Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 00:54 UK

Polishing up restoration skills

Emma Duff at Gatts
Trainees such as Emma Duff are said to be learning a "dying art"

A small Aberdeen-based company has said it is keeping the "dying art" of French polishing and furniture restoration alive - aided by the recession.

Gatts believes the credit crunch has seen more people picking up second-hand furniture and getting it restored, rather than buying new furniture.

The company is now looking to take on school leavers to pass on knowledge.

One young trainee, Emma Duff, of Brechin, said: "My art background has given me an eye for it."

Gatts said it was dispelling the "stereotypical greying male master craftsman" image with most of its staff being aged under or around 30.

It's a dying art with fewer and fewer people possessing the skills to pass down to trainees so it is an exciting trade to be involved in
Emma Duff
Gatts trainee

Doug Tough, general manager of the traditional crafts division, said: "These traditional skills are literally handed down from craftsman to craftsman over the years.

"There is no course available that I'm aware of to learn the traditional hand-finishing skills in which we specialise.

"There are very few people still around who possess these skills and, outside Gatts, those that do are generally retired or work from their own small workshops or vans."

He added: "We feel it is vital that this trade and these skills are passed on and the only way to do that is our own in-house training. That's why we try to take on school leavers so we can pass on this training and get them highly skilled at a young age.

"In fact, our senior polisher, Mike Will, is only 22 because he joined us straight from school and very quickly became expert in the trade.

"We also have Emma Duff who is undergoing training in all aspects of the business including French polishing and upholstery. She is one of only two females I've ever heard of coming into the industry."

'Many years'

Trainees will spend between four and five years learning the skills before they are classed as "time-served" French polishers and restorers.

Trainee Emma said: "I graduated with an honours degree in fine arts from Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. I started looking for a position in which I would be able to utilise the skills I learned at university in the real world. I came across the job at Gatts and it has progressed from there.

"The craft of furniture restoration is something you simply have to learn on the job because it is not something you can train for anywhere else.

"It's a dying art with fewer and fewer people possessing the skills to pass down to trainees so it is an exciting trade to be involved in and learning from people who have been doing this for many years."

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