craftsmen kept applying the gold leaf and failing. As conservators, this was an important discovery. This could be a result of many site-specific incongruities—not uncommon among old and historic properties—such as the room’s moisture retention. When we discovered the adhesion problem of the original gilders, we embarked to find the root of the problem and a technique to ensure the gesso’s proper adhesion and future tenacity.

The reason for the problem turned out to be cracking in the wood substrate. It cracks because of its curvature, which expands and contracts due to rapid temperature and relative humidity variations—typical of buildings, especially older ones, with extreme fluctuations in temperature in relative humidity.

The technique we employed involved gluing cotton cheesecloth to the wood before applying the gesso. The cheesecloth acted as an internal armature to the gesso, becoming a link between the expansion of the wood and the gesso, which will hold any future cracking in place.

Like many of the techniques at Gold Leaf Studios, this was inspired by a centuries old method. 14th century Italian panel paintings from the Trecento applied canvas to wooden panels to keep the gesso from falling off the wood, which is effectively the relationship between the cheesecloth, the gesso, and the wood foundation in the Cosmos ballroom.

Once ironing out that initial crease, we got to work on everything else. An isolating coat of gesso was applied over all the original gilding, and gilder’s clay was then applied, followed by double weight 23 ¾ gold leaf carat. We re-gilded the chair rails, the flutes of capitals, the stop flutes of columns and the cartouches in burnishing bronze.

Burnishing bronze—also known as Roman gilding—was used to subdue the reflection created by electric lights, which was also part of the restoration. This is an interesting issue in contemporary gilding projects: as an ancient art, gilding was not developed with electric or fluorescent lighting in mind, and the glare is often severe. As a result, we have had to develop our burnishing bronze technique for tempering glare, which we have now mastered through years of experimentation, trial and error.

The Townsend Mansion’s architectural and historic significance is formally recognized, designated as a District of Columbia Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Buildings Survey catalog. Its presence is important to retaining the character of the Dupont Circle Historic District to which it belongs, and we were honored to be an integral part of its restoration efforts.

Incidentally, the Gold Leaf Studios workshop, just down the street from Townsend Mansion, is also a member of the Dupont Circle Historic District and National Register of Historic Places. A converted carriage house built in 1903 by Evalyn Walsh Mclean, our workshop occupies the downstairs space once used as stables. The upper floors include our offices, grand reception room, display areas, and fine art gallery. Give us a call and stop in for a visit sometime.

Exhibit, Lecture and Gilding Workshop at The Muscarelle Museum of Art

The Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College or William and Mary is host to Bill's latest frame show, "Frames: The Forgotten Art"

Bill has culled a selection of frames from his private collection to present at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary. The exhibit, “Frames: The Forgotten Art,” (on view through March 25, 2012) presents a selection of American and European frames spanning more than five centuries, from the ancient Byzantine to the contemporary. Bill will accompany the exhibit with a lecture on Friday, March 16 at 5pm, followed by a gilding workshop at 9pm.

The exhibition is in collaboration with friend and colleague Dr. John T. Spike, an art historian whose work, writings and educational practices have given him international recognition as one of the most influential specialists working in museums and academia today. On the Muscarelle’s board of directors since 2006, John was appointed as the museum’s Distinguished Scholar in Residence for 2011 and asked Bill to curate a frame show encompassing anything he would like. He saw our collection and simply said, “Put a show together.”

“Frames: The Forgotten Art” follows a similar path to many of Bill’s previous frame exhibits, which have aimed to introduce audiences to the importance and independent beauty of frames, as well as their integral relationship to the pictures they contain. Bill was the first historian to put together a show of American frames, titled “Frames in America, through the Institute of Architecture in 1981, and his work since then has reflected similar historical agendas.

The frames in this show are Bill’s personal favorites, largely pulled from his private collection. Among others, exhibit highlights include the dark woods and strong geometric patterns of the Dutch Old Masters from the seventeenth century, and three original frames designed especially for distinctive works of famous 20th century artists: Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, and Franz Stuck. (Before plain white molding was invented, modern artists loved designing their own frames for their works.)

One of the masterpieces in the exhibition, if you ask Bill, is a towering baroque mirror frame with sculpted figures of gamboling putti on all four sides. This work, which once adorned the entrance hall of an Italian palazzo, was lent by the author and Virginia resident Mark Helprin.

Space is very limited for the gilding workshop, so sign up quick! To sign up or get lecture details contact Amy Gorman, Curator of Education & New Media at the Muscarelle, at, or 757 221 2703. Or visit the Muscarelle Museum of Art online.

