Art Conservator | Volume 11 No. 1

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A P U B L I C A T I O N O F T ‌H E W I L L I A M S T O W N A R T C O N S E R V A T I O N C E N T E R

V O L U M E 11 , N U M B E R 1   •  S U M M E R 2 0 1 6

Powder Horn Histories Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 1

Contents | Summer 2016

Art Conservator Volume 11, Number 1 • Summer 2016 Director T‌homas J. Branchick Editor Timothy Cahill Art Direction and Production Ed Atkeson/Berg Design Photographer Matthew Hamilton Contributors Rachel Childers, Mary Holland, Christine Puza, Michelle Savant, Julia Silverman Office Manager Rob Conzett Accounts Manager Terry Haskins Printing Snyder Printer, Troy, NY Williamstown Art Conservation Center 227 South Street Williamstown, MA 01267 T: 413-458-5741 F: 413-458-2314 Atlanta Art Conservation Center 6000 Peachtree Road Atlanta, GA 30341 T: 404-733-4589 F: 678-547-1453 All rights reserved. Text and photographs copyright © Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), unless otherwise noted. Art Conservator is published twice yearly by WACC, T‌homas J. Branchick, director. Material may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Williamstown Art Conservation Center. WACC is a nonprofit, multi-service conservation center serving the needs of member museums, nonprofit institutions and laboratories, and the general public.

3 Director’s Letter 4 Eighteenth-Century Powder Horns

Lenett Fellow studies the conservation of historic Americana Julia Silverman 8 String Theory

The descriptive geometric models of Theodore Olivier Christine Puza


Between Science and Culture

Saving a New England herbarium 12 WACC News & Notes

Recovered in a barn, artworks by a beloved children’s book illustrator are given a second life; Paolo Scheggi’s Intersurface Curves; WACC outdoor sculpture workshop 15 Report from Atlanta

Spanish modernist José de Creeft Michelle Savant


Tech Notes

Panel-back stretchers and backing boards Mary Holland

On the cover After-treatment detail of the Josiah Walker powder horn from the collection of Historic Deerfield.

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From the Director

Turning sixty-five must be a “Yikes!” moment for many of us—it sure was for me as I came up on that milestone earlier this month. Many of the miles behind me have been spent here at WACC. I arrived at the Center in 1981 as a third-year intern and never left, and for the past nineteen years have served as both paintings conservator and director. While succession is in the back of the minds of many, including myself, my promise to the trustees is to remain at the helm for another two years at least. The romance hasn’t worn off yet. Of course, I do not work alone. The staff here, conservators, technicians, and office personnel alike, are incredibly reliable and talented at their jobs. Many have been here fifteen years or more. That kind of continuity and experience helps make the service and expertise we offer so dependable. You have heard me speak often of the invaluable support we all receive from the Trustees Board, now in the able and supportive hands of chairwoman Sheila Stone. Sheila has helped us make great strides at the Center, including the purchase of a new service vehicle to increase our capacity to transport art. Meanwhile, our FRIENDS group has increased its activity with lectures and presentations focused on conservation treatments at the Center, as you can see in the photo below. Our social media presence has increased and our bimonthly e-newsletter is on point with generous help from board member Diane Taylor. And a round of applause for our flagship publication, the magazine you are now reading. Art Conservator celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Each year, more and more individuals and organizations are welcomed inside the Center through features that are consistently educational, entertaining, and beautifully presented. In addition to the 3,600 copies we mail each issue, with the aid of an exchange program administered by the Clark Art Institute, the magazine is also sent to an additional one hundred twenty art and cultural institutions in the US, Canada, and Europe. Speaking of the Clark, Olivier Meslay takes his place this month as the museum’s new director. Olivier comes here after curatorial turns at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Louvre. Everyone here wishes him great success as he writes the next chapter of our marvelous gem of a museum. I especially look forward to working with him on behalf of the Center. —Tom Branchick

The FRIENDS of WACC hosted Olympic gold-medal ice skater Dick Button (right) at the Center in July. Button discussed works from his collection of ice-skating art treated in the Paper Department, including the lithograph seen here by Currier and Ives. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 3

Cover Story

Eighteenth-Century Powder Horns and the Conservation of Historic Americana by Julia Silverman Each academic year, a second-year student at the Williams College/Clark Art Institute Graduate Program in the History of Art is awarded the Judith M. Lenett Memorial Fellowship in Art Conservation by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. The twosemester fellowship provides the student with the opportunity to research and conserve an American art object. This year’s Lenett Fellow, Julia Silverman, worked on a trio of eighteenth-century powder horns from the collection of Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, Massachusetts. She was supervised by WACC chief objects conservator Hélène Gillette-Woodard. The project culminated in a public lecture at the Clark, from which the article below is adapted.


n the Federal Militia Act of 1792, the United States Congress outlined the weapons and supplies every ablebodied man should carry to defend his country. These included a “good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonette or belt, two spare flints and a knapsack.” Most were also expected to carry a cartridge box, only recently affordable in America, loaded with twenty-four paper cartridges that allowed for the rapid and convenient loading of firearms. For anyone slightly behind the times who did not possess a cartridge box, the Act allowed them to accompany their “good rifle” with a “powderhorn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter pound of powder.” By the end of the eighteenth century, powder horns—ox and steer horns treated to hold gunpowder—were quickly being replaced by the new technology of pre-loaded cartridges. Fifty years earlier, during the French and Indian War (17561763), the horns had been ubiquitous. In pre-revolutionary America, settlers carried flintlock muskets and rifles for hunting and fighting, and horns—cheap, durable, and naturally ergonomic—made excellent vessels for protecting and transporting gunpowder. Since horn has a relatively soft outer layer, making it easily engraved and decorated, their owners often customized their powder horns by engraving them with

names and images. Not everyone decorated his horn himself, and there rose in the colonies a small industry of professional designers-engravers, each with his own distinctive style. Three examples of French and Indian War-era horns came to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center from Historic Deerfield and formed the basis of my academic year as Lenett Fellow. Each horn was engraved with the name and rank of its owner, along with figural designs and calligraphic elements. More pertinently, each horn came with damage of varying types and degrees, including flaking, cracking, and pest damage, which I was tasked to treat. The first horn bore the name Josiah Walker and was decorated with a floral border and small, winged cherubs arranged around ranks of opposing soldiers about to engage in battle. A large British coat of arms completed the design. Walker was from Stratford, Connecticut and served in the French and Indian War in 1758 and 1759. (He also fought in the American Revolution, but one presumes that by then he had retired the horn emblazoned with an icon of British loyalty.) This horn had only minor damage, a large flake missing on the throat and a bit of corrosion on a small metal loop used to attach the horn’s shoulder strap, which my Lenett supervisor Hélène Gillette-Woodard, WACC head objects conservator, and I thought would make a fine introduction to conservation work. The second horn belonged to a Lieutenant Levi Whitney and was by far the most eccentric of the Detail of the Levi Whitney horn, before treatment and after repair with paper fills.

