Conservator Jan Cutajar first came to Knole in 2014, as an intern from University College London, where he was completing his Master’s degree in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums. He worked closely with Knole’s Project Archaeologist Nathalie Cohen, in finds retrieval and conserving the three 17th century letters found under the floorboards in the attics. In 2018, he was contracted to work solely on conserving the kussenkast (Dutch for ‘cushion cupboard’) also discovered in the attics, during the Inspired by Knole Project. His work encompassed research, cleaning, and stabilising the 60-70 pieces of ebony-veneered, oak-framed piece of furniture and finding out how to put them all together again into a whole to be displayed in the Spangle Bedroom in 2019. Discovering the age of the kussenkast in the winter of 2018 was a specially exciting time.
Interviewed by Veronica Walker-Smith
Dendrochronology of the Knole kussenkast
We were really lucky because Nat, the Project Archaeologist is in good contact with Ian Tyers who is dendrochronologist here in England, who’s quite well renowned. And we managed to rope him in to do some dendrochronology not only on the kussenkast but also on other frames in the Studio. He was really, really keen to do this work he hadn’t had the chance to work on such pieces of furniture before. So it was really exciting to work with him. The reason we decided to do this is that we had so many disassociated elements, which meant that then Ian could see the oak framework. So Ian was able to look at the right faces of the wood from which he could look at the tree rings, the right sections from which he could estimate a date of felling. So he used several elements both on the framework and which had detached. He did his magic, well more science than magic, I should say. And comparing to his database which he’s built up throughout his career, and other comparative databases which are found in Europe. He managed to estimate the date of felling of the oak framework quite precisely to the winter of 1652. So it’s likely then that the kussenkast was made in the ‘50s or the ‘60s. It’s very exciting to have such a specific date. He also tried to look at the source of the wood: and all the evidence pointed towards a Baltic oak which possibly could have come from the forests of east Poland, Belarus, which still exist to this day and now are a natural park. Well, we can’t say 100 percent, but it’s a possible indication that it could be a source.