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 7, N U M B E R 1 • S P R I N G 2 0 1 2
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Contents, Spring 2012
Art Conservator Volume 7, Number 1 • Spring 2012 Director Thomas J. Branchick Editor Timothy Cahill Art Direction and Production Berg Design, Albany NY Photographer Matthew Hamilton Contributors Hugh Glover, Lauren LaFlam, Zoë Samels, Michelle Savant, Larry Shutts Proofreader David Brickman Office Manager Rob Conzett Accounts Manager Teresa Haskins Printing Snyder Printer, Troy, NY Williamstown Art Conservation Center 227 South Street Williamstown, MA 01267 www.williamstownart.org 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.
On the cover William Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr (detail), faced in Japanese tissue during treatment.
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3 Director’s Letter 4 Nymphs Reborn
Conservation casts new light on William Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr By Timothy Cahill 8 The Talladega Murals
Hale Woodruff’s Amistad masterpiece embarks on a national tour By Larry Shutts
Pinning Down History
Insects, America, and the Art of John Hampson By Zoë Samels 16 WACC News & Notes
Mongolian conservator completes residency; reconstructing David Deconstructed; Roy Lichtenstein’s Wallpaper 18 Report from Atlanta
Polish and shine for a surrealist sculpture
Original Picture Frames on Watercolors by Charles Burchfield By Hugh Glover
From the Director
A few weeks ago I completed one of the most complicated treatments of my career, William Adolphe Bouguereau’s huge painting Nymphs and Satyr, owned by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institutute. The structural part of the treatment was straightforward. The canvas’s 1942 lining peeled away with ease. Removing the adhesive residue was just as easy—it swelled with moisture and was merely a repetitive exercise. The protective facing tissue did its job keeping the paint film intact. The cleaning and cosmetic treatment, however—that was complicated. We knew that the painting was abraded during the 1942 cleaning. We also knew that a thick, syrupy varnish was applied at that time to cover up the abrasion and linear ridges from the botched lining. Removing the discolored varnish was the intent of the conservation campaign. This required the curatorial authorities at the Clark Art institute to reach a consensus on the degree of cleaning. There were many sleepless 3AM-ers on this one. Remembering the controversy surrounding the Sistine chapel cleaning, one faction leaned toward maintaining the painting’s brownish veil of age. My concern was, what did the artist intend? In the last issue of Art Conservator, I forecast that “that big white tushy was going to be a lot whiter.” How much whiter created some debate, but much discussion later the question was resolved to everyone’s agreement. The cleaning balanced the highlights of flesh in the composition, which in my opinion is what the painting is all about. You can travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the picture is on loan, to see this glorious painting in its new clothes—or more correctly, lack of them—or wait until its return to Williamstown when the Clark reopens in 2014. Speaking of the Clark’s expansion, I walked up the earth berm overlooking the construction site where our old building used to be. Nothing was there except a small pile of rubble and, after a fleeting moment of nostalgia, my mind quickly hastened to the space that we are in. We sure have moved up, which is evident in the picture below. Marc Simpson at the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art sent along a point of correction regarding our Fall 2011 issue. The article incorrectly reported that the Willem de Kooning painting Labyrinth had not been on exhibition since 1946, but Mark aptly pointed out the large painting was exhibited in the early 1990s at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where he was curator, after which it went to the Addison Gallery in Andover. Turns out there were several “debuts” prior to last year’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. —Tom Branchick
The newly-lined Nymphs and Satyr in the paintings lab prior to cleaning.
Chairs used by summer visitors at Stone Hill Center stand empty as autumn makes its arrival in the Berkshires.
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Nymphs Reborn Conservation casts new light on William Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr By Timothy Cahill On a March day in 1934, Robert Sterling Clark spent the day at the Manhattan Storage Company, a storage and warehouse firm that occupied a full block in midtown Manhattan. After inspecting the wine cellars and making arrangements to have a large stock of his own vintages transferred there, the multimillionaire collector was taken on a tour of the art storage galleries, where he encountered a painting he hadn’t seen for more than thirty years. Clark recorded the finding in his diary. I saw the famous 1873 Bouguereau ‘Satyr & Nymphs’ again which used to be in the old Hoffman House bar. It really is a fine picture. Marvelous nudes especially the back of one . . . . Except by men of a certain age, the picture Clark discovered—Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau— had been all but forgotten by 1934, though it was once the most infamous artwork of Gilded Age New York. From 1882 to 1901, the monumental depiction of four sportive nymphs pulling a goat-man into a wooded pool was the centerpiece of the Hoffman House bar, the most famous hotel barroom in America, made famous in part by that very painting. Its image had decorated cigar boxes, plates, urns, and bathroom tiles, and the painting had been viewed by an assortment of celebrities and dignitaries from Buffalo Bill to Ulysses Grant—even Tchaikovsky saw it following a performance at Carnegie Hall. For three decades, every swell in New York made his way to Broadway and 25th Street to partake of Nymphs, where its heady
combination of aesthetics and eros was displayed beneath a red velvet canopy. Once a week, ladies were permitted in. To Sterling Clark, it was “the Hoffman House of my youth.” This would have been around 1899, the year that Clark, heir to Singer Sewing Machine millions, graduated from Yale and entered the Army to fight in the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. Clark then served in China during the Boxer Rebellion until 1902. By the time he returned to New York, the Hoffman House was under new ownership and Nymphs had disappeared into storage. The picture did not fade from consciousness at first, despite being gone from view. In 1905, cartoonist E.A. Filleau celebrated Nymphs and Satyr in a drawing titled, “Weary Walker at Art Exhibit.” A patched and matted hobo contemplates the Bouguereau in a posh salon. “I’ve traveled the world over and tramped every spot on the map,” the vagabond aesthete muses, “but I’m damned if I can locate that brook.” 1905 was also the year Bouguereau died, in La Rochelle, France, the town of his birth. He had once been the most successful artist of his day, but by his passing his reputation was also nearly expired. As Bouguereau lay on his death bed, six hundred kilometers south in the Mediterranean sun Henri Matisse was inventing Fauvism; in Paris, Picasso was just two years away from resequencing the DNA of Western art with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. After World War One, the art world accelerated ever more quickly away from what modernists considered the dead past. Nothing represented the rotting corpse more than the polished sentimentality of nineteenth-century French academic painting, for which Bouguereau was the exemplar and last great acolyte. Bouguereau was not dead thirty years when Clark found his greatest masterpiece forgotten in a midtown warehouse, but it may as well have been three centuries. By the 1930s, Bouguereau was persona non grata in modernist history, and only someone whose artistic sensibility was formed amid the opulent paneling of the Hoffman House would have felt much affinity for Nymphs. Clark was such a man. He made inquiries about buying the picture the same day he saw it. Fast-forward eight years. Clark has not forgotten Nymphs and Opposite, Nymphs and Satyr (1873) by William Bouguereau, after treatment. This page, detail before treatment, showing surface imperfections..