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collected, sawed to three powder horns. the desired size, and It was likely decorated boiled in water with by an amateur artist, potash to hollow the who included such inside. A wooden images as a “Brazon plug was then fitted Serpent”—likely a into the mouth of reference to the healing the horn while still bronze serpent of wet, allowing a seal Moses— an octopusto form as the horn like “Divel” —perhaps shrunk during the a misspelling of drying process. The devil—and various plug was secured with fish, plants, and wooden or metal little suns. This horn pegs (our examples showed significant contained both) and worm damage, which treated with hemp, resulted in large holes tallow, or wax for and losses along its waterproofing. Once mouth. treated, the horn The third horn was was polished with the property of Aaron pumice and coated Page. Its immaculate with plant oil before copperplate calligraphy engraving. All three and deep amber of the horns displayed color (likely from the signs of this immersion in yellow The Historic Deerfield powder horns, after treatment. From top, identified by process: examination dye) indicated that original owner, the Josiah Walker, the Aaron Page, and the Levi Whitney. under ultraviolet the engraving and light revealed a greenish-yellow autofluorescence indicating the decoration were the work of a professional artist. Etched on one plant oil treatment. The Josiah Walker horn fluoresced a much side was a tableau of opposing troops adapted from eighteenthpaler green than the others, which likely indicated a previous century military manuals, accompanied by a rhyme common restoration in which the original coating was removed and to the period: “I powder with my brother ball / a herow like replaced. X-rays revealed holes and cracks in the horns that were do conquer all.” The horn was also inscribed with a date and invisible to the naked eye. location: “Lake Gorg July the 8 ano 1758.” This horn had the While each horn unquestionably commemorates events most significant structural damage of the three: its entire throat in American history, their place in the history of collecting was shattered and the shards were stiff and immobile. American antiquities is also worth pausing over. Understanding Although the practice of treating and decorating powder the criteria by which these horns were valued had important horns varied by maker in the eighteenth century, the implications for their conservation treatment. All three of construction of all three Deerfield horns reflected techniques the horns had been donated to Deerfield as part of a gift of typical of French and Indian War-era makers. A horn was Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 5

seventy-five horns from William H. Guthman (1924-2005), a prolific dealer and collector of historic Americana. An expert in military paraphernalia, including historic guns, uniforms, and drums, Guthman had begun collecting Americana as a hobby in the 1950s. By 1966, he’d become a full-time antiques dealer, ultimately growing his company to one of the largest dealers of military Americana in the country. Guthman had a particular fondness for powder horns and focused much of his scholarly work upon them. Deeply critical

Lenett Fellow Julia Silverman at work on the Aaron Page horn.

of the tendency among collectors to value horns based on the content of their textual inscriptions (taking such inscriptions unproblematically as evidence of the horns’ owner or place of origin), Guthman used his scholarly work to redefine the criteria by which powder horns could be evaluated. A 1929 article from The Magazine Antiques illustrates the relatively narrow criteria by which horns had been judged by collectors prior to Guthman; in it, the author asserts that there are two types of powder horns: “map horns,” which contained images of maps, then the most highly prized category of powder horn, and “culch horns,” that is, everything else. The author explained, “Culch, in this application, doesn’t mean rubbish,

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but merely second in quality or interest among American military horns for the sole reason that the fad of the moment has raised the map horn to first place.” By this definition, a culch horn was, “really a second-grade horn from the standpoint of art.” This was precisely the viewpoint against which Guthman reacted. Some of his criticisms were pragmatic from the standpoint of a collector: the emphasis on an inscription, for example, made high-value horns easy to forge, especially when a forger carved directly onto an antique horn. Thus, Guthman encouraged collectors to pay close attention to the stylistic attributes of the horn’s carving, rather than simply its content. Looking to diaries, letters, and calligraphy books contemporary with powder horns, Guthman urged close comparisons between flourishes and script types to confirm a horn’s authenticity. More importantly, Guthman’s focus on these stylistic attributes marked the first attempt to study powder horns not just as historical artifacts, but as a type of “a folk art indigenous to the colonists of North America.” From the perspective of today’s arthistorical scholarship, Guthman’s project warrants some skepticism. In many ways, it relied on what now seem to be antiquated practices of connoisseurship. In the catalog for an exhibition he organized with the Connecticut Historical Society, Guthman stated explicitly that his aim was to “establish critical standards of quality and appreciation” for powder horns. Guthman was not an art historian, but rather a collector and appraiser, and while his focus on style did effectively reframe a conversation about horns as art, it also shifted the way they were collected in a way that increased the value of his personal collection. Like the rival collectors he criticized, Guthman collected powder horns with the names of well-known people—another Guthman horn in the Deerfield collection bears the name Israel Putnam, the general who reportedly issued the famous directive, “Don’t fire until you can see the whites of their eyes.” Guthman’s emphasis on style allowed him to depart from the established criteria of value— the inscription—and mold a new standard based on his personal

interest: the quality of the inscribed pictures. He created new connoisseurial standards that later became the norm. Guthman divided American powder horns into three distinct periods. The first, from the time of King George’s War (1744-1748), he said, reflected designs from European decorative arts. The second, produced from 1754, were associated with the French and Indian War and hailed as the first “fully American” type. These culled inspiration from a diverse set of sources, including popular newspapers, calligraphy books, and copperplate type. The third period comprised horns from the Revolutionary War era, which contained their own distinct iconographic forms. Within the French and Indian War period, Guthman further classified the horns into distinct schools. The three horns I treated are specimens of the “Lake George Style” due to their inscriptions, copperplate lettering, and ornamental borders and images of soldiers, plants, animals, mermaids, etc. Guthman also attempted to parse the styles of individual creators. He pounced on those few horns signed by their makers, mobilizing these creators as valuable brands. One was John Bush, the son of a free black farmer in Shrewsbury who, despite having only signed a single horn, was credited as the founder of the “Lake George School.” When Guthman didn’t have creators’ names, he identified anonymous masters. The Aaron Page horn, for example, is attributed to the “SelkrigPage carver,” who carved another horn in Deerfield’s collection bearing the name Nathanial Selkrig. Guthman linked the two horns by their composition and other stylistic attributes. Identifying horns by their makers, emulating the centurieslong practice of linking artworks to the hand of exceptional individuals, was one way in which Guthman attempted to raise them to the status of “art.” More particularly, however, by focusing on the stylistic components of the imagery and deemphasizing the importance of the physical horn itself, including its patina, Guthman performed an intellectual detachment of design from material, the aesthetic from the historical. It was an art historical move with serious implications. The intellectual separation of decoration and ground, of the executed design and the gritty, patina-ed surface of the horn, has roots in an older art-historical distinction between “historical value” and “artistic value” made by Austrian scholar Alois Riegl in his 1903 essay “The Modern Cult of Monuments.” While we don’t know if Guthman encountered

