Art Conservator | Volume 9 No. 1

Page 1

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

VO LU M E 9 , N U M B E R 1  •  S P R I N G 2 014

Thomas Cole’s Mohicans

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 1

Contents, Spring 2014

Art Conservator Volume 9, Number 1 • Spring 2014 Director T‌homas J. Branchick Editor Timothy Cahill Art Direction and Production Ed Atkeson/Berg Design Photographer Matthew Hamilton Contributors Heather Clavé, Hugh Glover, Gretchen Guidess, Montserrat Le Mense, Christine Puza, Sandra Webber 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 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 Thomas Cole’s Mohicans

Restoring the luster to a Hudson River masterpiece Timothy Cahill


The Re-emergence of Two Cole Studies

Sandra Webber 8 Light of the Moon

Examining the roots of Winslow Homer’s watercolor technique


Essential Noland

Kenneth Noland’s 1965 Blonde 12 WACC News & Notes

A Georgia militia dress-uniform coat; reviving a Monument to Comrade Picasso; in praise of the unfinished portrait; the Explorer’s Globe is a world apart 16 Report from Atlanta

Thierry Boutet: The tenacious art conservator Heather Clavé


Tech Notes

Care and use of nineteenth-century gilded picture frames Hugh Glover

On the cover Thomas Cole, Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” 1827 (detail), after treatment.

2 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

From the Director

This year promises to be exciting here on the campus of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, where the Center has its home on the slope of Stone Hill. A major expansion of the Clark will open late in June featuring a second building by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. (Stone Hill Center, where WACC is located, being the first.) The Clark’s new Visitor, Exhibition, and Conference Center will provide 42,500 square feet of new space to the museum. In addition, there will be modifications and walkways to the original Museum and the Manton Research Center. Personally, I can’t wait to see the signature Ando water feature, a group of reflecting ponds that will border the new construction. Stone Hill Center will have a David Smith painted sculpture gracing our lawn, adding additional interest to what is already our “destination building.” As you can see on the cover, I was very fortunate to treat Thomas Cole’s 1827 masterpiece, The Last of the Mohicans, the exquisite Hudson River School painting belonging to one of the Center’s newest members, The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York. It was an extremely rewarding treatment that I invite you to read about in this issue of Art Conservator. I am proud to say that WACC’s reputation continues to spread. Our success caring for the untreated canvases of mid-twentieth-century artists like Kenneth Noland attracted the notice of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, as you will see inside. The Center was featured in the Huffington Post this past November as well. In her essay “The Importance of Art Conservation: An Artist’s Perspective” (, painter Barbara Ernst Prey told HuffPost readers about her participation in a Friends event held here this past fall examining Winslow Homer watercolors. Finally, I urge you to visit the WACC website homepage ( and click on “Video,” where you can view a promo piece created for the Center by Aaron Taylor. It is exceptional in every way. Aaron, who is a sophomore at Williams College, even managed to make yours truly appear lucid! —Tom Branchick

Stone Hill Center was in the grip of a New England January as ice obscured the view of the surrounding hills. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 3

Cover Story

Thomas Cole’s Mohicans Returning the luster to a Hudson River School masterpiece By Timothy Cahill


homas Cole immigrated to the United States from England while still a boy, and in his new country taught himself to draw and paint. Untutored by formal masters, Cole became the first American landscape painter to speak a completely indigenous language. His vocabulary was the craggy geography of New England, his grammar the valleys and mountains along the Hudson River, which gave the movement he founded its name. The Hudson River School was this country’s first important art movement, concurrent with the rise of a generation of writers and poets, including Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper, who were building a unique American literary identity. Cole’s landscapes, which celebrated the splendor of the American landscape, gave visual expression to the ambitions of these men of letters. They in turn welcomed him as a kindred spirit. In August 1826, Robert Gilmor, Jr., wrote Cole suggesting the twenty-six-year-old artist create a painting with a literary theme. Gilmor, a Baltimore art patron and one of Cole’s earliest and most influential supporters, sought a picture with “some known subject from Cooper’s novels to enliven the landscape.” “Cooper,” of course, was the celebrated author of the Leatherstocking Tales, who that year had published The Last of the Mohicans, his most beloved book. Some months later, Cole visited the White Mountains, where he found the landscape he wished to enliven. The grandeur of the New Hampshire scenery and Fenimore Cooper’s historical novel combined to inspire one of America’s most influential early pictures. In 1827, Cole produced two versions of Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” the first for Daniel Wadsworth (now in the Wadsworth Athenaeum, in Hartford, Connecticut), who allowed Cole to retain the painting while he made a second rendition for Gilmore. Late that year, the artist wrote Wadsworth, “I have finished the picture for Mr. Gilmore, it is not an exact copy, and I think it is better than yours.” That second landscape, pictured here, was recently brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for treatment. The Cole is one of the masterpieces of the paintings collection at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York. The location is fitting. Cooperstown was founded and named by James Fenimore Cooper’s father, and is where the famous writer died and was buried. It is not clear what Wadsworth’s opinion of the Gilmor picture was, but he nearly swooned over his own painting. “Of the Last of the Mohegans [sic] I can hardly express my admiration,” he wrote Cole on Dec 2, 1827, “[of] the grand and magnificent scenery, —the distinctness of which every part of it, is made to stand forward & speak for itself, with deep gulfs, into which you look from real precipices, —the grandeur and wild Dark masses of the Lower world, whose higher pinnacles only, catch a portion . . . of the soft lights where all seems Peace.” Gilmor was equally delighted with his canvas, praising Cole in a letter, “you convince me by the group of Indians & the individual representation of them, Thomas Cole, Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” 1827, after treatment. 4 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 5

Ultraviolet imagery showing evidence of previous inpainting in the sky.