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Satyr, nor has he had any luck obtaining it. By 1942, however, the owner of the painting had died and his estate was willing to entertain offers. That June, Clark added the picture to his everexpanding art collection, which spanned Western art from Piero della Francesca to Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Degas. At once, he devised a way for Nymphs to become the talk of Manhattan and support the French Resistance in the process. (As a young man, Clark had lived many happy years in now Nazi-occupied Paris; it was where he began collecting art and met his French wife, Francine. He also owned property there.) The painting was placed on exhibit at the upscale Durand-Ruel Gallery with a twenty-five-cent admission, proceeds going to the Fighting French Relief Committee. The event drew the attention of every editor and announcer in New York. Befor e pl acing Nymphs and Satyr on exhibition, Clark sent it to an art restorer named Murray to stabilize the original canvas, which had ripped loose at the edges. This is when the tale begins for the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, where the painting was conserved earlier this year. Now owned by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Nymphs had been brought to WACC for treatment prior to an extended loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting arrived at the Center just before Christmas and was worked on between January and April. For whatever reason, Murray was not up to the job Clark hired him to do, which involved reinforcing the existing canvas with a lining, and cleaning and revarnishing the painting. Perhaps it was the size of the Bouguereau, some eight feet by six feet, that stymied Murray. Perhaps he worked too fast, or was not skilled at his trade. Or perhaps he was insufficiently sensitive
to the materials and techniques of high French academicism. Whatever the reason, the one-named restorer made a noticeable hash of the picture’s surface, and seventy years later undoing his work was at the heart of the WACC treatment. Bouguereau had used a thin linen support with a very fine weave for his painting, which allowed him to achieve the enamel smoothness of its finished surface. Heedless of this, Murray lined the painting with a heavier, coarser canvas, one guaranteed to show its texture through the linen. He followed this by restretching the newly-lined painting before the adhesive had fully cured. The result: radical flaws in the varnish and paint layers that were instantly obvious in raking light. Two horizontal welts, impressions made by the stretcher against the still-soft liner, marked the picture one-third and two-thirds of the way from the top, the lower welt embossing a line through the small of the back of the main nude figure. The face of the painting was additionally marred by a network of irregular corrugations, alluvial ridges and furrows that showed bright highlights along their spines and cast a web of thin shadows. The effect of this uneven texture, caused by imprinting of the course lining on Bouguereau’s original “handkerchief linen” support, was exactly like ripples breaking the surface of a pool. In glancing light, you couldn’t see through them to the nymphs below. Murray cleaned the painting by thinning but not entirely removing Bouguereau’s original dammar varnish layer. Over this, he applied a thick layer of mastic varnish, a substance that yellows quickly with age. Additional varnish was added in 1956, the year Sterling and Francine opened the museum they’d built for their art treasures. The picture went untouched for three decades, until 1984, when it traveled as part of a major Bouguereau retrospective to Montreal and Hartford.
Stages of treatment, from left: WACC director and head paintings conservator Tom Branchick removes stretcher tacks after protecting the paint surface with Japanese tissue prior to lining removal; checkerboard washing of residual adhesive on original support; removing 6 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
In preparation for the tour, a synthetic varnish was applied to protect the paint surface and mask the imperfections of the 1942 restoration. Since then, the painting, perhaps the most memorable in the Clark collection, had been viewed through four layers of varnish going back to 1873. Varnish is pale yellow when applied and mellows to a tawnybrown with oxidation. This, augmented by ambient atmospheric debris, is what provides the “golden glow” of Old Master paintings. Museum-goers come to regard this discoloration as a patina of venerable tradition, and many are upset when it is removed to reveal often brilliant colors in place of once-muted tones. While correcting the picture’s surface flaws involved the relatively straightforward procedure of removing the old lining and replacing it with a newer, more appropriate fabric, what to do with the varnish was much more complex. The 1984 synthetic layer was easily removed, but the question was how much of Murry’s thick mastic varnish to take off. Cleaning windows exposed a starkly brighter painting than anyone was used to. As the old mastic coat was slowly lifted off, the nymphs’ Coppertone tans were transformed to blushing alabaster. The glow of the skin tones echoed notices Nymphs had received when it was first exhibited in the 1873 Paris salon. Of the four dryads, critic Jules Claretie observed, “the gloss of their skin could only have been obtained through long, repeated baths in almond milk. The [flesh] of the nymphs of Mr. Bouguereau . . . bring to mind pink silk, even more than the pulp of some tasty fruit.” Removal of the varnish required consultation between senior conservators and the Clark curatorial staff. Tom Branchick, chief paintings conservator and WACC director, performed the treatment only after repeated meetings with Clark personnel to determine how much of the original paint layer to reveal.
The question was not merely one of the varnish, but also of the stability of the paint itself. Bouguereau created stunning visual effects through the layering of thin washes of color, glazes and scumbles that excessive cleaning might threaten. In many cases, leaving the varnish untouched was the most prudent way to protect the artist’s subtle passages of light and dark. The removal of the old varnish revealed more than the painter’s original palette. The signal quality of Bouguereau’s technique, for both admirers and detractors, is its glossy surface, what one scholar called the “school of the invisible brushstroke.” With the varnish removed, this is no longer entirely the case. The cleaned canvas now shows signs of Bouguereau’s fine, controlled brushwork, and gives a powerful impression of the shifting, darting movements of his hand as he spread and blended the pigments. This physicality animates the newly conserved painting. Beyond the obvious pleasure of four undraped females, there are additional visual delights. Light shimmers across the picture plane, leading the eye in a graceful dance of highlights and reinforcing the complex dynamics of Bouguereau’s composition. Charming details are visible once more, the silken hair of the nymphs, for instance, or the evocative brushwork in the vegetation along the pool. There is an area just behind the satyr’s profile, framed by the arms of two women, which was an indistinct graygreen smudge before cleaning but now glows like stained glass. Nymphs and Satyr, surely the finest Bouguereau in this country, is for all its silly subject matter arguably a great painting. Now, for the first time in over a century, we can better see the painting as the artist intended. Critical reassessments in the past thirty years have ended the artist’s exile as an art-world nonentity, though his rehabilitation is hardly complete. Nymphs as it can now be seen is likely to influence this process.
old varnish with cotton swabs and solvent; cleaning window detail revealing skin tones and sky before and after treatment; Branchick discusses treatment options with Clark Art Institute director Michael Conforti. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 7
Conserving the Talladega Murals Hale Woodruff’s Amistad masterpiece embarks on a national tour By Larry Shutts In 1938, Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980) was commissioned by Talladega College to produce a series of murals for the college’s new library, then under construction. The library would be named for William Savery, the former slave who had co-founded Talladega College, and the college wanted the murals to reflect the struggle and triumph of African-Americans. Woodruff was thirty-eight years old and wellknown in the South and beyond; he had worked with Diego Rivera in Mexico, exhibited in Atlanta, and gained a reputation for his frank, evocative depictions of the suffering and dignity of his people. The subject of the project’s first three murals would be a largely forgotten episode in the history of American slavery, the revolt in 1839 by thirty-five kidnapped Africans on the Spanish slave ship Amistad. The uprising and subsequent capture of the Africans was a cause célèbre in the United States in its day. In 1841, former president John Quincy Adams argued for the Amistad defendants before the Supreme Court, which granted them their freedom. A foundation established to support the triumphant Africans eventually provided seed money to found Talladega College, one of the country’s leading institutions founded for the education of African-Americans. Woodruff’s murals revived both scholarly and popular interest in the uprising; in 1997, Steven Spielberg retold the Amistad story in a film that used Woodruff’s murals as source material. The Amistad murals depict the three dramatic climaxes of the narrative, the shipboard revolt, the courtroom trail, and the Africans’ repatriation to their home country of Sierra Leone. Woodruff completed three additional murals for the library, one depicting the Underground Railroad and two celebrating Talladega College and Savery Library. The Talladega Murals have long attracted visitors to the college’s Alabama campus, and will soon be seen by many more as they begin a three-year tour to museums around the country. Before exhibition, the murals were removed from the walls of Savery Library and brought to the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, the southeast’s largest conservation facility, founded by the High Museum of Art and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. The removal and treatment were led by AACC chief paintings conservator Larry Shutts and assisted by conservators Michelle Savant and Thierry Boutet. Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College opens at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on June 9 and continues through September 2. From there it travels to Indianapolis and other major cities, including Dallas, New York, Washington, New Orleans, Hartford, Detroit, and Birmingham. Below, in excerpts from an essay in the exhibition catalog, Larry Shutts, Associate Conservator of Paintings at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, discusses the artist, the murals, and the conservation treatment necessary for their exhibition.