Riegl’s text directly, its ideas became ingrained in practices of connoisseurship during much of the twentieth century. One can think of Guthman’s project as at attempt to invert historical and artistic value. While older collectors had esteemed powder horns for their historical value—the way they marked an important person or event in the formation of the American nation—Guthman redefined them as aesthetic objects of contemplation. Yet Guthman implicitly argued that powder horns had what Riegl called an “art historical” value too. This, I think, was the crux of his project. In mapping different schools of decoration and tracing the development from a “European style” through a “mature American style,” Guthman focused collectors’ eyes on decoration rather than documentation. Instead of valuing only horns that could be linked to an important X-ray images of the Whitney and Walker horns. event in American history, Guthman’s “art historical value” made space for every horn in his collection to be a specimen in the development of a distinct, authentic, American folk style. By emphasizing a shared visual heritage, Guthman democratized “value.” He carved out space in the marketplace for specimens that would previously have been deemed second-rate. He became the first person to engage with a significant category of American material culture, and while most decorative arts scholarship of his time attempted to link objects with aristocratic owners, Guthman’s “artistic genius,” John Bush, was an otherwise anonymous black farmer. The move to esteem powder horns for their artistic genius continued on page 18

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String Theory The Descriptive Geometric Models of Theodore Olivier By Christine Puza Associate Conservator, Furniture and Wood Objects


he mathematical models of Theodore Olivier exemplify a brilliant convergence of early nineteenth century science, mathematics, art, and craft. Like something out of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, they are at once futuristic, functional, and undeniably decorative. Sheets and tubes of highly polished brass laboriously drilled, cut, pierced, knurled. Wooden cases smooth and golden with the soft patina of many years and hands. The arms of the apparatus are strung with colored strings held in tension, creating sculptural forms that appear strikingly modern. The shapes produced by the web-work of strings—cylinders, cones, parabolas, hyperboloids—are stable, yet able to shift and morph with the turn of a dial or movement of an arm. The models, owned by Union College in Schenectady, New York, were devised and used as teaching tools to illustrate concepts of the new field of descriptive geometry. This branch of geometry addresses the problem of mathematically representing three-dimensional objects accurately in two dimensions, useful in engineering, architecture, and design. Descriptive geometry was recognized as a separate discipline with the increase in technology during the Industrial Revolution. Industrial growth in the early nineteenth century created the need for greater precision in design and representation, and gave rise to the use of higher mathematics to develop accurate renderings of machinery and buildings. Although the history of depicting complex planar views goes back to the Renaissance, the science of descriptive geometry Above, Christine Puza works on two Union College Olivier models. Opposite, detail of the intricate string work of Intersection of an oblique cylinder and an oblique conoid.

was developed during the Industrial Revolution by French mathematician Gaspard Monge (1746-1818), one of the founders of the Paris École Polytechnique, an early engineering school. In the course of his teaching career, Monge developed the use of models strung with strings to illustrate mathematical concepts and ruled surfaces. These models were static and could not show more than one function state at a time. It was Monge’s student, Theodore Olivier (1793-1853), who took the concept of ruledsurface stringed models to its apex. Olivier devised models to demonstrate subtle changes in topography and intersection as surfaces shifted values in real time. Unlike Monge’s static versions, Olivier’s models allowed intersecting surfaces to be moved relative to one another, allowing students to visualize the changing curves when three-dimensional surfaces cross and meet. Born in the French city of Lyon, Olivier was one of the founding members of the École Centrale des Art et Manufactures, a school devoted to “training the doctors of factories and mills.” Olivier was a professor of descriptive geometry and mechanics at the École Central from 1829 until the end of his life. Olivier’s models were a breakthrough in the pedagogy of descriptive geometry. His models were of exceptional quality and clarity, and responded to the utilitarian fashion in nineteenthcentury education for “object-oriented instruction,” emphasizing experiential learning, problem solving, and critical thinking. Olivier’s models were soon in high demand in European and American colleges and universities, where they were seen as indispensable cutting-edge teaching tools. To keep up with demand, Olivier allowed several French firms, Pixii, Père et Continued on page 18 Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 9


Between Science and Culture Saving an eighteenth-century New England herbarium


tephen West Williams was the son of a prominent New England family and a polymath typical of the nineteenth-century educated man. He was a physician, a student of chemistry, a mineralogist, a lecturer on medical jurisprudence. Williams wrote for the New-York Historical Society and the Massachusetts Medical Journal, and produced, among other works, a genealogical history of the Williams family and an historical study of his birthplace, Deerfield, Massachusetts. A product of the Enlightenment, Williams was led by faith in the supreme power of human reason and the conviction that practical empirical knowledge

Top, paper conservators (from left) Leslie Paisley, Rebecca Johnston, and Rachel Childers work on the still-bound herbarium. Above, detail of the spine, showing the signatures. 10  |  Art Conservator  | Summer 2016

had the power to control nature. His motto, which he handlettered on the title page of one of his books, was adapted from Scottish poet Robert Burns: “Seek science in her coy abode.” Around 1816, Williams set out into the “coy abode” of Deerfield’s woods and fields to amass a comprehensive collection of the region’s medicinal and edible plants, and the next year gathered the results in two unique volumes. The first was a herbarium, a kind of scrapbook of the specimens themselves, five hundred preserved plants mounted and identified in pen and ink. The second, companion volume was a botanical description of each species, with information on its medicinal and/or culinary uses. Both volumes are owned by Historic Deerfield, the museum and preservation complex of early American life and architecture. The “American Herbarium,” as Williams called his treasury, is perhaps the oldest collection of New England plants still intact, and of ongoing value to botanists studying the flora of the Connecticut River Valley. Time had taken its toll on the volume, however, rendering the specimens so brittle it was daunting and destructive to leaf through its pages. To both preserve the plant specimens and make the collection accessible for study, the herbarium was brought to the Paper Department of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for treatment. In addition to being a singular scientific resource, the herbarium was also an extraordinary object of material culture. Bound in thick leather darkened and hardened with age, the commercially bound volume measured eighteen by eleven-anda half inches by six inches deep at the fore-edge and one-and-ahalf inches at the spine. When paper conservator Rebecca Johnston first inspected the herbarium upon its arrival at the Center, she was both charmed by its contents and alarmed by its condition. Many of the faded green and browned specimens were compromised by two hundred years of handling and the sheer weight of the book itself. Leaves and stems were damaged or separated, and small bits of plant material had collected in the spine of nearly every page. The binding itself was extremely distorted. Handling of the pages caused the specimens to rub together making it necessary to dismantle the herbarium to save it. “There was no question the book needed to be disbound to preserve the specimens,” said Johnston. Working with chief paper conservator Leslie Paisley and pre-

program intern Rachel Childers, Johnston carefully removed the spine and separated the book’s multiple signatures, the units of eight large sheets folded in half and stitched along the edge to create sixteen pages. Johnston and Childers then treated one signature at a time to preserve collated sections. Williams had mounted plants to a single side of each page only, allowing the sheets to be carefully cut along the spine, yielding two specimen pages. Each page received light cleaning of grime with a dry chemical sponge and re-adhering of loose labels. Before arriving in Williamstown, the herbarium was digitally documented by botanists at Harvard, who collected and identified the loose stems and fragments. As possible, these missing pieces are being returned to the appropriate pages and reattached using wheat starch paste. It is often possible to discern a discolored outline of the missing section, guiding replacement efforts. Pieces too small for reattachment are preserved in archival envelopes, and the powdery remnants of plant matter collected after cleaning are saved in glass containers Each page is placed into a four-ply museumboard sink mat adhered to a four-ply window mat. The pages are secured overall with clear Mylar. The matted pages are then numbered and stored in three-inch archival museum boxes in groups of twenty-five. The description of the treatment is straightforward, but the reality is far more painstaking. As of early August, the conservators were on page 234 of 390 hand-numbered pages. “There are so many pages, keeping track of everything is the biggest challenge,” said Johnston. The treatment, made possible by a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation, will house the Williams’ herbarium in a series of boxes, permitting safe access to this collection for the first time. The thick, timeworn volume, like some

venerable codex of a forgotten civilization, will exist through photographs taken before disbinding. “It gave us pause,” admitted Historic Deerfield librarian David Bosse about the prospect of taking the book apart. “We had to strike a balance between maintaining the artifact and preserving the herbarium as a source of botanical information.” The bowed leather cover remains as tangible evidence of the herbarium’s original form. “It will be like a ghost of the object,” Bosse said, “a shadow of itself.”