that you are as much at home in figures as in landscape.” The two paintings depict the same scene. From a distance, we see a ring of people gathered in a mountain clearing, protected on all sides by crags, cliffs, and giant boulders. The summit of a granite mountain rises behind them, and in the distance, a blue vastness of receding peaks, sky, and a distant lake. On closer inspection, the drama occurring among the gathering becomes clear. The men and women in the ring wear the dress of American Indians, while in the center stands a small party of Europeans, including two women, one of whom droops in supplication and distress. The action is drawn from the climax of Cooper’s novel, when Cora Munroe, one of two British sisters taken hostage by a hostile tribe, is compelled to marry her kidnapper or face death. No doubt everyone in the circle is for the moment oblivious to the natural majesty around them, just as the majesty renders the human drama very small. The difference between the two paintings is the difference between melodrama and tragedy. In the Wadsworth painting, the human action is placed on a flat landing cantilevered off the side of a mountaintop, a proscenium stage ending in a sharp cliff and drop to oblivion. The precariousness of the geologic formation draws the eye to the spectacle being enacted there, reducing the landscape to a kind of backdrop. When Cole redid the composition for Gilmor, he reconsidered the staginess of the first scenario. He depicted the clearing now as a small mesa set in the mountain, bounded by rocks and a copse of autumn trees that tumbles down the slope like a cataract. The peril of the cliff edge is gone from the second picture, replaced by a sublime pathos. In the lower left, to create a sense of vertiginous height, Cole set a gigantic stone leaning over a crevasse, creating an arch through which can be seen the steep, forested side of a distant 6 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

mountain. The tops of the trees are in shadow, so you don’t notice them at first. When at last the eye does drift to them, the effect is like the moment when the rollercoaster reaches the top of the first climb and plunges downward. The converging thrill and anxiety provoked by the passage is one the effects restored at the Center. In all, the new conservation treatment addressed overall condition issues of the paint surface caused by time and outmoded conservation practices from a half century ago. The treatment, by WACC director and head of paintings conservation Tom Branchick, involved consolidation of widespread paint flaking and extensive cleaning and revarnishing. An older double lining, impregnated with wax and adhered with glue, was removed to allow the paint to be consolidated with a synthetic agent — that is, to secure the flaking and rebond the paint layer to the ground. With that step completed and the painting relined, the process of restoring Cole’s brilliant surfaces began. The painting’s numinous clarity derives from the layers of glaze the artist applied, veils of darker pigment brushed over lighter colors to add depth by variously absorbing and refracting light. These glaze layers are easily susceptible to overcleaning, and some had been compromised by a bygone conservator. Technical knowledge, experience, and a light hand all come into play when removing decades of grime and old varnish, lest the glazes be solubilized by the cleaning solution. The results, however, are magnificent, in the passages of vermilion and yellow in the trees, the greens of the vegetation, the smoky aquamarine of the lichened rocks. Cleaning also brought out the soft modulations of pale blues and violets that enhance the distance of the sky and far horizon. Branchick discovered that the painting’s pink ground layer [see sidebar, page 7] had gained depth through the addition of a granular substance in the gesso, possibly a fine sand purposely added by Cole, or perhaps merely roughly ground pigment. This grit is evident when seen in raking light, and the rough, subtly uneven surface it creates plays on the paint layer. Each raised grain casts a small shadow and creates a delicate tonal shift. This granularity also adds a dimension of difficulty to cleaning the surface, making it easy to abrade the paint that sits on top of it. Branchick restored a number of areas where the flatness that results from such abrasion had marred the picture’s overall effect. Grime and discolored varnish had rendered the stone arch an indistinct veil of murk and cleaning alone was not enough to reanimate the original vertiginous effect. To help enliven the passage, Branchick applied an intermediate coat of slowdrying varnish, which served to saturate the darkest passages of

the area, much like rain will add depth and luster to a black car. The increased contrast emphasized the void between the crisp foreground rocks and the hazy shadowed trees through the opening, dramatically increasing the sense of distance and vast height. Branchick found working on Mohicans “one of the most satisfying treatments I’ve ever done. It was an opportunity to

present Cole as Cole would have wanted it.” In 1849, James Fenimore Cooper memorialized Cole following the painter’s untimely death at age 47 the year before. “I know of no painter whose works manifest such high poetic feeling as those of Cole,” Cooper wrote. With Last of the Mohicans, Thomas Cole gave a new voice to American art.

The re - emergence of two Cole studies By Sandra Webber Conservator of Paintings


ompositional oil studies by Thomas Cole recently brought to the Center for cleaning reveal the artist’s working methods

for his two best-known painting series. The two preparatory paintings from the collection of Richard Sharp are unpublished. One is from the painter’s famous five-part allegory of civilization, The Course of Empire (1833–36), and the other from the first set of the four-piece suite The Voyage of Life (1839–40). Conceived in his poetic imagination and based on frequent study trips into the natural world, both series are imbued with Cole’s desire to convey moral and religious inspiration to his viewers. Cole had a nearly photographic recall for landscape, and always reverted to what he saw with his eyes, not his mind’s eye, stating that “nature is the sweet guide to correct effects.” Cole was self-taught and self critical; creating numerous studies and finished versions of his concepts was common to his working style. The smaller work is a detailed and polished study for the

