Part I

Her long slender fingers move with precision. Gripping a tiny folded piece of wet/dry sandpaper she works the hardened gesso and hide glue mixture until it matches the existing molding bead. She is restoring a large 1874 triple mirror mantle piece. She is Margaret Eaton, owner of Margaret S. Eaton Restorations.

She is tall and willowy. At first glance one would expect her to be a high fashion runway model or find her adorning the cover of International Vogue or Elle magazine, but the depth of this woman's talent soon overshadows her physical beauty. She is a perfect blend of artist and craftswoman.

A high wood paneled ceiling watches over her busy work studio. A vast array of tools and materials keeps your eye busy with discovery. There are trays and containers, tins of oil size, squirrel hair gilders tips, sandpaper, scrapers, even a kitchen flour sifter for sifting the gesso power. Additional gilt pieces line the walls and fill the corners; gilt chairs, frames and mirrors patiently await her hand. For ten years Margaret has been breathing restorative life into the damaged existence of items such as these.

Seven years ago she and her husband Ben Eaton fulfilled a dream and purchased a building in the 200 block of Warren Street in Hudson and began restoration. The bright mustard columns and olive hues blend perfectly with the red brick Federal facade. Restoring the interior is a gradual work in progress. This is a very busy young couple, each managing their own business and raising their daughter Lucy. As a child Margaret not only made doll clothes, she made doll furniture as well. She also dreamed of being an artist, but was uncertain what direction to take. In high school she took an art class. One day when she was late for a social studies class, the teacher asked her to stay after; he wanted to know her reason for being late. She explained she had stayed to clean up after art class, resulting in her tardiness. He scolded her imploring she remember one point, "Art is not going to pay the bills."

She studied civil engineering and architecture in college. Following college she found work apprenticing at Sotheby's Restoration. The day they showed her the gilding room she was overwhelmed, realizing she had found her childhood artistic dream, her destiny. She immersed herself in the work, eventually honing her craft with Cynthia Moyer, of the Getty Museum. In 1993 she ventured out on her own. When Margaret discusses her work her bright, happy demeanor alters. She becomes very quiet and serious. Her eyes fill with intensity allowing her vast confidence and knowledge to seep out. It is clear she deeply loves her work. Margaret is a perfectionist. When you pour your heart and soul into your work you can be nothing less.

I asked what she uses to gild and she produced a small booklet with tissue paper thin pages. Between each page is a three and three eights inch square of gold leaf. Each square is a solid piece of gold, pounded to a thickness of one 300,000th of an inch thick. You must not touch it with your fingers; squirrel hair gilders tips or a knife blade, slid like a spatula under a fried egg, is how it must be handled. Working with gold leaf is precise and extremely delicate work. The piece of gold leaf rumples, folds over onto itself. Gently Margaret blows on it; it flutters with the grace of a supple butterfly wing then flattens back to a perfect square.

Margaret has not forgotten the words of her high school social studies teacher, except of course he was wrong; art is paying the bills. That's what happens when you dare to dream and have the courage and conviction to follow those dreams. Margaret's work is fascinating and magical; it's the stuff dreams are made of. Dreams are something both Ben and Margaret Eaton embrace. In part two we'll open another window and take a look at Ben's dream.
We'll talk next time, From The Road.

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