Detail of herbarium page during treatment, illustrating how Stephen West Williams attached and labeled the botanical specimens. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 11

WACC News & Notes

Recovered in a barn, artworks by a beloved children’s book illustrator are given a second life


eonard Weisgard (1916-2000) was a beloved illustrator of more

the works. The illustrations arrived at WACC in duct-taped boxes,

than two hundred children’s books. Weisgard’s use of a broad

disheveled and smelling strongly of mildew. Twenty illustrations

range of color in multiple media (gouache, poster paint, crayon,

from the group were chosen and treated for inclusion in the

chalk, pen and ink, etc.) made him an innovator in the world of

exhibition Magician of the Modern: The Art of Leonard Weisgard,

children’s book illustration. His 1937 book, Suki the Siamese Pussy,

at the Eric Carle Museum in spring 2016.

caught the eye of children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown

Upon receipt of the funding, the remaining one hundred

(Goodnight Moon), and together they created fourteen critically

twenty-five works underwent treatment for mold remediation and

acclaimed children’s books including The Noisy Book (1939), Little

rehousing. The illustrations were examined under a microscope

Lost Lamb (1945), and The Important Book (1949).

with normal, raking, and UV light to detect and reduce the

The US-born illustrator emigrated to Denmark in 1969 and

presence of mildew. Then each work was placed for several months

remained there until his death. Recently, some seventy-five years

in a separate sealed package, interleaved with absorbent-treated

after their original publication, Weisgard’s original artworks from

boards to remove mildew odor. The works were then surface

The Noisy Book and fifteen other titles were recovered by his

cleaned overall and rehoused in conservation-quality mat board.

descendants in a barn on the family property in Denmark. Many

Of the initial twenty illustrations that underwent more

of the artworks were marred by mildew resulting from the damp

extensive treatments, one work, Town and Ships, arrived in

conditions where they had been stored. A portion of the cache,

two pieces and was threatened by further discoloring and

totaling one hundred forty-five pieces, was offered to the Eric

damage from acids in the original illustration-board backing.

Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The illustration received consolidation of loose media and a full

The museum contacted Leslie Paisley, chief conservator for

backing removal. The two halves were then lined using Japanese

paper conservation at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center,

paper and rejoined to form a single piece, allowing the flow of the

to assist in preparing a grant application to the Institute of

landscape with its vibrant colors and intricate detail on buildings,

Museum and Library Services for funds to assess and treat all of

animals, and figures to once again be fully appreciated.

Leonard Weisgard, Town and Ships, after treatment. Opposite, a detail showing the work on its original illustration-board mount, in two pieces with crop marks and paper overlay. 12  |  Art Conservator  | Summer 2016

Paolo Scheggi’s Intersurface Curves In the 1960s, Paolo Scheggi was among a group of Italian artists seeking the next horizon in abstract modernism. Scheggi, born in Florence in 1940, invented a technique of sculptural painting in which he superimposed three identical monochrome canvases one atop the other, each layer containing a series of cut and stitched ovoid holes, with the openings offset against those above or below it. The interaction of these cuts created a complex interplay of surface and depth, light and shadow, positive and negative space, at once formal and playful. Scheggi was part of the Spazialismo (Spatialism) movement centered in Milan and a member of the Zero group of European avant-gardists advocating a new relationship of art to society. He died in 1971 and had fallen into obscurity until recently, when his work began a steady rise at auction. The resurgence While not all of the illustrations underwent such extensive repairs, there were several noticeable interventions to illustrations with plastic or paper overlays. Weisgard included the majority of the detail of a drawing within the main image, then added additional color design elements by superimposing sheets of transparent plastic film or translucent paper over the illustration. These overlays, some of which appear black for the

even prompted a newly published catalogue raisonné. Intersurface Curves in Red Orange is one of three Scheggi works cleaned and stabilized at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, all from the collection of Dr. Roland Gibson at The Art Museum at the State University of New York at Potsdam.

purposes of production, were integral to the appearance of the final printed illustration. Many illustrations also contain notations by the publisher in blue or red pencil, often in the form of percentages, applied adjacent to the blocked out areas, indicating density of the halftone dot size. Decades later, the now-yellowed acetate of the overlays created a haze that obscured the underlying illustration. To fully clean the illustrations, it was necessary to remove the overlays, which were rehoused separately sandwiched between two sheets of Mylar in a two-ply window mat. The overlays can be inserted into the illustration sink mat for display purposes. While most of the overlays served to mask certain details of the image, some added vital information, such as a mouse perched on a mushroom, the shadow of a tree, or even the title of the book. After eighteen months, the reclaimed illustrations, cleaned and organized by book title, left the paper lab in conservation-quality mats and boxes. The whimsical settings, vivacious colors, and animated figures of Weisgard’s work could again be appreciated in all its imaginative genius. —Rachel Childers Pre-Program Intern

Paolo Scheggi, Intersurface Curves in Red Orange. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 13

WACC Staff

T‌homas Branchick Director; Conservator of Paintings/ Dept. Head Mary Catherine Betz Conservator of Paintings Rachel Childers Pre-Program Intern—Paper Rob Conzett Office Manager Hélène Gillette-Woodard Conservator of Objects/Dept. Head Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects/Dept. Head

WACC hosts sculpture workshop Eleven staffers from five WACC member institutions took part in a one-day Outdoor Sculpture Maintenance Workshop led by chief objects conservator Hélène Gillette-Woodard. The workshop, designed to instruct museum professionals on caring for bronzes and other sculptures exposed to the elements, featured morning presentations at the Center on planning an outdoor maintenance program and basic maintenance procedures. After lunch, participants moved to Field Farm in Williamstown for hands-on experience treating artworks under the guidance of Gillette-Woodard. Future workshops under consideration include Pest Management, Assessing the Condition of Artworks, and Framing Paintings and Works on Paper. Workshops are open to members and non-members.