Compositional Study for The Voyage of Life: Manhood, graphite and oil on wood panel, collection of Richard Sharp. chiaroscuro of a milder character . . . yet fresh and breezy.” Examination revealed that the Pastoral study was painted on a salmon-pink ground. Pink grounds were then much in

second painting in The Course of Empire, titled The Arcadian or

use by English artists, and Cole, having been born in England,

Pastoral State. Commissioned in 1833 by Luman Reed, the series

may have been aware of this choice. He believed landscapes

was conceived to fill an entire wall in Reed’s large home gallery

were best painted on a red ground, “as it gives to the skies and

in New York City. The series follows the growth and decline of

distance an aerial diaphanous appearance.” In discussing The

a Greco-Roman empire through many years, all set in the same

Pastoral State he remarked that the reddish undertone created

location. During the project’s conception, Cole noted that the

warmth and assisted with the peaceful composition, in line with

repeating setting would be “identified by a striking object, a

his theories on the correlation of color with mood. The paint

mountain of peculiar form, for example.” Indeed, the sharp peak

is applied in masterful and fluid, wet-into-wet brush strokes

of the mountain in the left background reoccurs in each picture

with no alterations, and appears to have been executed in one

throughout the series. Several unused drawing lines visible in

sitting. Sketchy graphite underdrawing, visible to the unaided

the sketch foreshadow the distant center mountain in the final

eye in the sky, outlines the mountains, clouds, and trees. An old

Pastoral painting. Only a few studies survive for The Course of

ink inscription on the lower brown paper tape on the stretcher

Empire, all on canvas supports of various small sizes. This little

reverse appears to be in Cole’s handwriting, and reads “Study

study (6 3/8 by 10 5/16 inches), which reads like a miniature variation

for [2nd] picture of Course of Empire by Thomas Cole.” This

of the large final painting

(39 1/4


63 1/2

inches), is on paper

suggests the original mounting to canvas was done in Cole’s

mounted to canvas. It is very finished, fit for viewing by a patron.

lifetime, possibly at his direction, and probably to secure three

Where the first painting of the series was set at dawn, Cole

small tears along the top edge. The picture was cleaned of two

described this scene to Reed as “the day further advanced, the

continued on page 18 Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 7


Light of the Moon Examining the roots of Winslow Homer’s watercolor technique


inslow Homer’s brooding nocturne Moonlight reveals an artist growing ever more confident in his artistic ability, and perhaps as well a man in the midst of courting the lost love of his life. Homer was in his late 30s when he created the 1874 watercolor of a seaside couple beneath a full moon and trailing clouds, at a point in his life where his early career as a magazine illustrator was giving way to the life of a mature artist. As scholar Martha Tedeschi observed, Homer had “inaugurated his career as a serious watercolorist with stunning suddenness” just a year earlier, in late June or early July 1873, when he arrived for the summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Over the next three decades, he became America’s undisputed genius of the watercolor, an elusive, evocative medium of gesture and light. A decade before, he had turned down a position as staff illustrator at Harper’s Weekly to pursue the independent life of a freelancer, and during the Civil War had recorded the camps and battle lines of the Union Army for Harpers. The work made Homer’s reputation as a chronicler of American life and launched his career as an oil painter as well. Back in his

8 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

New York studio, his ambitions widened, from the anecdotal storytelling of illustration to increasingly complex genre scenes in which literal narrative gave way to psychological ambiguity and subtle, luminous depictions of light. Homer found an occasional tutor to instruct him in the basics of oil painting and learned the rudiments of watercolor from his mother, a devoted amateur. Beyond these fundamentals, however, he taught himself advanced skills through repeated and tireless trial and error. He is one of a very small number of painters to achieve mastery in both oils and watercolors. In watercolor especially, Homer’s eye and hand achieved moments of sublime brilliance, a fact clearly seen in the collection of the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York, which holds sixteen of his watercolors on paper, including such early efforts as Moonlight. Fourteen of the paintings arrived at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center’s paper lab for examination and reframing in advance of a forthcoming catalog and exhibition at the Arkell. The treatment offered chief paper conservator Leslie Paisley the opportunity to study Homer’s painting technique and learn something of the master’s work

process. Her treatment report affords a look over her shoulder and through the microscope as she inspected Moonlight: The composition was laid out with a faint pencil sketch over which colored transparent washes were applied wet onto damp paper. The technique in the sky involved colored washes applied to damp paper. Homer typically used a handmade, heavyweight watercolor paper with a slightly textured surface and pale cream color. The particulates from the pigment collected in the interstices of the paper creating a mottled sky upon drying. More than two washes are visible in the sky. Additional watercolor washes were applied to the foreground as dark shadows and light highlights that were added with opaque watercolor. Washes were allowed to dry before layering. The opaque media on the figures was applied last. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Paisley’s examination is evidence that Homer used a resist to create some of the light effects in the painting’s dramatic sky. A resist is a waterproof material used to protect selected parts of the paper where broad, often darker washes are applied; the technique is used typically to create highlights and passages of lighter tones. After the wash is dried, the resist is removed with a small knife, revealing the white of the paper (or a lighter underlying wash) beneath it. Resists are a standard element in the watercolorist’s toolkit, and Homer used them regularly. But as the Moonlight treatment inspection reveals, there is always something new to learn about how artists work: This watercolor has some very interesting features. The white deposits in the foreground in the form of angular white three- dimensional specks deposited in the wash are residues of a “resist” Homer used to create highlights while painting. These specks were examined under the microscope and appear to be identical to those found on seventeen of the twenty-nine watercolors found in the Art Institute of Chicago collection. Conservators there proposed that these may be residues of a resist (composed of lead white, drying oil and resin). . . . Homer’s brother Charles graduated from the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University and specialized in the chemistry of color. Conservators at the AIC [Art Institute of Chicago] speculated that Charles may have helped Winslow formulate the resist while employed by the Valentine Varnish Company. The fact that this resist was found on a work this early is something that [earlier experts] had not found. They assumed that the use of this resist was something he learned in England. Homer spent 1881 and 1882 in London and the English

coastal village of Cullercoats. The period resulted in a profound maturing of his imagination and style, as Homer absorbed the long tradition of British watercolorists, climaxing in the bold paintings by J.M.W. Turner. Upon Homer’s return to the United States, critics immediately noted the added dimensions of his technique, which one writer described as “more skillful, more refined, more delicate.” But as Paisley discovered, some of this technical prowess had developed before Homer sailed for Britain: Certain areas of the sky and sea spray where the clouds are lighter than surrounding sky may have been achieved by either wet lifting (using a clean wet brush to paint back into the wash to lift newly deposited color) or by the application of a resist that would have prevented saturation of the sky as darker washes were added. A combination of these techniques may have been used. Homer also blotted the foreground sand to interrupt the uniform wash and create more texture. One can also clearly see where he dragged his loaded flat brush across the damp paper in the left edge to help disperse the drying wash. One factor to support the possible use of a resist is the fact the paper in some areas of cloud and sky appear slightly abraded which could have occurred when the resist was removed. That and the crisp edges of the lighter area suggest there was a mask of some kind to prevent over-darkening of the sky. The areas of sea spray may also have been reserved with the use of a resist as the paper in this area had many layers of wash applied to create a mottled sea. If resist residues were not completely brushed off of the paper surface before continuing with washes, they would have become bound into the foreground wash. The effect appears almost intentional however as it creates “ holidays” in the wash that resemble the sparkle of sand at an angle.

