Acu-Bright Chandelier Cleaning and Restoration

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Ornate Chandeliers Restored for First Time
Charleston Daily Mall, May 20, 2011       download download pdf

by Jared Hunt, Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

Bob Wojcieszak
Acu-Bright employees Dave DeGagne, left, and Keith Campbell Jr. work at reassembling one of the two chandeliers in the state Culture Center Thursday. Company crews have spent hundreds of hours over the past few months hand-restoring each of the 5,524 brass parts, 1,200 crystals and 80 light bulbs on each 1,109-pound fixture.

CHARLESTON, W.Va.--For the first time in 35 years, the state Culture Center's uniquely crafted chandeliers are getting a facelift.

A four-man crew is finishing up work today on a $130,000 restoration project that has spanned several months.  

The two chandeliers hovering over the Culture Center's main lobby were designed by artist Willy Malarcher in the mid-1970s and installed prior to the Culture Center's opening in 1976.

Since then, decades of dust and degradation have dulled the beauty of the one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures.

This is the first time the fixtures have been cleaned since the center's opening, and the man in charge of the restoration said visitors would be pleased with the results.

"These things will burst with color," said Keith Campbell.

Campbell owns Acu-Brite, a New Hampshire-based firm specializing in chandelier cleaning and restoration.

A clear chandelier reflects all the colors of the spectrum, he said.

"These lost their color a long time ago," he said.

Each of the two 10-foot-wide fixtures weighs 1,109 pounds and has 5,524 brass parts, 1,200 crystals and 80 light bulbs.

The bulbs radiate from the brass center in the shape of a dodecahedron, which is the geometric name for a 12-sided surface.

Malarcher picked the dodecahedron because it's the Greek symbol for infinity.  

"They're unique," Campbell said. "They're not your standard opulent chandelier from the 30s."

But the complex shape made the job harder for restorers.

"This was a very difficult piece because there are so many curves," Campbell said. "The crucial parts all had to be identified and marked."

Campbell even had to invent his own tools to accomplish the task.

"Because of the angles we had to make a custom tap jig," he said. "You just don't find them in the store."

Acu-Bright is a family-owned business, and Campbell's son, Keith Jr., is on the crew.

The elder Campbell has been in business for over 35 years and maintains fixtures at 10 state capitol buildings across the country. The company restores and cleans fixtures across the United States and Canada, and Campbell says his crews care for some of the largest and most historically valuable chandeliers in the country.

He has worked with the state of West Virginia for the past six years.

Each year, his company cleans the 36 chandeliers and 40 sconces found inside the Capitol and Governor's Mansion for about $30,000.

But the Culture Center work was much more involved.

Earlier this year, the company disassembled the chandeliers and transported them to their headquarters in New Hampshire.

There, a staff of nearly 40 spent hundreds of hours restoring the individual pieces.

"What we had to do with these is each part has to be handled approximately 10 times from taking it apart, to stripping it down, buffing, polishing it, tapping it, rewiring, and reassembling."

That included buffing, staining and lacquering the more than 5,000 brass fixtures.

"Those 5,000 pieces had to be hand buffed — talk about monotonous," he said.

Campbell's operation is one of a kind. He invented and patented a special machine that cleans crystals using ultrasonic sound waves.

"Any kind of soap or detergent ruins the finish," he said. "All of these have been ultrasonically cleaned inside where fingers can't get."

Campbell said all of the wiring inside had to be completely replaced because it had become frayed and exposed.

"It was really a safety issue," he said.

Also, unlike the older, 1930s crystals in the state Capitol, which are 30 percent lead, the ones at the Culture Center are lead-free, having been made after the dangers of lead had become known.

"In those days, they used it and didn't know it was killing people," Campbell said. "Now lead is outlawed for crystals."

Campbell was contracted for the job last year after state Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith saw the work he had done in the Capitol and at the Governor's Mansion.

So far everyone's been impressed with the new look of the chandeliers, said Deputy Commissioner Caryn Gresham.

"Even the employees here say, 'Oh my gosh,' " Gresham said.

The restoration comes at a time when the Culture Center will be getting more use, following acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's decision to strike and sell the party tent at the Governor's Mansion.

Official state functions that used to be held in the tent now will be held at the Culture Center, Tomblin has said.

With the state's sesquicentennial approaching, as well as annual events like the Vandalia Gathering, Gresham said it was a good time for some spring cleaning at the Culture Center.

"It's a state building and it's a great place," she said. "People are here all the time, and we want to make sure it looks as nice as it can."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.



©2011 Charleston Daily Mall.