Gretchen Guidess Associate Conservator of Objects & Textiles Matthew Hamilton Photography Technician Terry Haskins Assistant to the Director/Accounts Manager Mary Holland Paintings Apprentice Rebecca Johnston Conservator of Paper Henry Klein Conservation Technician Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings Eric Mallet Office Assistant/Technician Leslie Paisley Conservator of Paper/Dept. Head Christine Puza Associate Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects Michelle Savant Conservator of Objects/Atlanta Larry Shutts Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta

Top, workshop leader Hélène Gillette-Woodard demonstrates a conservation technique. Above, participants receive hands-on experience. 14  |  Art Conservator  | Summer 2016

Report from Atlanta

Reviving the luster of a Spanish modernist José de Creeft is renowned as the creator of the great bronze

in the sculptor immigrating to the United States. The couple

Alice in Wonderland sculpture that has attracted generations of

settled in New York City, where de Creeft taught at the New

climbing children in New York's Central Park. But that playful

School for Social Research and later at the Art Students League.

tableau based on Lewis Carroll's surreal heroine is perhaps least

He spent a year teaching at Black Mountain College. He was

representative of the Spanish-born artist's life work. De Creeft

awarded numerous public and private commissions, including

was at once an innovative modernist, working beside the likes of

his Alice seated on a mushroom surrounded by characters from

Gaudi, Picasso, and Calder, and a lifelong Catholic, whose work

her adventures in Wonderland. He completed two sculptures for

is part of the Vatican's Permanent Collection of Religious Art. The

the City of New York, at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center

artist's complex, dynamic presence is evident in his Self-Portrait,

and Bellevue Hospital. Late in his life, he was the subject of

a bronze bust recently brought to the

retrospective exhibitions in the US and

Atlanta Art Conservation Center for

Europe. De Creeft died in 1982. His


ashes buried in Hoosick Falls, New York. His undated Self-Portrait was brought

De Creeft was born in 1884 in Guadalajara, northeast of Madrid,

to AACC by its new private owner for

and spent much of his childhood in

removal of old wax and general cleaning

Barcelona, living with his mother's

to return it to its original red-brown

family after the death of his father.

patina. The first thing one noticed

At the age of 6, young Jose had a

upon examination of the work was how

job carrying stone and sand at the

thick and heavy it is, evidence of the

construction site of La Sagrada Familia,

solidity of the bronze cast. Most bronze

under the eye of architect Antonio

sculptures, despite their appearance, are

Gaudi. Before he was 12, he was

quite light from being cast very thinly. Before treatment, the sculpture had a

sculpting nativity figures in clay to sell outside the Cathedral of Barcelona.

dingy, dry brown appearance, the result

De Creeft's family relocated to Madrid

of a heavy coating of black-tinted wax

in 1900, where he apprenticed with

overall. After initial washing with a non-

the neoclassical sculptor Agustín

ionic surfactant in deionized water to

Querol Subirats. Five years later, he

remove dirt and grime, the waxy coating

was in Paris to study at the Académie

was reduced using warmed xylenes on

Julian. He established a studio in

cotton swabs. A new protective layer of

Montmartre, where Picasso, Juan Gris,

untinted synthetic waxes was applied

and numerous other artists also lived

with gentle heat and a soft bristle brush. Once the sculpture was cooled, the wax

and worked. De Creeft stayed in France for

José de Creeft, Self-Portrait, after treatment.

twenty years, living and working at

was compacted and buffed to create a harder, less porous surface. This formed

the center of the modernist revolution. In 1925, bedridden with

a barrier layer against dirt penetration and helped to saturate the

fever and flu, and having a commission due in a few days time,

patina, thus giving more depth to the colors.

the sculptor is said to have dismantled his stove to create an

In a 1972 artist's statement, de Creeft wrote, “[It] excites me

eight-foot high figure on horseback called El Picador. Based on

to make sculpture. It is my life, it is my way to talk . . . to express

his childhood memories of seeing eviscerated horses in the bull

myself. How should I explain anything further about it? I explain

rings of Barcelona, de Creeft used tire tubes to depict the horse's

myself completely in my work. Instead of words, I use forms. The

intestines exposed by a bull's horn. It was the first known instance

forms are my total expression . . . .” With his Self-Portrait once

of assembling a sculpture entirely with found materials. Around

more returned to its original luster, the sculptor's statement of his

this time, he became a mentor to Alexander Calder, and Calder's

own inner vitality was once more given eloquent expression.

famous circus was first assembled in de Creeft's home. Marriage to the American sculptor Alice Carr in 1929 resulted

—Michelle Savant Conservator of Objects, Atlanta Art Conservation Center

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 15

Powder Horns continued from page 7 and not simply their historical value greatly informed our decisions for treatment. Riegl, who worked for the Commission for the Research and Preservation of Monuments in Vienna, developed his terms in the context of a larger inquiry into the differences between “conservation” and “restoration.” What types of objects could be restored to an “original” state, and which others should be treated with markings of use and decay preserved? Because powder horns were not simply art objects, but also historical artifacts, these theoretical questions become urgent within the space of the conservation studio. If the engraving was the “most important” part of the horn, for example, should we clean off surface dirt to make it more legible? Although the Aaron Page horn possessed serious structural damage, how could we determine if the damage was “historical” or more recent? Would repairing it somehow compromise its authenticity? How, similarly, to approach the Josiah Walker horn, where we knew scraping off corrosion might damage the patina of its brass components? These are common concerns for conservators of historical objects. While many conservators agree that modern or

contemporary art should be conserved according to its artist’s intention, even if that intention has to be inferred, the patinas of ethnographic or historical objects are often preserved because of the “historical information” they record, such as soil, sweat, or grime. Because the patina has been crucial to the object’s value (and perhaps also its historical aesthetic), Hélène,

and I decided not to wet clean the objects. Research revealed that the ink used to inscribe the horns was often a combination of powder residue and grit, and we couldn’t guarantee that wet cleaning wouldn’t damage the decoration. We focused instead on repairing structural damage and stabilizing the objects. We knew it would be impossible to repair the horns fully, and decided that our goal would be to minimize visual distraction. Non-structural signs of age or use, e.g., scratches and patinas, would remain intact. The Walker horn, with its large missing flake, had the most superficial damage and was the simplest to conserve. The damage posed no threat to the object’s structural integrity, so to prevent any further flaking we reattached it with B-72, a strong, thermoplastic resin often used with ceramics and glass. B72 does not discolor or embrittle over time. After applying adhesive to the underside of the flake, we held it in place with silicone-coated mylar. Once the flake was fixed in place, there remained a slight discoloration, which I lightly toned to blend with its surrounding area. To remove the corrosion on the horn’s metal band, I scrubbed the affected areas with a wire brush and coated the entire component with wax to make it impervious to further moisture. Once the wax was applied, I tinted the areas of corrosion with acrylics to match the rest of the metal’s patina. By applying the acrylic above the wax layer, I insured that the treatment could be easily reversed, a basic tenet of contemporary art conservation. With this easier treatment complete, I moved on to more intense conservation procedures, beginning with the extensive pest-related losses of the Levi Whitney horn. Because the horn showed no signs of an active infestation, Hélène and I elected to fill the three largest losses on the horn. While there are many methods by which losses can be filled, we decided to create paper fills, which involved my cutting layers of Japanese tissue to the precise shape of the loss. The paper fill was perhaps a slower method than, say, the use of gesso or paper pulp, but was appealing because it was simpler to tone and layer. More importantly, Japanese tissue was flexible and would allow the horn to move slightly over time without risking further damage. Horn is a hygroscopic material, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air, and we knew that changes to temperature or relative humidity might cause it to