Those sparkling sands are among the elements that create Moonlight’s air of romance. But pensiveness, almost a melancholy, marks the courtship as well. In the late 1870s, Homer made a number of portraits of beautiful but “emotionally unavailable” women that Tedeschi conjectures may indicate “evidence of a failed romance, perhaps even a rejected proposal of marriage.” The Arkell painting may reveal not just the foundation of the painter’s technical sophistication, but the roots of his emotional depths as well. Winslow Homer: The Nature and Rhythm of Life opens at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York from June 6 to August 24, then moves to the Arkell Museum, Canajoharie, New York, September 2 through January 4, 2015.

Winslow Homer, Moonlight, 1874. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 9

10 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

Essential Noland Acrylic paints were introduced as an artist’s medium in the late 1940s and instantly opened new avenues of creative possibility. Acrylics dried quickly and came in a vast palette of colors, including new synthetic hues that trumpeted modernity. Unlike oils, acrylic emulsions could be applied directly to raw canvas, no small philosophical matter in an age of “paint as paint,” when the aim was to remove the artifice from art. Kenneth Noland was one of the pioneers of the age. In the 1950s and ’60s, he devised innovative ways to exploit the new paint and experimented endlessly with the conventions of the four-square frame. One solution was to rotate the square into a diamond, transforming corners into points and repurposing the painting into a banner, sign, or decorative object, as seen here in his 1965 Blonde, from the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. The painting, with its nested chevron shapes, was brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for cleaning and remounting. Lignin in the stretcher had discolored the edges of the canvas (not unlike the yellowing of newsprint), and the unprimed cotton had oxidized and become dingy, neutralizing Noland’s brilliant, harmonically complex color fields. Chief paintings conservator Tom Branchick has perfected a method for cleaning the untreated canvases of mid-century modernists like Noland; his technique returns the support to its original brightness without compromising the painted surfaces. “Hard as it is to believe, raw canvas is difficult to treat,” said Chrysler curator Amy Brandt, explaining why the museum sought out WACC. The renewed painting will be on exhibit when the renovated and expanded museum reopens in May.

Kenneth Noland, Blonde, 1965, after treatment (top) and detail showing the colored chevrons and raw canvas. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 11

WACC News & Notes

Historic dress-uniform coat returns for display in Columbus, Georgia


n the eve of the American Civil War, Watkins Banks wore

hand-constructed with fine silk stitching, hallmarks of well-

this dress-uniform cutaway coat as a member of the

tailored nineteenth-century men’s garments. The coat is made

Columbus Guard, an active local militia in western Georgia,

from red and undyed wool fabric woven in a 2/1 twill weave

along the Alabama border. The Columbus Guard dates to 1834

pattern and “fulled.” To full wool, the nap of the fabric is raised

and attracted many young men from prominent families in the

and trimmed smooth, giving the appearance of felt. The coat

community, Banks included. They were known for their brilliant

has a quilted cotton lining, stuffed and shaped with horsehair

red dress uniforms and must have cut striking figures as they

to impart a smooth, trim profile that provided the wearer with a

drilled. In 1861, with the Battle of Fort Sumter, community militias

formal dress silhouette. The stand up collar and the center front

both in the South and in the North were called to join their

of the coat close with hooks and eyes. Covering the entire front

respective armies. During that year, Banks wrote his name “Wat.

of the coat is an undyed wool bib that buttons onto the chest with

Banks” and “1861” on the inside lining of his coat. Sadly after

eighteen brass buttons, arranged vertically nine to a side.

three years of fighting Banks was killed in combat in 1864. But

Although the survival of the coat is remarkable, it arrived at

his dashing dress coat survived in the possession of his family

WACC in an exceptionally delicate condition. The construction

for more than a century and a half, and will soon be on view once

threads are fragile and many of the seams were actively splitting.

more in Banks’s hometown at The Columbus Museum. Before

The armpits of the coat lining were in an advanced state of

going on exhibit, the coat was examined and received major

deterioration, evidence of its use. In these areas, the fabric was

treatment to stabilize and integrate its components.

discolored, stiff, and brittle. The lining was so degraded and

Red with white trim and raised gold braid, the coat is entirely 12 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

imperiled that the coat could not be mounted on a mannequin

for display. During its lengthy storage, perhaps fostered

Monument to Comrade Picasso was among the last

by the moist Georgia environment, protein-eating insects

works by the Ukrainian avant-garde artist and designer Vasyl

found the coat an ideal food source. They ate their fill,

Yermylov. Active from 1911 to 1968, Yermylov studied under

roughly ingesting a quarter of the wool fabric, leaving

Ilya Mashkov, Pyotr Konchalovsky, and other artists associated

behind a lacy network of losses. What remained of

with the cubist “Jack of Diamonds” group at the Moscow

the fabric was vulnerable to tearing and loss. Most of

School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. His own art

the buttons were cut from the coat to serve as family

was a synthesis of several artistic streams, taking cues from

mementos including the eighteen buttons that once held

expressionism, cubism, futurism, and neo-primitivism. In addition

the bib to the coat front. Four detached buttons were

to paintings, assemblages, and sculpture in a variety of materials,

delivered with the coat and another two were reattached

Yermylov was a prolific designer, creating textiles and interiors

to the base of each coattail.