T Opposite, The Revolt, the first of a sequence of three Amistad murals by Hale Woodruff at Talladega College. Above, Atlanta paintings conservator Larry Shutts conducts solvent tests on one of the murals. 8 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
he conservation treatment of Hale Woodruff’s Talladega College murals was both a challenging and rewarding experience peppered with excitement, innovation, and discovery. Before the murals could be removed from Savery Library, their home for more than seventy years, we had to perform extensive examination and documentation of their existing condition. The initial examination revealed that despite the lack of environmental controls, and despite having been on continuous display since 1939 and 1942, the murals were in surprisingly good condition, with only scattered areas of insecure paint, rolling canvas distortions,
and some localized damages. The murals appeared colorful and lively; we would not fully appreciate the extent of the obscuring dirt covering the surface and how it concealed the true vividness of the imagery until cleaning began much later. The foremost intention of the conservation treatment was to stabilize the murals in preparation for both an extended traveling exhibition schedule and continuing long-term display at Talladega College. Treatment of the murals began in April 2011 with preparations for their removal and transportation to the state-of-the-art facilities of the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, an affiliate of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and High Museum of Art. . . . Upon arrival at the Conservation Center, the murals were unrolled, photographed, and further studied. Areas of insecure paint that had been protected for transport with Japanese tissue were fully consolidated, and the lifting paint was secured and returned to its proper place.1 Once the paint layer was stabilized, removal of seventy years’ worth of accumulated surface dirt, soot, and grime could begin. The murals were installed shortly after their completion, without the application of a traditional varnish layer. Varnish acts both as a surface saturator that enables colors to be seen
without the interference of light scattering, and as a sacrificial protectant onto which dirt and grime are deposited. Without the protection of a varnish layer, porous paint combines with the dirt layers, making complete removal complicated, because the paint and dirt occupy the same space. The safe separation of one from the other requires an advanced level of care and skill. . . . A two-part cleaning system was developed. The first involved the application of a mild aqueous cleaning system that successfully removed the greater part of the surface contaminants without disturbing the delicate paint surface.2 What remained after the first cleaning was greasy, sooty dirt that responded well to a mild organic solvent solution.3 Cleaning progressed across the surface following the natural delineations of the composition. Cleaning each new passage began with a new round of testing, with each section requiring slight modifications of the general cleaning system’s strength or proportions depending on the sensitivity of the paint layer and the tenacity of the dirt layer. After cleaning, the murals were backed with a secondary fabric, called a lining, and attached to custom-crafted wooden stretchers.4 The decision to apply a lining fabric and to stretch the previously free-hanging murals accords with the original Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 9
intent of the project to prepare the paintings for an extended, multiyear, traveling exhibition and then for perpetual display in Savery Library. The construction of the stretchers was difficult due to the sheer size of the two largest murals, The Court Scene at 71 by 242 ¼ inches and Opening Day at Talladega College at 69 ¾ by 243 ½ inches. The murals would not have fit into most museum elevators or hallways, nor would they fit through the doors and up the stairs at Savery Library. Working with the stretcher maker, we developed an innovative “folding” stretcher design that allowed the largest murals to be both safely transported to the various venues and to fit back into their original home. The stretcher design consists of a 2 by 2 ¾ inch “T” profile, with eight vertical and two horizontal crossbars. A 38-inchwide dropout section of the stretcher allows the center portion of the canvas to be detached while retaining support at both ends. This removable dropout made it possible to wrap the painting around a large-diameter tube and to secure the now dimensionally wider but much shorter mural into a specially constructed shipping crate.5 Once stabilized, cleaned, lined, and The final two Amistad murals, Return to Africa, top, and The Court Scene. 10 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
stretched, the murals were ready for the process of correcting the damages that had occurred during their years on display. The number of damages was small and mostly limited to paint loss due to water damage-induced flaking, small holes and tears from original and remedial attachment efforts, and errant house paint from architectural molding touchups. Canvas tears were mended and areas of missing paint filled to match the level and texture of the surrounding original paint;6 paint loss was retouched using pigments ground in reversible synthetic resins;7 and to prevent future dirt and grime accumulation from penetrating the paint surface, a thin spray of reversible, non-yellowing synthetic varnish was applied.8 Several fascinating discoveries were made during conservation treatment, beginning with a pencil signature found on the reverse of Return to Africa mural even though the murals themselves are unsigned; the signature is not, as expected, that of Hale Woodruff, but of his studio assistant Robert Neal. In
addition, the tacking margins of the murals—the areas at the perimeter that were obscured by wood moldings—contain extensive passages of color testing that reveal some of Woodruff’s working techniques. Though based on comprehensive sketches, the murals were works in progress even after their installation at Talladega College. Changes to the composition made during execution have now become visible to us today due to the increasing translucency of the oil-based paint layers. As oil paint ages, its refractive index increases, rendering it more transparent. This natural aging process allows underlying, once painted-out passages to become visible once more. The most exciting of these discoveries revolves around the Return to Africa. In the lower right corner, lying against the trunk at Cinqué’s feet, is an adze, a tool used for squaring up lumber or hollowing out timbers. When the lower molding was removed, we saw that a significant change had been made to the composition after the work’s installation. The adze, which begins at the molding line and displays a less-skilled hand in execution, had originally been painted as a long gun with the barrel pointing directly at Cinqué. The butt of the stock, once masked by the molding, is now visible. Additionally, now visible because of the old paint’s translucency are the flint lock mechanism, the barrel, and its strapping, all visible through a veil of paint representing the wooden handle of the adze. . . . Early in my research to prepare for the conservation treatment, I gained an appreciation for the importance of Woodruff’s works, their beauty and their place in art history.