Above, detail of the Whitney horn with the owner’s self-made engravings. Opposite, before-treatment view of the Page horn’s cracked throat. The darker portion is the inner layer of the horn, exposed by cutting away the horn’s top layer, which is scalloped at the edge. 16  |  Art Conservator  | Summer 2016

expand or contract. I attached the first layer of tissue directly to the horn with B72, and continued to build on that. Because the losses were an irregular shape, each layer needed a custom fit. It was precisely through this weeks-long process of cutting paper and layering that I began to understand the meticulous (and, for me, sometimes tedious) labor of conserving works of art, hours of careful effort whose goal is to recede into invisibility. Once the fill was complete, I began the work of in-painting. It seemed simple in theory, but little did I know how many hours, days, and weeks I would spend trying to make acrylic paint look like the patinaed dirt on a horn. Having no background in painting, I had specifically avoided a project in paintings conservation, yet my task was arguably trickier. Instead of trying to match paint to a painting, I was learning to mimic the appearance of natural materials—the particular translucency of horn, the random patterning caused by dirt and debris. For me, in-painting was a long process of painting, frowning, scraping off the paint, re-spackling, repainting, and repeating. Ultimately, I learned a lot about mixing color and how to balance warm and cool washes and light and dark tones to achieve subtle variegation. While Hélène and I didn’t try to mimic any of the horn’s inscriptions with paint, we took care to coordinate our lights and darks with its natural color variations. Finally, the crushed throat of the Aaron Page horn presented the most extreme structural damage and my biggest challenge. Knowing that we weren’t going to be able to restore the horn to an immaculate state, Hélène and I decided that we would at least try to restore its silhouette. We held the horn and pressed down on its cracks to determine whether they contained any flexibility. They didn’t, so we decided to do a light humidification with methocellulose gel to allow us to safely move the shards into a new position. The gel allowed the horn to absorb moisture without applying liquid directly onto its surface. The gel helped a bit, and we determined which edges of the horn we could reasonably push together. To join these cracks, we improvised a system of clamps and coated the cracks with two layers of B-72. We left the horn untouched for a few days to allow the B-72 to cure, and when we removed the clamps, all our repairs held. The next step involved more paper fills. These were trickier than on the Levi Whitney horn, because the gaping holes in the cracked Page horn allowed no backing support. Using dental

tools to access the horn’s interior, I glued pieces of toned Japanese tissue to the interior edges of the cracks. After attaching the paper and building a base layer, I used toned gesso to fill in the horn’s

holes. Shaping and sanding the gesso to a smooth finish, I tried to imitate the natural curves of the horn as accurately as possible. Once I was satisfied with the silhouette, I used a combination of reddish-brown raw umber and green acrylic paint to match the dark color of the horn’s throat. Using light washes mixed with a translucent gloss, I built the paint layers to match the color and sheen of horn. At the same time, I took care to only tone the gesso layers. There remain some spots around the break where the horn has flaked and turned a lighter color. I avoided toning those areas, however, to prevent the paint’s damaging the fragile flakes of horn. After finishing these major treatments, I gave each horn a good rubdown with a cosmetic sponge to rid it any loose dirt and grime, and with that, the conservation process was complete. It bothered me a bit that the horns didn’t look drastically different from when I’d started. Some part of me had hoping for a dramatic reveal, where I’d scrub the grime off the horns and they’d appear gleaming and clean, and the engravings would be crisp and legible. But that was part of the lesson. Art conservation, at least in this case, required the application of restraint. It was an exercise in respecting the horns not only as “folk art,” but also as historical artifacts. Our concern was to stabilize the objects and preserve their patina, to emphasize their embeddedness in history. While I could not inscribe by name upon these horns, at least literally, it pleases me to have contributed another layer to their history. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 17

Olivier models, continued from page 9 recruited students to help as he began a complete restoration Fils, and, later, Fabre de Lagrange, to manufacture copies of of a selection of the models. The task involved removing the his prototypes. Demand was so great that sale of his models continued long after his death in 1853, winding down in the 1890’s. dark olive-green oxidation from the brass surfaces to reveal a bright golden shine, then coating the metal with a clear The set owned by Union College is reportedly the one that lacquer. Stone also replaced missing and damaged strings, no Olivier produced himself, building some of the models at least small undertaking given the complexity of the designs. The partially with his own hands. The collection was purchased finished work was so good that it is only now, five decades from Oliviers’ widow in 1855 by William Gillespie, who taught later, that the models have once again begun to show the civil engineering at Union. When Gillespie died in 1868, the effects of time. models were purchased by the College from his widow. Thanks to the previous treatment, in particular the They were in use until the 1930s, when they fell out of favor. thorough coating of the metal, the first group of models No longer used as teaching tools, the mathematical models arrived at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center had a second life owing to their intricate beauty and mystery. in good condition Olivier’s models were overall. Treatment was a source of inspiration straightforward. Of for modernist sculptor particular concern were Henry Moore, who saw those areas where the them at the Science coating had selectively Museum in London. failed on the metal “I was fascinated components, leaving by the mathematical black oxidation spots models I saw there, where air had reacted which had been with the bare metal. This made to illustrate the occurred predominantly difference of the form around hinges and other that is halfway between articulated pieces, where a square and a circle,” Theodore Olivier’s Surface of a half cylinder, after treatment. the brittle lacquer likely Moore recalled decades cracked away as a result later. “One model had of movement. The remnants of the coating were removed over a square at one end with twenty holes along each side. . . . these spots with appropriate solvents and the oxidation polished Through these holes, rings were threaded and lead [sic] to a away to match the reflectance of the surrounding area. A new circle with the same number of holes at the other end. A plane lacquer coating was then applied. In areas such as pivots and interposed through the middle shows [sic] the form that is hinges, wax was used as a coating to protect the surface from halfway between a square and a circle… It wasn’t the scientific study of these models but the ability to look through the strings oxidation while still allowing parts to move. The wood cases were aqueously cleaned to remove years of as with a bird cage and see one form within the other which accumulated dust and handling grime, then waxed to bring excited me.” out the subtle figure and patina of the wood. The wood for the Contemporary sketches and subsequent sculptures Moore cases is likely white walnut, a common European variety for produced demonstrate the enduring aesthetic influence the small boxes and casework. The stringing overall was in good models had on him. Sculptor Naum Gabo and architect Eero condition and required no attention. The treatment left the Saarinen also used the ruled mathematical curves and space newly conserved models free of dust and dirt, stabilized, and similar of Olivier’s models in their creative concepts. protected from further oxidation. A selection will be placed on display in front of the President’s Office at Union College, At Union College, the models were stored in the attic of the while others will be returned to their original campus home, in Math department from the 1940s to the 1960s. In the sixties, a display case in the Mathematics building. they were rediscovered by a mathematics professor who 18  |  Art Conservator  | Summer 2016

TechSummer Notes, Summer Tech Notes, 2016 2015

Panel-Back Stretchers and Backing Boards By Mary Holland Paintings Apprentice

Figure 1: Jasper Cropsey, Greenwood Lake, before treatment.