for the Kharkov Pioneer Palace, as well as book illustrations,

Charged with stabilizing the coat so it could be exhibited and to insure its long-term preservation, the

advertisements, and propaganda posters. The painted wood sculpture, one of two such “monuments” by

treatment drew on a wide range of techniques from

the Soviet-era artist, arrived at the Center exhibiting numerous

the conservator’s tool kit. Much of the stabilization and

minor structural insecurities, cracking and lost paint, and a

integration of the coat was performed with standard

surface discolored overall by a coating of ingrained dirt and

techniques common in textile conservation. The split

flyspecks. The most striking feature of its pretreatment condition,

seams and insect holes allowed access to the interior

however, was the advanced

layers of the coat, which permitted a red cotton interlayer

degradation of the polymer film

to be inserted and serve as a stitch support for a fine

that enclosed the tower. The

bobbinet overlay, a near-invisible nylon mesh that covers

film was nearly opaque, with a

and reintegrates the fragile original fabric. The two new

dull yellow color that completely

layers disguise many of the losses in the red fabric. To

obscured the colors and details

treat the armpits of the lining, stitching was combined

within the tower. It was highly

with modern adhesive techniques. The fabric at each

embrittled and split easily when

armpit was humidified, repositioned and reinforced with

handled. From the characteristic

a light adhesive-coated sheer fabric. The light tack of

vinegar odor that came from the

the conservation-grade adhesive, combined with sparse

piece and the results of testing,

stitching, allowed the underarm lining to be reintegrated.

the polymer was identified as a

Soft arm supports may now be inserted into each sleeve

cellulose acetate.

and integrated to a mannequin torso to support the arms

Treatment included cleaning,

of the coat while on display. Replacement buttons were

repairing splits and cracks in

cast in epoxy with stainless steel shanks and painted to

the internal plywood structure,

look like the brass originals. For a brief time, WACC was

consolidation of cracking paint,

the center of brass button manufacture for the Columbus

fills, and inpainting. The degraded


polymer on the tower was removed

This unique piece of history is now on display at the

and saved for curatorial purposes. It was then replaced with

Columbus Museum. The staff at the Museum hopes

Mylar of an approximate thickness to the original, wrapped

additional Columbus Guard artifacts, from its earliest

around the sculpture the same number of passes and secured to

years through its disbandment after the First World War,

the outside of the tower using the original nails as possible.

will emerge from other families.

Besides leaving the object structurally and chemically —Gretchen Guidess

Assistant Conservator, Objects and Textiles

stable, this treatment revealed the lively Easter egg colors and architectural details within the tower that were impossible to appreciate before, and restored the original visual contrast of the

Opposite, the restored 1861 Columbus Guard dressuniform coat, and detail showing replacement buttons and fabric repairs. This page, Monument to Comrade Picasso, after treatment.

glossy and colorful tower against the textured matte planes of the surrounding structure. —Christine Puza Assistant Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 13

WACC News & Notes

In praise of the unfinished portrait


have often found myself pondering the unusual pleasure

G. Cushing. Cushing, little remembered today, was a Gilded-

that an unfinished portrait supplies. I am a fan of portraiture

Age American painter, friend of Whistler’s and renowned for his

in general, and as much as I admire a landscape—and I do—I

arresting portraits, many of women. His skill was evident in the

have always found the landscape of the human face as lovely, as

portrait I saw. The vivid, intent gaze and self-possessed, almost

engaging, and as compelling.

willful expression of the sitter seemed to leap from the canvas, rendered in short brushstrokes and an impressionist palette. I

Every portrait tells a story, at times about the artist, at times about the era, and (perhaps most satisfying), at those

became extremely curious about the artist and his technique and

times when it reads out the character and life of the sitter. I

marveled at how the effects were achieved. So it was a grateful

am certain every museumgoer has shared that experience of

coincidence when two portraits by the same artist arrived for

“meeting” an individual on the gallery wall—a face, a gaze, a clear,

treatment on my workbench at the Center. Unfinished portraits

almost shocking, connection between viewer and subject that

this time, they were like a primer on the artist’s process. One might think the unfinished quality would detract from

somehow defies the two dimensions of canvas and paint, arcing a connection between the present existence and a past life that

the illusion of a likeness, the suspension of two-dimensions,

feels real and triggers unexpected and powerful emotions.

but in fact I find it the opposite. It’s like tracing the spark of life. Unfinished portraits have a Galatea quality, when, like the famous

To these satisfactions (addictive satisfactions for me, as I never tire of meeting new paintings), an unfinished portrait adds

sculpture Pygmalion brought to life, you see both the artwork’s

an extra dimension. To an intimate and satisfying glimpse into a

two dimensions of substrate and brushed color and the sparkle

sitter’s character, the unfinished portrait adds the bold invitation

of human personality emerging from the canvas. Granted, an

to enter the process of the artist’s mind. It allows us to step inside

unfinished portrait can be jarring as well, and the charm or the

the artist’s process midway, and see not only where it ended, but

dissonance depends as much on the viewer as the object. But

how it started and went on to achieve the magic that is a portrait.

even in cases where they simply look, well, unfinished, the wealth of detail revealed in the process remains rewarding.

