The Dome on University of Vermont’s Mabel Louise Southwick Memorial Building has been restored to its original brilliance with our 23 karat gold leaf application. Our work takes us to some interesting places but this project was the pinnacle (no pun intended) of work locations. We felt like supermen/women, working on staging accessed only by a scramble across roof planks, a vertical climb up a ladder and through the hatch in the platform. Lake Champlain, and reportedly
Champ, the Lake’s dinosaur-like monster, are seen from Southwick Memorial Building and the vista from the top of the gold dome is spellbinding!
How do you restore the exterior surface of a gold dome? One leaf at a time! After the original metal shingles were removed and any rotten wood was replaced, Cold Hollow Construction of Vermont expertly re-clad the dome’s surface. We primed, sized and gilded as weather permitted and the restoration was a beautiful success.
Almost every form of decorative art has benefited from technological advances, except in the area of gold leaf application. Because of the enduring brilliance of gold, there is no substitute for the real thing, which is not easily had. Just the making of tissue–paper-thin gold leaves, called gold beating, is fabulously laborious. There are people out there in the world whose job is to beat malleable gold into flat, thin sheets. As you can imagine, this takes hours and hours. Incredibly, the process has stayed basically the same for more than 2,000 years.
Our job as gilders is to provide the most durable gold leaf application appropriate for the job. Exterior applications require slightly different sizing and slightly thicker gold leaf than interior. Real gold leaf is never sealed, which would do nothing for its inherent durability and would only dull its brilliance. Gold will not tarnish and will dazzle for decades. Think of real gold pirate booty hauled up from the sea bottom after centuries of exposure to salt water, looking like it was just minted! Similarly, exterior gold leafed domes shine on through season after season of punishing weather.
Historical accuracy is well served in the gilding of these architectural elements. The cupolas, domes or decorative finials of civic and religious buildings were traditionally applied with gold leaf. Prior to 1990, metallic gold paint was not a great alternative because, eventually, the copper ingredient that mimicked gold would tarnish to a yellowy brown. We fondly refer to this paint as “radiator gold”.
Fortunately, metallic paint has come a long way with the appearance of mica suspended in acrylic, and there are now excellent products that will replicate silver, steel, bronze, etc. They retain luminosity, even in exterior applications. But when it comes to the brilliance of real gold versus gold paint the game is over. Gilding far exceeds the brilliance of its paint substitute. Simply put, Gold Rules!