In the nineteenth century, technical innovations in artists’ materials introduced an increased array of commercially manufactured products to the United States. Pre-prepared canvases and artist’s boards, synthetic pigments and paint in tubes, and portable studio supplies to better facilitate plein air painting excursions were all marketed for their ease of use and purported improvement upon more traditional methods and materials. These “new and improved” tools of the trade sometimes had disastrous consequences, such as the irreversible ground staining that blights some nineteenthcentury paintings, the result of badly primed commercial canvases. But progress did not always result in unintended harm. The panel-back stretcher, another invention of the time, is a prime example of careful forethought and consideration regarding the stability and longevity of paintings. Studying the history and application of this auxiliary support can help us better understand and care for paintings in our present-day collections management and conservation practices. Panel-back stretchers, also known as panel stretchers or blind stretchers, were typically wooden stretchers adapted with the addition of panel inserts between stretcher members. The stretcher was fitted with a rail system allowing thin wooden panels to be fitted inside the stretcher frame, adding a protective layer for the back of the painting. The panels do not come into contact with the canvas, and these composite stretchers were typically produced by cabinetmakers and highly skilled woodworkers. While the exact circumstances of its invention are lost, the panel-back stretcher is probably American in origin, appearing sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century.1 These unusual stretchers were favored by artists of the Hudson River School, having first gained popularity with Thomas Cole on his oversize landscapes of the 1830s–1840s.2 Via mentorship and apprenticeship, the use of paneled stretchers moved from artist to artist in the group, to include Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Jasper Cropsey [Fig. 1], among others. As their usage increased, various design improvements appeared from manufacturers and purveyors like Parker & Clover, Charles C. Schmitt, and Wright and Gardner.3 The cost of panel-back stretchers was quite high compared to that of traditional stretchers. In one documented instance, Thomas Cole paid $15.00 for a panel stretcher when the average cost of a basic stretcher used by Cole was $1.25.4 Despite this increased financial expense, artists continued using panel stretchers for a very prudent reason: they were highly effective in protecting paintings. During the nineteenth century, an increased understanding of painting methods and materials persuaded artists to apply new technical innovations to their practices so as to preserve their Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  19

Tech Notes, Winter 2016 2016 Tech Notes, Summer

artworks into the future. Cleaning campaigns of paintings at the National Gallery in London during the 1840s offered insights into how artworks age. Likewise, newly published manuals and books emphasized the importance of proper technique.5 An active exchange of ideas between artists, scholars, collectors, and museum and gallery staff encouraged new practices in the guardianship of artworks. Albert Bierstadt, an avid user of the panel-back stretcher, was keenly aware of the various theories and procedures in art conservation in his time. In a letter dated June 27, 1877 to William MacLeod, curator of the Corcoran Gallery, Bierstadt highlighted his key concerns regarding the preservation of paintings: Figure 2

My Dear Sir, I have had a talk with Mr. Volmering, who in my opinion is as well informed as any man I know in this country upon the matters connected with the restoration and preservation of pictures. He says that in Berlin and Vienna the principle [sic] galleries have had the backs of the stretcher frames covered with calico or thin cloth and then covered with shellac and glue. This keeps out all moisture and dust and preserves the canvas. The panel back does the same and I generally have both sides covered with shellac before the canvas is put on. This prevents the wood from absorbing moisture in any way and I think it very rare that even in dry times the canvas remains tight whereas in the ordinary stretcher the canvas is tight or loose according to the weather. This must be bad. The colors we use are not elastic like rubber, and consequently the picture must crack in time. I think it would pay you to have Mr. Volmering come down for a day or two and give the picture we talked about an overhauling. He has a preparation of varnish that does not “bloom,” which as you know is a very desirable thing to guard [?] against. He would not charge you any more than a tenfh [sic] above his expenses. It stands to reason that dirt in any form is bad for a picture, it is sure to rot the canvas in time and I have known of so much dirt collecting upon the back of a canvas as to sustain vegitable [sic] life. You can understand this when a picture hangs against a damp wall. I enclose [?] Mr. Volmering’s address and if I can serve you in any way please command me. Sincerely Yours, A. Bierstadt6

Figure 3

Bierstadt’s direct reference to panel-back stretchers in this letter and his understanding of their abilities to protect paintings from dirt and dampness were well founded. Assessments of panel stretchers by conservators today have revealed that their benefits are numerous. Panel stretchers act as barriers to environmental pollutants such as dirt, mold spores, smoke, etc., diminishing the deteriorating effects these agents have on textile supports. Panel stretchers also shield the reverse 20 | Art Conservator | Summer Conservator | Winter 2015 2016

of paintings from water, and buffer the effects of relative humidity, a result of wood’s intrinsic hygroscopicity, the ability to absorb water vapor. This protection from moisture reduces expansion and contraction of the canvas that can cause cracks and cupping of the ground and paint layers. The addition of panels also mitigates stretcher-bar marks by diminishing the phenomenon of two distinct microclimates that affect the canvas verso —one, where the canvas is exposed to the elements, and a second, where the canvas is covered by stretcher bars. The transition point between these two zones is where stretcher-bar marks occur; however, a panel-back stretcher eliminates this. Damage from physical impact on the face or back of a painting can be prevented or lessened by panel stretchers, and vibrations from travel or improper handling can be reduced.7 Although preservation theories of the nineteenth century were amiss in other ways, they hit the mark with the creation of the panel-back stretcher. A landscape by Jasper Cropsey recently brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center offered an opportunity to examine an original nineteenth-century panel-back stretcher. The 1869 painting, titled Greenwood Lake, is mounted to its original panel-back stretcher and awaits treatment by our conservators. Measuring 45.5 by 64.5 inches, the painting’s auxiliary support consists of a seven-member, four-panel stretcher with mitered corners, two horizontal rails, and tenoned vertical braces. The pine panels are inserted into channels in the rails and vertical braces [Fig. 2]. The channel on the bottom rail of the stretcher is detached and the groove wall rests against the canvas. The proper right panel has shifted out of its channel, pushing against the canvas and creating distortions along the proper right edge of the painting. Another panel is slightly bowed, and the stretcher is missing the majority of its necessary keys. Last, but not least, one of the four panels is missing, leaving a section of the canvas verso exposed [Fig 3]. The section of exposed canvas offers a revealing insight into how well panels protected an artwork, a point made obvious after inspection of the damage on that part of the painting corresponding with the missing panel. Inspection of the face of the painting reveal that the paint layer has a very fine network of drying cracks across much of it, hardly distracting to the eye. The most concentrated area of these drying cracks covers the sky, creating a coral-toned pattern from underlayers that introduces a warmer wash over the setting sun. A closer look at the sun and its halo, however, reveals instances of heavier cracking through the ground and paint layers in addition to the drying cracks [Fig. 4]. These age cracks display cupping and lifting of the paint, which without intervention risks further detachment and eventual losses. It is no coincidence that this area of increased damage to the ground and paint layers corresponds to the missing stretcher panel. The gap in protection has exposed the canvas to fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity that in turn disrupted the stability of the painting. The current condition of Cropsey’s Greenwood Lake highlights the complex pros and cons of panel-back stretchers. The limitations are most notable when the stretchers are compromised. Damage to the stretcher’s structure has introduced planar distortions in the support, and the missing panel has increased the risk of environmental agents affecting the canvas, ground, and paint layers. Yet the painting also testifies to the panels’ potential, when kept properly intact, to protect paintings from intervening agents and minimize the effects of aging. The condition of Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  21