During the murals’ removal, it became clear how important these works were to the Talledega community. Woodruff’s murals are much more than just decoration, even more than superb examples of the art form: they are intimately tied to the heritage and legacy of the school. At one point, before the removal of the first mural, a student—one of many who had convened in the lobby of Savery Library that day—pulled me aside and asked a favor. He made me promise that the murals would receive the best of care, that nothing bad would happen to them, and that they would returned in better condition, ready to be seen and enjoyed by future generations of students. Promise kept. 1. In-laboratory consolidation was accomplished using twenty-five percent BEVA 371b in toluene activated with a miniature tacking iron. 2. The initial cleaning system consisted of a two-percent triammonium citrate solution - a solution of citric acid in deionized water adjusted to desired pH using ammonium hydroxide at a pH of seven on cotton swabs. 3. The initial cleaning was followed by a one-to-one mixture of deionized water and naphtha on cotton swabs. The greasy grime responded well to the mild organic component of the naphtha/ deionized water mixture while the deionized water cleared any remaining citric acid from the initial cleaning. 4. The canvases, though robust, required additional support to remain planar. The murals were adhered to Sunbrella one hundred percent polyester fabric prepared with BEVA 371b on the vacuum hot-table. 5. A twenty four-inch diameter tube was used to support the section of the canvas where the stretcher dropout was removed. Additional strengthening of the lining fabric in the area of the dropout was achieved through the adhesion of 10 -Mil Mylar® sheeting to the reverse of the lining fabric using BEVA 371b. 6. Tears were mended using Lascaux Textile Welding Powder 5060 (Nylon 12 powder) activated with a miniature tacking iron. Filling was accomplished using Beckers Latexspackel. 7. Retouching was performed using Golden MSA colors. 8. Varnishing was accomplished using five percent solids Paraloid B-72 acrylic resin in toluene and xylenes.
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Pinning Down History Insects, America, and the Art of John Hampson By Zoë Samels 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 two-semester fellowship provides the student with the opportunity to pursue an interest in American art through the research and conservation of an American art object. This year’s Lenett Fellow, Zoë Samels, worked with a collage constructed entirely of entomological specimens, from the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Ms. Samels worked with the guidance of Hélène Gillette-Woodard, head of the Center’s objects department. The project culminated in a public lecture and exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art. The article below was excerpted and edited from that lecture.
he tall tale of John Hampson goes something like this. In December of 1906, Hampson, a 70-year-old machinist living in Newark, N.J., was injured after falling out of a moving streetcar. He brought suit against the North Jersey Street Railway Company, seeking $10,000 in damages because, he claimed, his wounds prevented him from hunting butterflies and beetles—a hobby that required him to walk forty to fifty miles every day. Neither the veracity nor the verdict of Hampson’s supposed lawsuit can be confirmed, but the peculiar project of natural history he left behind evidences his claim of entomological
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erudition. Over the course of his life, Hampson created a singular series of intricate collages assembled from tens of thousands of insect specimens he’d caught himself, each work illustrating a colorful scene of Americana. One of these works, Hampson’s General Slocum, was the focus of my Lenett Fellowship during the 2011-2012 academic year. The scant information we know about John Hampson comes from a copy of an obituary clipped from an unidentified newspaper, which also contains the only photograph we have of him. According to the article, Hampson was born in Cheshire, England, where he was trained as a machinist. He came to the United States in 1860. During the Civil War and not yet an American citizen, Hampson worked in the government navy yards. He lived or stayed in thirteen states—picking up an interest in insects along the way—until 1877, when he settled in Newark with his family. He worked briefly for Thomas Edison in the inventor’s Menlo Park laboratory. When he died in 1923, his collages were found hanging on the walls of his small home in Newark. If the fruits of Hampson’s labor were not here in front of us, a description of these works would seem as exaggerated as Paul Bunyan’s ox or John Henry’s race against the steam-hammer. Over a period of roughly fifty years, he created eleven strange shadowboxes from the bodies of more than 70,000 butterflies, moths, and beetles. Hampson collected these specimens on his aforementioned walks, armed with a net and a cyanide-laced killing jar. It is tempting to frame John Hampson’s reinterpretation of familiar American imagery, which ranges from portraits of presidents and war heroes to intricately designed flags and stars, within the constructs of Outsider, Folk, or Self-Taught Art. Certainly the little we know about him—his day job as a machinist, the excessive scale of his entomological efforts— resists easy artistic categorization. Like many artists whose work is termed Outsider or Self-Taught, Hampson used found materials, drew his subjects from existing visual culture, and kept his works private.
Hampson’s entire oeuvre now resides in the collection of the I found it most helpful to think about this work as it relates Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. to American folkways – not only in art, but also in literature Termed “Bug Art” by the museum’s staff, the curious collages and music. Tall tales, blues songs, quilt patterns—these works came into the Fairbanks’ collection in 1977 through the estate use the vernacular to give voice to an invisible American of the artist’s daughter. Seven of these works are currently on experience. Cultural critic Greil Marcus used the term “Old, display at the museum in two glass-fronted cabinets, sharing Weird America” to describe an early anthology of American the alcove with a giant replica of a horsefly. Three collages: folk recordings that served to launch the 1960s folk revival. Hampson’s work is much the same. I hoped that a closer look at General Slocum, a portrait of George Washington, and an abstract, kaleidoscopic General Slocum might design, are considered help me understand too damaged to Hampson’s vision of exhibit. The Fairbanks old, weird America. Museum staff estimate Hampson’s that each collage took collages piece the artist three to four together their iconic years to complete. Americana with a Hampson’s kind of entomological General Slocum shares pointillism. Though its basic forms with his insect specimens the commemorative are largely attached statue of Major intact, the artist General Henry Warner did not hesitate to Slocum, erected in transgress the rules 1902 on the battlefield of scientific specimen of Gettysburg. The handling for his own visual parallels between visual ends, often collage and statue cutting through bodies are many: in both, and wings to get the General is on the neat boundaries horseback, perched between shapes that atop a white pedestal allow him such fine bearing an inscription detail. His breakdown plaque. Hampson of subject matter is also evokes the similarly fluid: beetles, Above, General Slocum by John Hampson, after treatment. Opposite, memorial’s placement moths, and butterflies Lenett fellow Zoë Samels at work on the insect collage. within Gettysburg’s are used for both landscape by including a pair of cannons located in the statue’s representational and decorative ends indiscriminately. In all immediate vicinity. the works, he used the dark thoraxes of insects to create lines Slocum led his Union forces in several battles in the war’s that radiate around the central images, infusing them with a Eastern Theatre, as well as in Georgia and the Carolinas. rhythmic energy reminiscent of beating insect wings. When During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the young I first noticed these lines, I was reminded of Lincoln’s famous general delayed leading his troops into the bloody skirmish, evocation of the “mystic chords of memory” that sound from earning him the derisory nickname “Slow Come.” His statue’s battlefields and soldier’s graves, which he believed potent inscription offers a more favorable view on his leadership at enough to one day rebuild a more perfect Union. Hampson’s Gettysburg, repeating his entreaty to his fellow Union officers works express this collective American memory, but the world that they must “Stay and fight it out,” as the battle waged on they envision for the viewer remains mysterious. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 13
