New lease on life
Green Valley man restores antiques with sentimental value
GREEN VALLEY — When saving antiques that have substantial wear and tear but plenty of sentimental value, owners in Marshall and nearby locations often turn to Dan Markell.
He operates Markell’s Antique Restoration at his acreage north of Marshall. His shop building, originally an on-farm grain handling facility, was converted to a place for craftsmanship in 1995.
Markell restores a wide range of antique furniture. He has extensive experience with trunks, desks, cabinets, chairs, tables, and ice boxes.
“I enjoy it,” Markell said. “I like coming up with the best possible strategy for each project and then seeing the progress. I’ll keep doing it as long as I can hold a hammer.”
He has an arsenal of tools and parts that he can draw upon as needed. They’ve come from a variety of historic places.
He paid $100 for a pick-up load of salvaged red oak flooring from the 1890 portion of the Lyon County Courthouse before it was demolished in 1994.
He later obtained materials salvaged from the former Marshall High School and later the Marshall Middle on North Fourth Street, now the site of the Heritage Pointe senior citizen housing center.
It’s usually possible to match parts with the time period of the heirloom in a way that preserves its historic authenticity. His cost estimates depend on the time it takes to complete a restoration.
Markell’s willingness to accept a project comes down to whether or not the antique can be brought back to excellent condition reflective of first-rate craftsmanship.
“If I don’t think I can do it in a way I’d be proud of, I’ll tell that to the owner,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a judgment call. If it could go either way, I’ll often ask someone if it has personal meaning. Once I was willing to try a very challenging project after the 80-year-old owner told me it used to belong to his mother.”
He added that certain kinds of long term wear are typical with various kinds of antiques. For trunks that were brought to the United States from Europe by immigrant families, it’s common to have damage to trays rather than the walls of the trunk itself since the trays were made of less durable wood.
Markell invested considerable time this fall into the restoration of a roll top desk. It had obvious issues which included rolltop slats that had come loose from the desk frame, but had all of the components needed to maintain its integrity as a genuine artifact. He repaired the roll bar slats one step at a time using age appropriate screws. It was possible to completely restore the slats without any glue.
Several of his latest projects are destined to become Christmas gifts for grandchildren. He and his wife, Arlene, have seven of them altogether. They have two sons, Aaron and Brady, along with a daughter named Kari.
He recently accepted a project with a different deadline involving the start-up of a new Minnesota legislative session. State Rep. Chris Swedzinski, a Republican from Ghent who was re-elected in November, brought home an antique desk chair. When Markell finishes the restoration, the chair will be bound for Swedzinski’s St. Paul office in the House of Representatives section of the Minnesota State Capitol.
Markell’s restoration work is bolstered by a personal interest in local history and collectibles. He is a past board member of the Lyon County Historical Society.
He spent the first part of his career working for a farmer, then worked for the Schwan Food Company. He also served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969 as a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter.
One of his smaller projects currently being completed involves a cabinet door for Marshall resident Robin Moon. It’s the second time Markell has helped to keep the cabinet in the best possible condition.
“Dan’s work is always excellent,” Moon said. “He’s very meticulous down to the last detail. Everything he does leaves a great impression.”
Markell has also been a speaker for school classes. He recently shared his Vietnam experiences with several second-grade class sections at Park Side Elementary School. He brought along his Vietnam foot locker filled with objects from Vietnam and from the worldwide history of the late 1960s, which included the issue of Life magazine published right after U.S. astronauts first landed on the moon.
“Dan was one of the people interviewed by students for a Veterans Day project,” said Park Side Elementary School second grade teacher Theresa Leek. “Based on that, we thought he would be a great speaker for our classes. He did an excellent job of presenting history in a way that was interesting for the students. We definitely hope to have him back.”