Figure 4

nineteenth-century paintings that have maintained their original panel stretchers can be truly impressive. The distinct lack of stretcher bar marks, craquelure, planar distortions, and canvas deterioration can be admired on such well-preserved paintings, especially when compared to other paintings of similar age on conventional stretchers. Unfortunately, the instances of pristine paintings with intact panel-stretchers are limited. Numerous past restorations of paintings with panel stretcher supports resulted in the replacement of said stretchers. These stretchers were most likely discarded due to their substantial weight and inconvenient handling, especially so on the oversized Hudson River School landscapes. While not without inherent risks, the preventive preservation abilities and historic importance of original panel-back stretchers presents a strong argument for keeping this type of auxiliary support intact.8 The treatment proposed for the Cropsey at WACC includes repairing the panel-back stretcher to secure the channels and replace the missing panel, in addition to stabilizing the painting itself. While panel-back stretchers may not be appropriate for all paintings on textile supports, the contemporary practice of applying backing boards to the verso of stretchers is an effective substitute. A variety of materials have been used as backing boards over the years, such as cardboard, foam core, and mat board, though these materials all have their own set of inherent drawbacks. Currently, the best option available is Coroplast®, a type of rigid, corrugated plastic sheet. Heat resistant and chemically stable, this material provides an excellent shield from physical impact. If applied properly without gaps or “ventilation holes,” this type of backing board prevents contaminants and dirt from accumulating on the canvas verso. While backing boards may be dismissed as undue or optional, the efficacy of panel-back stretchers and their important role in early preventive conservation provide a convincing argument that backing boards are a basic necessity for most paintings. 1. Katlan, Alexander W., “Panel-Stretchers.” American Artists’ Materials, Vol. II: A Guide to Stretchers, Panels, Millboards, and Stencil Marks. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1992. 37–40. 2. Katlan, 1992. 37–38. 3. Hartwell, Dare Myers with Ross Merrill. “Panel Stretchers.” 2007. Paintings Conservation Catalog, Vol. 2: Stretchers and Strainers. Barbara A. Buckley, compiler. Washington, D.C.: The Paintings Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation, 2008. 186187. 4. Katlan, 1992. 497-500. 5. Mayer, Lance and Gay Myers. “Bierstadt and Other 19th-Century American Painters in Context.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 38.2 (1999). 62–67. 6. Transcription of original letter as it appears in fig. 267-269 of “A Note on the Materials Used by Albert Bierstadt in his Late Paintings” by Dare Myers Hartwell in Katlan, 1992. 520-522. 7. Prins, Steven. “Panel-Stretcher Design for Conservation.” Postprints of Papers Presented at the Seventeenth Annual Meeting, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 31-June 4, 1989. Washington, D.C.: The Paintings Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation, 1989. 24-25. 8. Hartwell and Merrill, 2007. 189-191.

Mary Holland is a Paintings Apprentice at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. A native of Williamstown, Mary worked as a Registration Assistant at the Clark Art Institute before joining WACC to pursue a career in art conservation. In 2012, Mary received a B.A. in Art History from Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand.

22 | Art Conservator | Summer Conservator | Winter 2015 2016

Members of the Consortium


Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,

T‌he Rockwell Museum of

Art Conservation Center

Cornell University

Western Art

227 South Street, Williamstown, MA 01267

—Ithaca, NY Historic Deerfield, Inc. —Deerfield, MA

Addison Gallery of American Art,

Hood Museum of Art,

Phillips Academy

Dartmouth College

—Andover, MA Albany Institute of History & Art —Albany, NY Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection —Chazy, NY T‌he Arkell Museum —Canajoharie, NY Arnot Art Museum —Elmira, NY Art Complex Museum —Duxbury, MA The Art Museum, State University of New York —Potsdam, NY Bennington Museum —Bennington, VT Berkshire Museum —Pittsfield, MA Bowdoin College Museum of Art —Brunswick, ME Charles P. Russell Gallery, Deerfield Academy —Deerfield, MA T‌he Cheney Homestead of the Manchester Historical Society —Manchester, CT Colby College Museum of Art —Waterville, ME Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art —Amherst, MA Farnesworth Art Museum —Rockland, ME

—Hanover, NH

—Lawrenceville, NJ Mead Art Museum, Amherst College —Amherst, MA Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester —Rochester, NY Middlebury College Museum of Art —Middlebury, VT

—Ogdensburg, NY Gershon Benjamin Foundation, —Clayton, GA Harriet Beecher Stowe Center —Hartford, CT

—Clinton NY

‌he mission of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a

nonprofit institution, is to protect,

of our cultural heritage; to provide examination, treatment, consultation

—Northampton, MA

and related conservation services for member institutions, and for

Sterling and Francine Clark Art

other nonprofit organizations,


corporations and individuals; to

—Williamstown, MA Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris Foundation

conduct educational programs with respect to the care and conservation of works of art and objects of

—Lenox, MA

cultural interest; to participate in the

Union College

training of conservators; to promote

—Schenectady, NY Williams College Museum of Art

the importance of conservation and increase the awareness of

—Williamstown, MA

the issues pertinent to collections

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum —South Hadley, MA

care; and to conduct research and

Munson Williams Proctor Arts

disseminate knowledge to advance


the profession.

—Utica, NY Museum of Connecticut History —Hartford, CT

Atlanta Art Conservation Center

Neuberger Museum,

6000 Peachtree Road

Purchase College, State University

Atlanta, GA 30341

of New York —Purchase, NY New Hampshire Historical Society —Concord, NH New York State Office of General Services, Empire State Plaza Art Collection —Albany, NY Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge —Stockbridge, MA Colgate University

Frederic Remington Art Museum


conserve and maintain the objects

Smith College Museum of Art,

—Springfield, MA

—Cooperstown, NY

—Poughkeepsie, NY

of Art at Hamilton College

Springfield Museums

Picker Art Gallery,

Vassar College

The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum

—Glens Falls, NY

Fenimore Art Museum Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center,

—Corning, NY

T‌he Hyde Collection T‌he Lawrenceville School

Mission Statement

—Hamilton, NY Plattsburgh State Art Museum —Plattsburgh, NY Portland Museum of Art —Portland, ME Preservation Society of Newport County —Newport, RI Rhode Island School of Design

Alabama Historical Commission —Montgomery, AL Booth Western Art Museum —Cartersville, GA Brenau University —Gainesville, GA Columbia Museum of Art —Columbia, SC T‌he Columbus Museum —Columbus, GA High Museum of Art —Atlanta, GA Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art —Demorest, GA Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts —Montgomery, AL Morris Museum of Art —Augusta, GA Telfair Museum of Art —Savannah, GA

Museum of Art —Providence, RI

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 23

W W W . W I L L I A M S T O W N A R T. O R G



W I L L I A M S TO W N , M A 0 1 2 67




PE R M IT # 370



U . S . P O S TA G E



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