The unfinished painting does more than invite us to admire and decipher the artist’s technique, though. It makes us an active

The two Cushings are executed on a bare, off-white priming

third party (for every portrait is composed of three people, the

layer. There is a minimum of pencil sketching visible below and

artist, the sitter and the viewer), completing what the artist left

around the paint—making it clear the artist moved very quickly

off and plotting a new trail from there. In a way that a finished

away from the perfunctory, loose graphite sketch to his finished

painting cannot, the unfinished portrait remains an open process

and evocative mosaic of tiny brushstrokes. The faces are very

begun again by every viewer who wanders into its landscape.

complete, and their placement within the composition makes it

The most stunning portrait I’ve seen at the Center in the

clear the artist intended bust-length portraits. The fact that the

past year was a small, virtuoso Portrait of a Woman by Howard

portraits were completed before anything else was even blocked

A World Apart John H. Finley, editor-in-chief of the New York Times, gave this eighteen-inch globe to the American Geographical Society in 1929, and began the tradition of inviting explorers and aviators to draw and autograph the routes of their adventures. The eighty-plus signatures on the “Fliers and Explorers Globe” have created, in the words of the Society’s website, “a priceless and unique symbol of humanity’s . . . drive to explore the universe.” Among the famous and intrepid to leave their mark are Charles Lindberg, Neil Armstrong, Edmund Hillary, and Amelia Earhart ­— twice (see detail at right). The globe was brought to the Center for minor repairs and stabilization of the paper map layer and plaster substrate. New signatures are added every four years, most recently in 2012. 14 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

WACC Staff

T‌homas Branchick Director; Conservator of Paintings/Dept. Head Mary Catherine Betz Associate Conservator of Paintings Thierry Boutet Assistant Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta Nate Brulé Office Assistant; Technician John Conzett Office Manager Kristan Goolsby Administrative Assistant; Photographer/Atlanta Hélène Gillette-Woodard Conservator of Objects/Dept. Head

A Galatea quality: A pair of unfinished portraits by Howard G. Cushing. in makes it clear that for this artist the faces

The woman is perhaps a little less accessible,

were not just the focus but the fulcrum of a

but we are left with clues of age and hairstyle

portrait. The eyes and surrounding features

that might suggest a costume, a posture, and

are worked up with great detail; the transition

the preoccupied look that suggests her mind

to unpainted areas is sudden and shocking,

is elsewhere and only partially committed to

with just a few looser strokes in the silhouette

sitting still for the painter.

of the hair to mark the transition. The Galatea

The privately owned paintings have come to

effect is perhaps a few more strokes away in the

the Center for cleaning and stabilization of paint

woman’s portrait than the man’s. For him, the

layers. The background is heavily grimed and

vivid, almost electric short brushstrokes of color

has some spots of mold and water damage. The

have begun to work their magic, bringing to life

paint is applied in distinct short brushstrokes

his eyes and character, inviting us to continue

in a dry technique, that is, with a minimum of

his costume and posture in our mind’s eye.

media to keep the strokes distinct and largely unblended. Because of this, the paint is slightly underbound (that is, lacking in media or binder) and consequently as friable as pastel, especially at the edges of the thinnest application. The friable paint will be consolidated and, stroke by stroke, gently cleaned with a mild water-based cleaning solution; the worst of the grime and dust will be removed from the background and sealed with a matte or semi-gloss varnish layer.

Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects/Dept. Head Gretchen Guidess Assistant Conservator for Objects and Textiles Matthew Hamilton Photographer Teresa Haskins Accounts Manager Rebecca Johnston Conservator of Paper Henry Klein Conservation Technician Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings Leslie Paisley Conservator of Paper/Dept. Head Christine Puza Assistant Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects Michelle Savant Conservator of Objects/Atlanta Larry Shutts Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta Sandra L. Webber Conservator of Paintings

—Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 15

Report from Atlanta

Thierry Boutet: The Tenacious Art Conservator By Heather Clavé


any French expatriates who come to the United States don’t expect to stay, but do. Then there are those who

know that their time here is limited. Much like life, what they

Service, there was no hesitation. “As they say, you have to go out and see the world to know what you have at home.”

do with the time they are given will dictate the richness of their

With their young son, the couple moved to London, where

experience. For paintings conservator Thierry Boutet, a native

Boutet soon landed a job with one of London’s top conservators,

of the Paris region, there was only one option. He was not going

working on high-profile portraits and paintings. Other jobs

to waste a moment. It was the four-year work assignment of his

followed, which gave him further experience with lacquer work.

wife, Virginie, that brought Boutet and his family to Atlanta in

Then the 2008 economic crisis hit, requiring Boutet to get

August 2010. His English “was crap,” as he put it, but he had a

creative in his approach to employment.

skill and, above that, a passion for art conservation, one of the most specialized fields out there. Boutet discovered his path relatively late. Born to a working-

“You have to work at your craft every day. Going to museums, galleries, auctions,” he said. “Otherwise you lose your skill.” This tenacious spirit proved to be a tremendous asset when

class family, he loved art and went on to earn a degree in visual

the family arrived in Georgia. With portfolio in hand, he knocked

art from the Sorbonne. While working at the Louvre Museum

on the doors of every museum, gallery, and auction house.

in Paris as part of his doctoral program, his attention moved

“I’ve always done that,” he says. “[Conservation] is my

from studying the work of the masters to wondering about the

passion. I live for that. But I had a warmer welcome here.

process of maintaining them for future generations.

Americans give you a real chance.”

“It’s good to work for a painting,” said Boutet, his brown eyes

He did his homework and discovered the Southeast’s largest

glowing with intensity as he described the details of his work.

conservation facility, the Atlanta Art Conservation Center

“You need to know the essentials of painting to preserve the

(AACC), an affiliate of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center

property. The technical aspect is essential, but you can’t forget

in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Atlanta’s High Museum of

that it’s a work of art. You have to be faithful to the idea the

Art. The weekly visits began.

painter had when he painted it. Even if the creative aspect has

“He kept coming by, but didn’t really push us,” said Michelle

disappeared, there is still a connection to the visual arts and the

Savant, Conservator of Objects at the Atlanta Art Conservation

same reflective process and analysis as with creation: How do

Center. “It was always, ‘The little French guy came by again.’

you conserve the painting so that it lasts another eighty years?”

Then one day he came and didn’t even ask about a job. He just

Eighty years, Boutet explained, is the normal duration of any

sat, watching me work and chatting away. When he left I asked

given restoration. Doors opened for Boutet, and his doctoral thesis went unfinished. He discovered he preferred the more hands-on approach of conservation to the academic pursuit of art.