WACC News & Notes
To create the work’s large fields of color, Hampson arranged white and orange moths in neat lines. Smaller shapes, such as the General’s indigo jacket and his horse’s coat, are constructed from layers of wings stripped from their hosts’ bodies. The exact species of these winged insects resist easy identification. Hampson used beetles of various colors and sizes to add decorative detail to General Slocum. The work exhibits at least six varieties of beetles, four of which I have been able to identify. Ladybugs make up the first two inscription lines, the horse’s bridle, the cannon spokes, and parts of the five-pointed stars. Tiger beetles are used exclusively in the foreground, their narrow shape mimicking the green blades of the Gettysburg’s lawn. Shiny flea beetles, identified by their black bodies and reddishbrown heads, are used for the remaining lines of Slocum’s dedication, on the corner stars, the cannons, and the horse’s tiny hooves. Iridescent green dogbane beetles fill in the wheel and star motif along the sides of the tray and the cannon wheels. The back of the work bears a paper label that is neither original to the frame nor part of the Fairbanks’ accession process, but is nonetheless a piece of General Slocum’s history. Dated 1938, it reads: “Picture made of butterflies and beetles collected and made by the late John Hampson in the year of 1904. The number of butterflies and beetles used in this picture is 9,751.” The artist’s other collages exhibit similar labels Detail of collage, showing Hampson’s use of butterflies as line and color. Opposite, containing equally precise specimen counts. a butterfly mounted by the author to study the artist’s collecting process. General Slocum’s most visible damage revealed, one can imagine how the viewer was transformed into was the loss of thousands of moths and butterflies across the statue and its pedestal, giving these sections a haziness at odds a spectator, suddenly privy to a strange sight hidden from view. with Hampson’s usual visual clarity. All that remained was a The tray’s backboard is covered with a wooden pinning platform, which itself is overlaid with sheets of off-white coated field of empty pins, its ground littered with bits of wings and desiccated bodies. The damage was the result of a second-wave paper. Where the specimens have been lost, you can see how insect occupation, this time as an infestation of pests that Hampson gridded out the marble base section of the collage treated the collage as a boxed lunch. While no active pests to guide his placement of the specimens. The butterflies and remained, their dried larva cases were scattered throughout the moths are held in place with thin entomology pins clipped tray. For reasons unknown, the orange-hued butterflies and the close to the bodies, the wings lightly adhered to the coated beetles proved unappetizing and remained intact. paper with a natural adhesive, possibly hide or fish glue. The Along the sides and bottom of the collage, a number of beetles are affixed to cut paperboard shapes in linear rows with beetles had come loose from their paperboard supports and shellac and sometimes hide glue. Hampson camouflaged these collected along the bottom edge. The patches of exposed supports with paint or wax in corresponding colors. for three days. Hampson’s repeats this maxim in his portrait and crowns Slocum a “Great Northern Hero.” Identifying Hampson’s subject matter laid the foundation for my examination of the work’s structure and materials, the first step in the conservation treatment. General Slocum is housed in its original pine shadowbox fitted with a matching frame. At one point in the work’s history, a roll-down shade was attached at the top, evidenced by visible holes and wear on the wooden frame. As the shade was lifted and the work
14 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
adhesive and shellac they left behind showed signs of flaking, cracking, and discoloration. Because such a brittle support leaves the beetles particularly vulnerable to vibration, even regular handling of the work could have caused damage and had to be carried out carefully. The work’s wooden backboards were unstable, having bowed outward over time. Such flexing can occur when boards are exposed to changes in humidity or if the grain of the wood is incorrectly aligned. Storing the object on its back, as happened with General Slocum, can exacerbate this problem. The flexed backboards had placed stress on the pinning board and coated paper, causing a two-inch tear in the paper immediately above the inscription plaque. Throughout my treatment, I was careful to always rest the shadowbox on several layers of foam padding. Once the areas of instability had been documented, one step remained before I could begin treating the collage itself. Because Hampson used a variety of organic and inorganic materials, I needed to be sure that the adhesive I used to reattach the insects and repair the paper tear did not put the work at risk for further deterioration. This was a particular challenge given the dearth of conservation scholarship on preserving insects in a work of art rather than preventing or eradicating them. I began cleaning the collage with a soft-bristled paintbrush, dusting each beetle body and around the paperboard shapes. I also removed debris, insect casings, or loose specimens from the work’s surface, paying particular attention to the bottom ledge of the frame. I decided not to clean the moths or butterflies because of their fragility, although I did dust the exposed entomology pins. If a beetle came loose during the cleaning, I set it aside and marked its original location. Across the statue and pedestal, I adhered any fragments of butterflies and moths that seemed in danger of becoming completely detached from the work. I decided not to attempt any additional liquid cleaning of the exposed pins or tacks due to the risk of corrosion. The only inorganic materials in General Slocum were dark glass spheres and beads for the eyes of both horse and rider and for Slocum’s buttons. These were cleaned with a solution of fifty percent de-ionized water and fifty percent ethanol applied with a cotton swab, taking care to prevent any of the solvent from bleeding into the surrounding insect materials. The tear in the paper support could not be repaired with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, as originally hoped. The aging paper was too brittle and the crack too narrow for this relatively invasive technique. Instead, I brushed a small amount of BEVA adhesive on top and under the overlapping tear, just enough to lightly saturate the paper. A small piece of wet
strength tissue paper was laid on top to soak up any additional moisture and secured with a small weight. The collage was loosely covered and allowed to dry overnight. The shadowbox’s glass front was cleaned with a solution of deionized water and ethanol and large cotton swabs. After drying. I repeated the process with a microfiber cloth. This completed, the shadowbox was reassembled and the change was striking. The rows of orange moths seemed to radiate out in frozen waves from the work’s central figure. Each insect was identifiable as a discrete form. Issues of stability aside, a good cleaning was primarily what General Slocum needed. Like any good tall tale, the story of John Hampson leaves me with the suspicion I’ve been hoodwinked, both by the artist and the curious collages he left behind. With a folk hero’s confidence, Hampson placed his work comfortably between entomology’s rational empiricism, the mutable mythology of American history, and art’s mysterious draw. Attempts to locate a singular meaning of Hampson’s work get lost somewhere between his hazy biography, his orderly rows of insects, and his choice of iconic historical subjects. And yet, these moth-strewn microcosms continue to invite viewers in for a closer look, prompting perpetual curiosity. When General Slocum returns to the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium later this spring, it will be hung alongside several of Hampson’s collages in much better condition. It might seem a mistake to reinstall a work so damaged. Yet in some way, General Slocum’s losses are the viewer’s gain, providing a peek at Hampson’s working process. That this insider knowledge does little to damper the compelling weirdness of these works, that it in fact only makes them less comprehensible, is a strong argument for the inclusion of “John Hampson’s Bug Art” not only in the field of art history, but also into the canon of America’s tall tales.
