Artisan Manu Bugallo is a French polisher and gilder and enjoys restoring and creating antique furniture and picture frames.
Artisan Manu Bugallo is a French polisher and gilder and enjoys restoring and creating antique furniture and picture frames. Troy Jegers

Gympie man's work on show for the Queen

GYMPIE is a long, long way from the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, but there's one local man whose hard work is on display for Queen Elizabeth II and her guests.

Manu Bugallo is an artisan; restoring, repairing and creating antique furniture and picture frames.

Some of his work hangs in Windsor Castle.

He did some restorative work on a coat of arms at the Tower of London.

Manu Bugallo Workshop
Manu Bugallo Workshop Troy Jegers

And five of his frames grace the walls of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

It all started around 20 years ago when Manu fell into an apprenticeship with master craftsman Mark Turner in London.

While working with Mark, he learned the almost forgotten arts of French polishing and gilding and fell in love with working with timber, especially antiques.

"It's the history. It comes with a story. People bring in pieces they've gotten from their grandparents; great-grandparents even. I just love it,” he said.

The handmade items throughout his workshop create a wonderland for Manu, who spends every day shaping, and restoring treasures which bear the scars of decades of hard work.

An example of some of Manu Bugallo's gilting on an antique mirror frame, which will eventually be shipped to the United States once completed.
An example of some of Manu Bugallo's gilting on an antique mirror frame, which will eventually be shipped to the United States once completed. Contributed

Early in his career, Manu went to work for an antique picture-framing specialist company in St James's in London, called Rollo Whately Ltd.

While there, he brushed shoulders with world famous artists such as Banksy, Lucian Freud and Damien Hurst.

Some of his work frames paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Francis Bacon.

"We did lots of work for Francis Bacon,” Manu recalls.

After a number of years, Manu went back to helping his former mentor Mark Turner, to restore furniture and before leaving Europe, he was helping to restore eight 3x2m Chippendale mantelpieces, work he estimates would have cost millions of pounds to the doctor who commissioned the job.

All heady stuff.

Manu Bugallo Workshop
Manu Bugallo Workshop Troy Jegers

How, then, did Manu come to find himself in a small Queensland country town on the opposite side of the world?

Love.

Manu followed his wife Shaya, who grew up in Gympie, back to her hometown when she left England five years ago, and the couple have built their own family here since.

However, his first love for restoring wooden furniture has persisted throughout, and three years ago he opened his workshop, Manu's Restoration & Design, in Chapel Lane.

There, Manu lovingly restores precious pieces which come to him from across the country.

Inside his jam-packed studio is one of the original cashier's desks from the old Gympie Railway Station which Manu says he "rescued” from a refuse pile.

Manu Bugallo Workshop
Manu Bugallo Workshop Troy Jegers

He is currently restoring a mirror, including the gold gilding, which will be shipped back to the United States once it is completed.

The gilding process is one which Manu emulates from the European method, and is one that has remained relatively unchanged for nearly thousands of years.

"They were gilding in ancient Egypt,” Manu said.

The gilding process involves applying glue to prepared wooden surfaces and then attaching gold to those surfaces.

Manu says the end result can be influenced by all sorts of different variables from the quality of the gold leaf (copper content) to the type of timber on the base.

"The colours underneath enhance the gold. Even the glue can change the finish. I import the gold, which is crazy with this being Gympie,” he said with a grin.

Manu Bugallo Workshop
Manu Bugallo Workshop Troy Jegers

Manu uses 23 carat gold leaf for his gilding and prefers to use a rabbit skin size (glue) which he prepares himself.

"You have to have a strong glue to apply to the timber,” he said.

One of the final stages involves burnishing the work with an agate stone.

Burnishing means rubbing the work over with an agate to achieve a highly polished result. Agates have been used to burnish gold leaf and gilding since the practise began thousands of years ago.

The disappearing craft, while not unique in Gympie is something that Manu is passionate to keep alive and he relishes spending time in his workshop every day.

Most of the pieces in Manu's workshop are for sale and you can see more of the finished pieces on his instagram page at manubuga@instagram.

Manu Bugallo Workshop
Manu Bugallo Workshop Troy Jegers