Larry [Larry Shutts, Conservator of Paintings and manager at AACC], ‘there’s gotta be a way to keep this guy.’” Boutet was hired part time. Around the same time, the Atlanta Art Conservation Center

He did a three-year educational program in paintings and

had landed a major project restoring the famous Talledega

polychrome artifact conservation with the Atelier du Temps

College murals of the “Amistad” uprising by Hale Woodruff

Passé; then an internship with the Institut d’Art Conservation et

[Art Conservator, Spring 2012] before a three-year tour to

Couleur, working with Madame Brans, one of France’s leading

museums around the country. These huge murals were in their

conservators. Afterward, he got a coveted spot with the Atelier

original state, and conserving them for the first time was a

Laquèus, where he developed specialized knowledge in the

major undertaking that required extra help. Boutet’s part-time

restoration of furniture and lacquered art objects from China and

work quickly escalated to extra hours. At times, he became


so engrossed in the work he would forget to eat lunch. His

All during his studies, his sweetheart from high school was

colleagues were impressed with his rapidity and precision, and

with him. “We met in ninth grade and have been together ever

soon he was taken on full time as Assistant Conservator of

since,” Boutet explains of his wife Virginie, “seventeen years.”


She helped him through his education and training, and when it came time to help her fulfill her own dreams in the Foreign 16 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

In this capacity, Boutet has had a rich encounter with the Southeast, having had the opportunity to meet and work with

prominent public and private collectors of the region. “It’s very gratifying work, especially here in the South where people are so friendly and warm. For me, the salary is in the smile.” Boutet confesses, of course, that the “French touch” doesn’t hurt in his interactions with Southerners. “Once, I was even invited over for homemade scotch in Alabama as a thank you.” Now in their final year in Atlanta, Thierry Boutet and his family have made a comfortable niche for themselves. Family is

to family, or an English-speaking country to solidify Dorian’s unaccented English. Naturally, having landed the job at the Center, it’s hard to let go. “If I could take anything with me, I would pack these two in my suitcase,” said Boutet, pointing to Savant and Shutts, who clearly are not happy at the thought of Boutet and his family leaving. “Where will we find another French guy to crack jokes with?” lamented Savant. What advice does Boutet have for newcomers? “When you

top priority, and so Thierry and his wife make sure that their son,

know you’re only here for a limited time, you’ve got no time

Dorian, is well adjusted and well connected to friends and family

to lose. Don’t hesitate to meet people. Go on site. Do your

in France. With the same tenacity and analysis that he applies

homework on the people you’re dealing with. Provoke the

to his work, Boutet researched schools for Dorian to ensure the

encounter and don’t let go.”

best education possible, supplemented with the French scholastic offerings of the Ecole du Samedi. In addition to experiencing all of

Words of wisdom from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

the sights and sounds that Atlanta has to offer, Thierry still takes time to do art on his own, and is pleased to see that his son loves

Heather Clavé is Communication and Press Attaché for the

it, too.

Consulate General of France in Atlanta. The text was adapted from

As with any job in the Foreign Service, the family will soon

an article originally published on the website of the Consulate

move to their next location. Ever mindful of their son’s education,

General of France in Atlanta (,

Boutet and his wife hope to be stationed in Europe to be close

published by kind permission.

Photos cour tesy Heather Clavé

A day in the life: Boutet assessing the condition of an heirloom portrait (left), and cleaning a small landscape. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 17

Cole continued from page 8 brown layers of natural resin, streaky with vertical brush marks

coating containing linseed oil. It is unlikely that either coating

and fracturing from age. Black grime layers and bronze paint

was applied by the artist. The shellac, a furniture coating not

overspray, probably from an amateur frame repair, added to the

recommended for pictures due to its natural orange color, had

pre-treatment darkness.

darkened to a hot brown, causing the painting to appear too

The study for Manhood, the third of four images in Cole’s

warm in tone. Both the shellac and the underlying linseed oil

The Voyage of Life, is quite similar to two of the three known

layer were sloppily applied, leaving thick patches on the surface.

compositional studies for this scene. Painted on a thick wood

Cole understood the value of waiting prior to applying final

panel with a pink ground layer, the reverse appears to have

coatings and recommended only one thin layer of varnish be

been used as a palette, probably a cost-saving measure by the

used on his pictures.

financially strapped artist. It is most similar in size and layout

Both oil studies are now ready for proper viewing and can

to the study at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

be better assessed and compared for integration into the body

(MWPAI) in Utica, New York, also on wood, and another on

of Thomas Cole’s work. They are valuable additions to the

academy board at Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton,

understanding of the artist’s technical skill and processes. The

Massachusetts. Many figural

compositional study for The

drawings and oil sketches

Voyage of Life will be included

from this scene also survive,

in an upcoming exhibition

suggesting Cole struggled

catalogue of Cole’s famous

more with the figures than

allegorical series, where it will

with the landscape elements.

be discussed in the context of

The Voyage of Life, initially

Cole’s other Manhood studies.

commissioned by Samuel Ward,

The traveling show will

evolved into four very large

be centered on Munson-

paintings done in two complete

Williams-Proctor Arts

sets, the original set now

Institute’s suite of four Voyage

owned by the MWPAI. This first

of Life paintings. Thomas Cole,

set’s final Manhood is 52 by 78

who mused in prose, poetry,

inches, which is proportionally close to the sketch panel’s format

and paint about the relationship of color to musical harmonics,

of 111/4 by 17 1/8 inches. The second set, completed in 1842, is in

would surely have been pleased see to see his original

the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

compositions re-emerge from their dark, encrusted surfaces.