Bill Adair Gilding Workshop at Atlas Theater Arts Festival INTERSECTIONS

Gold Leaf Studios’ Washington Winter Antiques Show Booth Profiled in DC by Design!

The Washington Winter Show: Jan. 6-8

January 6, 2012 By Jennifer Sergent

Of course, much of the fun in going to a preview party like this is seeing your friends. I was so excited to see that Bill Adair of Gold Leaf Studios has a booth here for the first time (I blogged about his enchanting Dupont Circle studio in 2010), with some of his greatest hits of historic frames on display.

Bill always says that the frame is almost more important than the art, the way he sees it. And the way he displays his frames leads me to agree.











Designer Barbara Hawthorn, Lauren Hillyard, and Bill Adair

William Adair’s Exhibition in the Washington Post

By Mark Jenkins, Published: December 8

William D. Adair

A collector and maker of frames, William D. Adair works with curved wood and gold leaf, preserving the craft of the 18th- and 19th-century moldings included in “Reflections: Mentor and Protege: The Work of William D. Adair and His Mentors.” The unknown European craftsmen who made these decorative objects are among Adair’s symbolic teachers. The display also features works by Adair’s instructors at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, as well as by the artist’s students. These include a glimmering four-panel abstract painting by former Maryland professor Frank Bunts and a embossed-gold depiction of a bee by Kay Jackson, Adair’s wife and collaborator.

Adair isn’t simply an artisan; he paints and sculpts, and uses frames and mirrors as the basis for artworks that go beyond ornamentation into conceptualism. This exhibition, at Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring, includes oils, acrylics, watercolors and ceramics, many with tinges of gold. Frames are out of fashion for modernist paintings, but Adair uses them; the show reveals their subtle influence, notably with Clarice Smith’s four portraits of Adair, identical except for the wood or bronze forms that contain them.

In some of the most interesting works, Adair repurposes frames and mirrors. “The Golden Door to Infinity” is a battered old portal embellished with brass leaf and wrenched open to reveal a mirror painted with a loose rendering of a face. “Vanitas Futilitumas” is a mirror piece in which the reflective surface has been partially scraped away to offer a glimpse of a painting behind the glass. Having mastered frames, Adair attempts to breach their prim confines and reflect the disorderly humanity of the man in the mirror.



RISD Continuing Education Presents Antique Frame Appraisal Course Taught by Noted Frame Conservator, Frame Historian and Master Gilder William Adair

For Immediate Release

 Contact: Janan Archibald, 603-580-1300 November 8, 2011

RISD Continuing Education Presents Antique Frame Appraisal Course Taught by Noted Frame Conservator, Frame Historian and Master Gilder William Adair

Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education (RISD|CE) Certificate Program in Appraisal Studies in Art + Antiques hosts a two-day class focused on understanding and appraising antique frames on Wednesday and Thursday December 7 and 8.

The RISD Continuing Education course, Understanding + Appraising Antique Frames, will be taught by William Adair, Founder and President of Gold Leaf Studios in Washington, D.C. Adair is a frame conservator, frame historian and master gilder. He began his career in frame conservation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, where he became fascinated with gilding and the history of frames. In 1975, the Smithsonian awarded Adair a grant to travel to Europe to learn about tools and techniques from the few remaining master gilders working in the Renaissance tradition.

Adair studied under influential framers and connoisseurs Paul Levi and Henry Heydenryk. In 2003 Levi and Adair collaborated on the repatriation of an important Renaissance altarpiece polyptych to a church in the Piedmont region of Italy.

In 1991, the American Academy in Rome awarded Adair the Rome Prize in Design, allowing him to spend six months in Rome immersed in the study of frame design.

Adair has curated numerous frame exhibitions, including the first American exhibition, “The Frame in America 1700-1900”, which is also the title of his reference book cataloging the American Frame History.

In this exciting two-day course, participants will be taught the history of European and American frame design, from Renaissance to Modern Day. The style of American frames has changed considerably over the decades, from the simple to ornate and back again. Students learn to identify the styles and techniques used throughout the ages and revival periods by understanding the tools and craftsmanship, as well as the ornamentation and decoration, utilized by frame makers throughout history. The course is suited for both the experienced professional and new art enthusiast.

Frames have historically been an undervalued antique, according to Adair. But increasingly, they are becoming appreciated in their own right.

The course is the perfect opportunity for anyone who wishes to know more about that “frame in the attic” or to simply better understand the artisanship and history that surrounds the art.

To register, or for more information about Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education’s Certificate Program in Appraisal Studies in Art + Antiques, contact RISD|CE at 401-454-6201 or visit

Henry Niese Exhibition Catalogue Now Available!