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 15
WACC News & Notes
Mongolian conservator completes residency at WACC
n ongoing educational initiative between the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and conservators from Mongolia
how to use it. Luk and Larry Shutts, associate paintings conservator at the
continued as the Center hosted Nyamma Davgadorj for a
Atlanta Art Conservation Center, traveled in May to Ulaanbaatar
six-month residency in the WACC paintings department. The
to provide Davgadorj’s colleagues intensive training in the use of
residency, funded by the Asian Cultural Council, was part of a
the new vacuum hot table. Both table and training were funded
multi-year exchange program between WACC and Mongolian
by the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. A
cultural agencies and institutions including the Ministry of
supplemental grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding
Education, Culture, and Science, the Arts Council of Mongolia,
funded Shutts’s participation,
and the Cultural Heritage Center in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. This was Davgadorj’s third residency at the Center, and by far the longest. Previous stays, in 2009 and 2010, were a month in duration. The six-month period, from November 2011 through April, allowed the 28-year-old conservator to immerse himself in
“Right now,” Luk said, “Nyamma is the only one who has experience with the vacuum hot table, so that in itself puts him in a leadership role.” Davgodorj’s influence in Mongolian conservation and preservation activities is likely to increase. As a result of his work
at WACC, he has been
invited by the University of Delaware Graduate
“I learned a great deal more,” he said, in diffident
School to attend its
but able English. “The
Winterthur Program in art
last two times were short.
conservation as a visiting
This time, six months,
scholar. The invitation
I worked on many
will allow Davgadorj to
paintings. I worked on
supplement his practical
many different paintings,
experience at WACC with
and many different [types
academic theory and
scientific study. The most dramatic
Cultural preservation is an emerging profession
in Mongolia. There are
encountered during his
no formal education
recent residency involved
programs in the country,
WACC paintings conservator Cynthia Luk with Nyamma Davgadorj.
a work by the eighteenthcentury British genre
and conservators traditionally travel abroad for training. The exchange with WACC
painter William Shayer. The painting came in with heavy overpaint
was arranged by WACC paintings conservator Cynthia Luk, who
from a previous restoration. In the course of removing the old,
acted as Davgadorj’s mentor and supervisor.
discolored paint layer, Davgodorj made one of those discoveries
“I’m very proud of Nyamma,” said Luk. “I was looking for
that gives conservators goose pimples. In a small, nondescript
projects that filled voids in his training, so he acquired some
section on the horizon, he found three figures that a previous
treatment experiences he’d never had before. I think by now,
restorer had painted out of the scene.
adding up all his training over all these projects, he has quite a broad spectrum of experience.” His training in Williamstown has made Davgadorj among the most experienced conservators in his country, and in one area of
“First I cleaned the sky,” Davgodorj explained. “Then I found three interesting things. We decided to clean, and in cleaning, these figures appeared.” In the formerly blank place, two travelers, one mounted on
treatment, the use of a vacuum hot table for relining canvases,
horseback and the other walking beside, have reappeared, a
he may be its leading expert. Until recently, there wasn’t a
small grace note restored to the composition.
vacuum hot table in his country. The Center for Cultural Heritage, Davgadorj’s home institution, acquired one of the tables, which is a staple in advanced conservation practice, a few months ago. But until Davgadorj arrived home in early May, no one there knew 16 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
“Nayamma handled the reconstruction beautifully,” Luk commented. “There is texture there. He’s a very talented artist.” Davgodorj bowed his head slightly at the compliment, but a look of pride filled his eyes.
Reconstructing David Deconstructed
Treatment began with gentle
This intriguing sculpture titled David Deconstructed is a privately
removal of the surface grime
owned work made in 1988 by the artist H. Lee Hirsche. The artist
using a variable-speed vacuum.
created a whimsically intricate tableau that sits atop a wood
Remaining soil was removed
base and portrays the construction—or dismantling—of a bust
with small cotton swabs lightly
resembling Michelangelo’s David. The bust, made of painted
moistened with deionized water.
polymer resin, appears monumental next to the team of Lilliputian
The damaged and broken areas
workers, but the tabletop sculpture is only eighteen inches high
of scaffolding were repaired
by fourteen inches in diameter.
using dilute gelatin and a
The miniature construction site compels the viewer to take
polyvinyl acetate emulsion as
a closer look as the scaffolding (populated with workers and
necessary. Some of the delicate
equipment) spirals around both the inside and outside of David’s
repairs were reinforced with
head, even spilling onto the wood base. Close inspection is
Japanese tissue toned to blend
rewarded with painstaking details of industrious tradesmen,
ladders, winches, and real metal chains. While the scaffolding
Cracks noted in the bust were
and ladders are wood, the miniature figures and equipment are
consolidated with dilute gelatin,
painted plastic (with some metal details). A ground of coarse
which did not affect the polymer
sand completes the scene.
resin and fed well into the fine
H. Lee Hirsche was born in 1927 in New London, Conn., and
cracks. Since the composition
studied under Josef Albers at the Yale School of Fine Art. Hirsch
of the resin was not identified,
eventually became professor of art at Williams College, where he
the water-soluble gelatin was
started the studio art department and taught for thirty-two years.
felt to be safer than an acetone
A talented and prolific artist, Hirsch created drawings, paintings,
or hydrocarbon-soluble adhesive, since certain polymers can be
and sculptures in a variety of media throughout his life. H. Lee
sensitive to these solvents.
Hirsche died in 1998 at the age of seventy-one. David came to the lab with minor damage and a heavy layer
H. Lee Hirsche’s David Deconstructed.
The client wanted a bell jar or domed cover, to protect David Deconstructed from surface dirt while lending an appeal to the
of surface dirt. The delicate scaffolding had the most issues
sculpture reminiscent of works in cabinets of curiosity. Finding
with breaks and broken sections requiring repair. Cracks were
a bell jar to accommodate the work was challenging; after an
also noted in the bust that were not visually distracting but a
extensive search a glass company was located that modified a
structural concern. The surface grime was particularly distracting
Pyrex vacuum bell jar to fit the work. The treatment and cover
and thick in some areas as the owner was appropriately cautious
returned David Deconstructed to a true visual delight.
about cleaning delicate aspects of the piece.
—Lauren LaFlam The WACC Paper Department recently mounted Roy Lichtenstein’s Wallpaper with Blue Floor Interior for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. The fivepanel screenprint was mounted on separate aluminum honeycomb panels aligned to create a seamless image almost thirteen feet wide and eight-and-a-half feet tall. The mounting process required weeks of careful preparation, three paper conservators, precise math and a steady hand, as the prints required trimming to the final printer’s dimensions prior to mounting. “This redefined our concept of the words ‘large’ and ‘teamwork,’” remarked chief paper conservator Leslie Paisley on completion.
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 17
Thomas Branchick Director; Conservator of Paintings/Dept. Head Mary Catherine Betz Associate Conservator of Paintings Thierry Boutet Assistant Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta John Conzett Office Manager
Report from Atlanta
Polish and shine for a surrealist sculpture Among the many fascinating objects to have come into the Atlanta Art Conservation Center lately, Ernest Trova’s Walking Jackman was particularly interesting. The owners live in Atlanta, but this piece is located on the balcony of their Naples, Florida residence overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. This led to some concerns about its final treatment. Trova (1927-2009) was a self-trained painter and sculptor whose work aligned itself to the American surrealist and pop art movements. He often based his figures on comic book drawings, and commented that he considered his whole output a single work in progress. Originally a painter, he became known for his sculpture. He lived all his life in St. Louis. Walking Jackman is made of highly polished stainless steel. The sculpture is comprised of six identical figures radiating outward from a solid base in the shape of a child’s jack.
Kristan Goolsby Office Assistant/Atlanta
The piece was thickly coated with what was most likely polyurethane, which had aged and
Hélène Gillette-Woodard Conservator of Objects/ Dept. Head
and was beginning to haze and delaminate in places.
Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects/Dept. Head
small metal bits embedded during the casting process. Areas of green corrosion were found
Matthew Hamilton Photography Technician
before it was reduced with a stiff brush and rinsed with acetone on cotton swabs. This
Teresa Haskins Accounts Manager
cloths and deionized water. Several applications of the gel were needed to fully remove
Rebecca Johnston Conservator of Paper
solvent-cleaned twice using soft cotton cloths and petroleum benzene, followed by ethanol,
Henry Klein Conservation Technician
base plates was reduced using 0000 steel wool and ethanol. The screws were solvent-
Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings
corroded areas of the main sculpture with soft cotton swabs.
Cynthia Luk Conservator of Paintings; International Projects
which already has a history of corrosion, would be threatened by the atmospheric salt off
Jennifer McGlinchey Assistant Conservator of Paper and Photographs Leslie Paisley Conservator of Paper/Dept. Head Michelle Savant Associate Conservator of Objects/Atlanta Larry Shutts Associate Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta
discolored; in places it resembled an orange peel. The coating had scratches, pits, cracks, The stainless steel on all of the base plates had pitting and corrosion along the sides. There was also brown and orange-brown corrosion around all of the surface inclusions, mostly around feet or on bases. A solvent gel was brush-applied over the sculpture’s surface and allowed time to work broke down the coating enough to facilitate removal with finer brushes and soft cotton the coating. Each piece was given a final rinse with deionized water. They were then followed by acetone. Active corrosion on the ferrous screws that hold the bodies onto their cleaned and coated with Renaissance wax. A polishing compound was applied to the The owner did not want the pieces to be recoated. A big concern was that the metal, the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, a final round of solvent cleaning was not performed, which allowed the wax in the polishing compound to remain in place and protect the sculpture. We recommended the owners polish it twice a year, and they agreed. —Michelle Savant, Associate Conservator of Objects
Sandra L. Webber Conservator of Paintings
Ernest Trova’s Walking Jackman, reinstalled after treatment. 18 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
Tech Notes, Spring 2012
Description of Original Picture Frames on Watercolors by Charles Burchfield By Hugh Glover Head Conservator, Furniture and Wood Objects The examination of frames reveals information about the tastes and priorities of artists, collectors, and society at large. Frames are a snapshot of the age that produced them; the frothy, intricate decorations of the Italian rococo period stand in stark contrast to the restrained aesthetic that marks English neo-classical design. A case in point are eight frames on watercolors by Charles Burchfield from the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute. They were brought to the Center for examination and description in preparation for a future exhibition and catalog. The eight frames held works created between 1929 and 1948 and ranged in size from the smallest, just under 29 by 37 inches, to the largest, 65 by 57 inches. The titles reflect the artist’s affinity for nature and the visionary energy his work: Sphinx and the Milky Way [Fig. 1], Flame of Spring, Apple Orchard, Country Blacksmith Shop, Lace Gables, Pussy Willows, Skunk Cabbage, and Village in the Swamps. All of the frames are original to the paintings they enclose. Figure 1 Seven of the eight pictures were in the collection of Edward Wales Root, Burchfield’s longtime patron and confidant. Root bequeathed twenty-one Burchfield painting to MWPAI. The frames are made of commercial, mass-produced rail stock that Burchfield painted off-white or grey, sometimes painting over existing commercial gilding. In some cases he augmented the frames with carving or widened them with additional wood strips. All the frames retain a plain appearance that occasionally slouches toward the rustic. Their simplicity, notes MWP director emeritus Paul Schweizer, makes the frames look “like poor cousins” beside more opulently reframed Burchfields in other collections. In examining the frames, a number of criteria were considered: Professionally Made vs. Artist’s Shop Made The terms “professionally/commercially made” and “artist’s studio” made are used to distinguish between commercial production by a mill or frame shop and work completed by the artist or his assistants. Relatively crude construction methods and materials are understood to be from the artist’s studio. The artist’s studio would have had access to a table-saw if it fabricated the liners on Sphinx and the Milky Way, Apple Orchard, and Flame of Spring. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 19
Tech Notes, Spring 2012
R ail Stock Most of the rails and liners are a pale hardwood, probably maple; the rails on Apple Orchard, Flame of Spring, and possibly Sphinx and the Milky Way are softwood, probably pine. The various profiles for the rails were commercially prepared with a spindle molder machine (shaper), where the wood was passed by a spinning head fitted with profiled cutters. Spindle molding machines were introduced circa 1850 and they were well developed by the twentieth century for accuracy and volume production. Corner Joints The artist’s studio would have received either assembled frames (with separate liners) or long lengths of rail stock for cutting to size and joining. It is quite possible that corners glued with hide glue were commercially prepared and those with white PVA glue were prepared by the artist’s studio. Apple Orchard has PVA glue and Sphinx and the Milky Way and Flame of Spring, whose corners are hidden, may have PVA glue. Consistent nail technique and hide glue in Country Blacksmith Shop, Lace Gables, Pussy Willows, Skunk Cabbage, and Village in the Swamps suggests professional assembly. The corner joints were all completed before paint was applied. Liners All eight frames have flat or beveled liners painted after assembly with matte white or off-white paint that contrasts with the color and luster of the frame paint. The liners on Sphinx and the Milky Way, Apple Orchard, and Flame of Spring appear to have been made by the artist’s studio since they are cruder and show table-saw marks. Profiles No two frames are identical in their size or molding profile, however all frames, except Flame of Spring, have a rounded ovolo or torus top molding followed by a cove, and these profiles are similar enough to assume they came from the same commercial mill shop. The outer profiles on Sphinx and the Milky Way and Country Blacksmith Shop are the same, and the profiles on Pussy Willows and Skunk Cabbage are the same but for additions to the back edge on Pussy Willows. Modifications The outside profiles on Pussy Willows and Lace Gables were widened by the artist’s studio with added wood strips (the first strips on Lace Gables appear to have been professionally added); their corners are shaped with simpler rounded forms. Apple Orchard has wood blocking for support, Sphinx and the Milky Way and Flame of Spring have build-ups for support, and Flame of Spring also has added strips to increase the rebate depth, all added by the artist’s studio. Painted Finishes All eight frames are painted, either off-white and toned and distressed (abraded to resemble wear and reveal color), or painted variegated grey colors and distressed (Sphinx and the Milky Way, Apple Orchard, Flame of Spring). The liners and the grey colors are matte, and the off-white frame colors are satin gloss, probably a period oil paint. The grey paint on Apple Orchard is water soluble. The extent of distressing the 20 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
Sphinx and the Milky Way 1946 Overall size: 64 ¾” x 57” x 2 ¼” Rail
sections C and the liner were
width: 6 1/16”
added by the artist’s studio. The
Profile Frame: Ovolo top molding (1), a small ogee (2), a flat (3), a cove (4), a torus (5); the outside profile is a cove (6), a small ovolo (7), and a small cove (8). Liner: Flat with bevel at sight edge.
by the artist’s studio, including the
wood lengths to which twelve lengths of section A were added (three lengths per rail). The corners of A and B are mitered, of C are butt joined and secured
commercially brass-gilded wood;
with corrugated nail fasteners; the
the paint is purposefully variegated
corners of the liner are mitered
and distressed to reveal the three
and secured with corrugated nail
paint colors. Liner: matte white
fasteners. The end-grain seams
and mitered corners on A are
with brass gilded surfaces;
Sections B and C are continuous
glued, and nailed; the corners
professionally prepared moldings
piecing of section A.