We are delighted to announce the publication of Henry Niese : The Painter’s Palette, the exhibition catalogue publish to accompany the exhibition.  Order your copy today by clicking on the following link or by calling Lauren Hilyard 202.833.2440 Henry Niese : The Painter\’s Palette









Wordless Wednesday: Henry Niese

Bill Adair in the News!

The Gazette

Maryland Community News

Student and master: Montgomery College exhibit highlights influences Adair’s work on display at Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus through Dec. 16

by Topher Forhecz, Staff Writer

When William B. Adair graduated from Walter Johnson High School in 1967, the only direction he felt he could go was west to California.
“I was on my way to San Francisco, and I was going to hitchhike out 70-S,” he recalls.
But before he could embark upon his cross-country wandering, his stepfather intervened and convinced him to spend at least one semester at Montgomery College (MC). Adair never made it to the West Coast that summer. Instead, a semester turned into a year and the time he spent at MC became the springboard for a career that would find him working with the Smithsonian Institutes, running his own studio and learning a craft with ancient roots.
“ Reflections: Mentor and Protégé, The Work of William B. Adair and His Mentors” is on view through Dec. 16 at the Cultural Arts Center on MC’s Takoma Park/ Silver Spring Campus. The show chronicles Adair’s 40-year growth as an artist and pays tribute to the professors who helped him along his way.
Adair started studying at MC’s Rockville Campus in 1967, with plans to go on to the University of Maryland. Since the only A he received in high school was in his art class, he hoped to boost his grade point average by enrolling in as many art courses as possible at MC. He did proceed to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) in 1972.
After college, Adair went to work in frame conservation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. He left the Smithsonian in 1982 to start Gold Leaf Studios.
Megan Van Wagoner, the art professor who curated Adair’s current exhibit, says the show was hung so that visitors could see some of the sources of Adair’s inspiration.
“You could see parallels between what Bill had done and the work that his mentors had done,” she says.
To learn more about Adair and his work, Van Wagoner visited his Washington, D.C. studio in April.
“It’s wild,” she says about his studio. “I think Bill is a sort of collector and that’s probably partly what appeals to him about framing, that you can collect all these pieces and parts.”
While at the studio, Van Wagoner received a lesson in handling a gilding material known as gold leaf. The process, which traces back to the ancient Egyptians, involves handling extremely thin, hand-beaten sheets of gold and applying them to surfaces. Adair was introduced to the practice by Henry Niese, a UMCP art professor and painter Adair describes as his mentor.
Adair later mastered the technique during his work at the Smithsonian and incorporated it into much of his artwork, including “The Gold Doors” series. Adair says the series was inspired by the song “Sin City” by Graham Parsons and Chris Hillman on their 1969 album “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” One of the pieces, “The Golden Door to Infinity,” is on display.
“It’s sort of like a pair of French doors that are hung on their door frame and they are bright red,” Van Wagoner says. “But the red paint is almost 70 percent covered with gold leaf, so that you only see some of the red door peeking through and you can open the doors. They’re sort of narrow, but you open the two doors. Inside, you can see an old mirror that’s starting to peel away and revealing what’s happening behind the mirror, which, in this case is a leather jacket.”
Adair became infatuated with sculpture while working with UMCP professor Kenneth Campbell. As important as technique is, Adair says Campbell taught him that intuition is equally essential.
“He told me to stop thinking, that an artist needs to feel, not think,” Adair remembers. “It’s very true because we have a tendency to over-intellectualize everything and an artist is a barometer of taste from his period.”
While Campbell’s work is not in the show, Adair shows how his mantra has played into pieces such as “Cloud Torso.”
“It’s a figure with no arms and no legs, kind of a result of the Vietnam War period when all our friends were coming back with blown off legs,” Adair says. “Not too different from what’s happening today in Afghanistan.”
Adair also cites MC’s art department head Alan Marsh as having a profound effect on his development as an artist. Adair was in Marsh’s art history class. He currently is seeking out Marsh’s artwork to add to his collection.
Other artists in the show include UMCP art professor Ellen Gelman and MC professors Frank Bunts and Mitchell Jamieson.
“Mitchell Jamieson was a combat artist on D-Day,” Adair says. “He went to D-Day and sketched with the initial invasion force. He went to Vietnam, too. He taught us how to draw quickly and accurately.”
In conjunction with the show’s title, “Mentor and Protégé,” Adair has served as both. His protégé is his wife, Kay Jackson, a fellow painter and artist. The two shared a studio in 1991 after Adair was awarded the Rome Prize in Design by the American Academy in Rome. Adair spent six months in Rome learning the origins of frame design, and it was there that he taught Jackson the essentials of gilding.
Jackson regularly incorporates gilding into her work with pieces such as “Endangered Species, Wallace’s Giant Bee.”
“Kay Jackson’s work is highly developed because it uses all the technique from the icon paintings from the Byzantine world all the way up to the Renaissance,” Adair points out.
Joan Rosenstein came to teach design at MC the same year Adair attended. One of his favorite teachers, Adair notes that she ”did not suffer fools lightly.”
“I think [Adair] worked a lot harder than he thought he was going to have to,” Rosenstein says. “Remember, he was right out of high school at the time, and I think he got a real surprise when he got to school because he once said that I was pretty stingy with my grading. I didn’t believe in grade inflation, and I really made my students work for my grades.”
Adair framed Rosenstein’s “Guarding Terra Incognito” in a 1930s design by artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The platinum leaf frame accents the black-and-white photograph of a veiled, nude woman.
“I really liked it because it became almost a collaboration of the two of us,” Rosenstein says.
Decades after their first encounters, Rosenstein’s student has become anything but.
“I think he has far surpassed his mentors, certainly with the gold leafing,” she concludes.
William B. Adair’s exhibit “Reflections: Mentor and Protégé: The Work of William B. Adair and His Mentors” is on display at the Cultural Arts Center on Montgomery College’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, through Dec. 16. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please call before visiting. Call 240-567-5775 or visit

© 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net

Henry Niese at Gold Leaf Studios

Henry Niese: The Painter’s Palette 1956-2011

On view by appointment at Gold Leaf Studios through November 20th, 2011

Gold Leaf Studios is pleased to announce an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Pulitzer Award winning artist, Henry Niese.  The exhibition, “Henry Niese: The Painter’s Palette 1956-2011” opens on Tuesday, September 20th and continues through Sunday, November 20th.

Born in New Jersey in 1924, Niese studied painting at Cooper Union Art School, art history and painting at Columbia University, and painting at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris.

A pioneer of American contemporary art, Niese came of age as a painter in New York City in the 1950s where he became friendly with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and William Carlos Williams.  Niese exchanged ideas and critiques with these great American masters.  Art historian Bill Kloss writes, “Niese learned from the best examples, found and absorbed what suited his own growing expressive imperatives, and created his identifiable pictorial language through intuition and conviction.”

Niese’s 1960 painting “Jersey Lyric” inspired William Carlos Williams to write a poem with the same title.  The exhibition includes a charcoal sketch of the painting and the original correspondence between Niese and Williams, in which they discuss three different drafts of the poem.

The paintings and drawings in the exhibition date from the mid-1950s to the present.  The range of subject matter includes portraits, interiors, exteriors and landscapes.  Each work demonstrates Niese’s ability to capture the inherent structure and organization of living and non-living objects.   Art critic, Martica Sawin wrote of Niese’s paintings, “The pleasurable aspects of everyday life…are described in terms of glowing color and unusual design which is at once a strong two-dimensional composition and an admixture of narrowing and expanding perspectives…There is an engaging candor to these paintings as well as an involvement which goes beyond the simplicity of the subjects and their treatment…”

Niese’s powerful compositions resonated with the Pulitzer committee in 1954 when he was awarded the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship in Art.  In addition to the Pulitzer award, Niese received the prestigious W.A. Clark Prize at the 1955 Corcoran Biennial.

Niese’s paintings were exhibited in the 1957 Whitney Biennial and in subsequent Whitney group shows in 1960 and 1962.  His paintings can be found in museum collections around the country including the Whitney, the Corcoran Gallery and the Everhart Museum.

Gold Leaf Studio’s exhibition reveals Niese’s constant play with theme and variations, and his ability to transcend the surface qualities of the work giving us pictures that are full of spirit.  Niese writes that he “delights in calling attention to the relationships between different objects.”  This delight comes across in his paintings, which are joyful declarations of the world in which we live.

Niese is also a gifted storyteller, writer and teacher.  He is the author of the book The Man Who Knew the Medicine: Bill Eagle Feather’s Teaching, which was published in 2002.  Niese’s teaching credentials include, the Montclair Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, The Newark Museum, Yale and the University of Maryland.  He resides on a farm in Glenelg, MD with his wife Paula.


For further information or to schedule an appointment to view the exhibition, please contact Lauren Hilyard at 202 833 2440 or

Painting Pictured above:

Midnite Snow Blues, 2010

Oil on Canvas

36 x 48 inches