Three tones of matte grey paint on
Sections A and B were
assembly of the frame parts was
secured with corrugated nail fasteners. The frame and the liner were painted before they were fitted together with angled nails.
1 Flame of Spring 1948 Overall size: 47 7/16” x 37 ¾” x 2” Rail width: 4” Inscriptions Top rail, ink on paper label: W-61 Charles E. Burchfield Flame ——Sp —— [partly fragmented]. Profile Frame: Small fillet top molding (the only frame without a torus/ ovolo top molding) (1), a beveled flat main profile(2), cove outside profile (3). Liner: Flat liner (4) with rounded sight edge (5). Paint Decoration Frame: Two tones of matte grey paint over commercial brass leaf gilding. The gilding is barely visible. Liner: Matte white paint. Assembly The two parts of the frame, A
and B, were glued together, shaped, and gilded commercially. The rails were mitered and joined with glue and nails. Section C was added to the back by the artist’s studio and secured with long nails from the front that were bent over on the back of C; the corners of C are butt joined and secured with corrugated nail fasteners. The frame was painted grey over the gilding and the paint laps onto section C. The liner was probably prepared by the artist’s studio; the corners are joined with miters, glue, nails, and corrugated nail fasteners. The liner was painted before fitting to the frame with angled nails. Section E is a simple nailed addition by the artist’s studio to increase the rebate depth.
4 5 D
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 21
paint varies; for example, the paint on Lace Gables and Pussy Willows (the two carved frames) is more distressed than the paint on Blacksmith Shop and Skunk Cabbage. The liner paint was not distressed. The same off-white satin gloss paint type and color were used on five frames, Country Blacksmith Shop, Lace Gables, Pussy Willows, Skunk Cabbage, and Village in the Swamps; this group is similar in profile, wood type, liner, nailing, gluing, etc., implying they were framed during a short period rather than the seven year period of completing the artwork (1929 to 1936). Two of this group of five (Lace Gables, Pussy Willows) have outer-edge modifications added by the artist’s studio and the satin paint is continuous over the additions, implying the satin paint was also applied by the artist’s studio. Gilding Five frame profiles were supplied with commercial brass-leaf gilding: Sphinx and the Milky Way, Flame of Spring, Lace Gables, Pussy Willows, and Village in the Swamps. The gilded finish was painted over by the artist’s shop and the paint was distressed to reveal small amounts of gilding; the paint on Flame of Spring is less distressed and the gilding is barely visible. The gilding on Village in the Swamps has a red preparation layer revealed by the distressing. Generally, the earlier gilding is now more visible due to chipped paint. Carving The corners on two frames, Lace Gables and Pussy Willows, were elaborated by the artist’s studio with simple carving using a rounded file or rasp to form a symmetrical pattern of hollows. The carving cut through the commercial brass gilded finish and the filed surfaces were relatively rough when paint was applied.
Pussy Willows 1936 Overall size: 41 3/8” x 33 ¾” x 2 ¼” Rail width: 4 ½”
Inscriptions Proper left rail, pencil: Leave width as it is, cut length to 33 in. (33 1/8 exact) Top Liner, pencil: Still Life Bottom rail, pencil: Add stretcher frame (3/4” to show). Still Life. Cut for 25 ½ x 33 (25 5/8 x 33 1/8) [rebate size] Profile Frame: Ovolo top molding (1), a cove (2), a small ogee (3); outside profile with two coves (4). Liner: Beveled flat (5). Paint Decoration Frame: Off-white satin gloss with a thin dark toning glaze, lightly distressed, over commercial brass-leaf gilding. Liner: Matte off-white paint. Note: The same pallet was used on the frames for Pussy Willows, Lace Gables, Skunk Cabbage, Village in the Swamps,
22 | Art Conservator | Spring 2012
and Country Blacksmith Shop. Carved Decoration Two symmetrical hollowed file cuts at the end of each rail (3 ½” x 1 ¼” x ¼” approx. each) form stylized leaf corner ornaments, applied by the artist’s studio. The carving cut through the commercial brass gilded finish and the filed surfaces were relatively rough when paint was applied. Assembly The commercially shaped and brassgilded frame A was widened with added strips B and C secured with glue and nails, and filler paste was used to round the angles. The rails were mitered, glued, and nailed together, and the file carving completed. Surfaces of B, C, and the filed hollows are not gilded. The liner was commercially prepared and mitered, glued, and nailed together. The frame and the liner were painted before fitting the liner into place with angled nails.
Members of the Consortium
Williamstown Art Conservation Center
Gershon Benjamin Foundation, —Clayton, GA
227 South Street, Williamstown,
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,
Cornell University —Ithaca, NY Historic Deerfield, Inc.
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy —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 Atlanta Historical Society, Inc. —Atlanta, GA Bennington Museum —Bennington, VT Berkshire Museum —Pittsfield, MA Bowdoin College Museum of Art —Brunswick, ME Charles P. Russell Gallery, Deerfield Academy —Deerfield, MA
—Deerfield, MA Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College —Hanover, NH The Hyde Collection —Glens Falls, NY The Lawrenceville School —Lawrenceville, NJ Mead Art Museum, Amherst College —Amherst, MA Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester —Rochester, NY Middlebury College Museum of Art —Middlebury, VT Mount Holyoke College Art Museum —South Hadley, MA Munson Williams Proctor Arts
The Rockwell Museum of
—Corning, NY Roland Gibson Gallery, State
nonprofit institution, is to protect,
University of New York
conserve and maintain the objects
of our cultural heritage; to provide
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
examination, treatment, consultation
—St. Johnsbury, VT Smith College Museum of Art,
and related conservation services
for member institutions, and for
Springfield Library and Museums
other nonprofit organizations,
corporations and individuals; to
—Springfield, MA Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris Foundation
and to conduct research and dis-
seminate knowledge to advance the
Williams College Museum of Art —Williamstown, MA
—Utica, NY Museum of Connecticut History —Hartford, CT Neuberger Museum, Atlanta Art Conservation Center
The Daura Gallery at Lynchburg College —Lynchburg, VA Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art —Amherst, MA Farnesworth Art Museum —Rockland, ME Fort Ticonderoga —Ticonderoga, NY
—Purchase, NY —Concord, NH New York State Office of General Services, Empire State Plaza Art Collection —Albany, NY Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge —Stockbridge, MA Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University —Hamilton, NY Portland Museum of Art —Portland, ME Preservation Society of Newport
Frederic Remington Art Museum —Ogdensburg, NY
Atlanta, GA 30341
New Hampshire Historical Society
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, —Poughkeepsie, NY
6000 Peachtree Road
training of conservators; to promote
issues pertinent to collections care;
Vermont Historical Society
Purchase College, State University
cultural interest; to participate in the
and increase the awareness of the
of New York
Connecticut Historical Society
respect to the care and conserva-
the importance of conservation
—Lenox, MA Union College
Manchester Historical Society —Manchester, CT
conduct educational programs with tion of works of art and objects of
The Cheney Homestead of the
Colby College Museum of Art
he mission of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a
—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 Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts —Montgomery, AL Telfair Museum of Art —Savannah, GA
Museum of Art —Providence, RI
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 23
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