This Voyage of Life study is very broadly and fluidly painted, and the landscape and weather depictions are bold and dramatic. There is less underdrawing on this study, no visible alterations, and the lower right corner was left unfinished. Cole was proud of the speed at which he could complete even his larger works, so studies like these were probably executed very rapidly. Despite its larger size, it does not have the finished appearance of the Pastoral study for The Course of Empire. Cole once described oil sketches done all at once as “never more than half true,” likening them perhaps to dead-coloring, the first layer of paint for an image, which often looks flat until more layers deepen and brighten the colors. The Voyage of Life series, even in its final execution, is more dynamic in mood and movement and less fussy than the earlier Course of Empire. This may be the

Sources Gillespie, Caroline. “The Influence and Applications of Thomas Cole’s Color Theories,” Thomas Cole Papers at the New York State Library, Albany, NY. Paper for Paul Staiti’s class, 2008. ( Internet) Mayer, Lance and Gay Meyers. American Painters on Technique: The Colonial Period to 1860, Getty Publications, Los Angeles, 2011. Chapter 12: “Thomas Cole,” 181-195. McNulty, John Bard (ed). The Correspondence of Thomas Cole and Daniel Wadsworth, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, 1983. Noble, Louis Legrand. The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1964. Parry, Ellwood C. III. The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination, University of Delaware, 1988. Schweizer, Paul D. Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, 1985.

natural result of the different subject matters or may reflect some evolution of the artist’s approach, or both. The Manhood study arrived with a coating of heavy black grime interspersed with reddish shellac on top of a brown 18 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

Compositional Study for The Course of Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State, graphite and oil on paper mounted to canvas, collection of Richard Sharp.

Tech Notes, Spring 2014

Care and use of nineteenth-century American gilded picture frames By Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects Overview

Picture frames are a standard component of museum collections and subject to wear and tear in their functional role surrounding paintings. Damage to frames occurs during exhibition, storage, and travel, the result of handling, hanging processes, adverse environments, neglect, and irreversible restorations. Picture frame maintenance is an important but sometimes overlooked aspect of collections management. Frame preservation has only rarely been addressed. Curators and collectors today are increasingly interested in identifying original, or first, picture frames on paintings. The date of frames can be assessed from their style and manufacturing technology, while shared marks on the stretcher and frame backs can indicate whether a frame is original. It is possible, therefore, to sometimes use the frame information to assist in dating a painting, another important function of the preservation specialist. This article describes some of the fundamental considerations stewards of nineteenth-century gilded frames should understand to best maintain their collections. Environment

Gilded wood objects are very sensitive to environmental conditions and they are probably more sensitive than most paintings. Gilded wood in adverse climates experience detachment and loss of gilding/ornament, while the accumulations of grime lead to surface darkening and cleaning campaigns that may well cause damage. The bright gilding that survives on frames housed in shadow boxes of the second half-century illustrates how less well protected gilding has now been altered by grime, abrasion, and staining from skin moisture and grease. Handling

All gilded objects should be handled with non-marring gloves to avoid abrasions and staining. In practice, however, gilded frames are still handled with bare hands as the frame is considered a safe means of handling the artwork. Other handling precautions include prepared soft support pads, not lifting empty frames by the thin sight edge, and avoiding contact with loose parts . Labeled Ziploc-type bags are useful for saving detached parts. Dusting

Occasional dusting of frames with a clean soft brush and vacuum is recommended to remove dust that would otherwise become grime and attract moisture [Fig. 1]. Lightweight dust covers can help in dustier storage areas, e.g. clear 0.35 mil polyethylene. Even a seemingly simple procedure like dusting is best done by someone with experience. Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  19

Tech Notes, Spring 2014

Over-zealous dusting results in progressive abrasion that removes the gold and reveals the bole and gesso preparation layers, and varying degrees of this condition are very common. An aqueous cleaning results in the removal of water gilding and its toned coatings, and this is also a common condition. Hanging hardware

Figure 1

The common early nineteenth century hanging device was a ring and screw combination located singly or as a pair in the top rail. Simpler early devices included wire, leather, and sheet metal loops, located in the top rail, while some rural portraits were not framed and the loop device is found on the stretcher. Paired screw eyelets located in the side rails were popular after about 1825 [Fig. 2], and heavier frames could have custom hardware. Modern practice is to fit steel strap hangers (D-rings) for hanging, Oz-clips for some crating, and mending plates for securing the artwork, mostly with pan-head sheet-metal screws. Secure fittings reduce the incidence of repeated screw holes, however, events can lead to new holes in the frame and stretcher backs, and care is necessary to avoid excessive holes or obscuring historic evidence. A direct-reading caliper is useful for optimizing the length of screws added to a frame. Redundant early hardware can be preserved on the frame, or separately if necessary. A heavy-duty hanging scale was used to crudely measure the failure point of a common strap hanger with a stand-up wire loop (item U711, United Manufacturers Supplies Inc.). The wire loop failed by unwinding from its strap at around 520 pounds, despite the strap being fixed with only small screws in softwood. With safety margins that include an allowance for one hanger to temporarily hold the whole weight, perhaps 150 pounds is a reasonable maximum loading for a pair of these hangers. Most framed paintings weigh less than 150 pounds, even when they are fitted with laminated safety glass. A record of the weight of heavier objects can be useful, as would further load tests of hanging devices. Old braided steel wire corrodes and becomes brittle and should be replaced with a stainless type. A single wall fixing combined with a connecting wire on the back of the frame is less secure than two wall fixings, with one for each strap hanger. Failures within the hanging arrangement can be disastrous.

Figure 2


Frame makers can be identified from the occasional inscriptions found on the frame back. These can be printed paper glued on the wood, pencil inscriptions, and late-century marks applied by carving, ink stamp, and engraved metal coupons [Fig. 3]. A selection of late century marks are illustrated by Smeaton (1988), and many New York and Boston makers have been recorded by Katlan (1987). Other frame back inscriptions record dimensions, style, owner, and hanging location, etc. Ideally, owner records include copies of maker’s labels/marks since they are fragile and 20 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

subject to loss. Surviving labels can be protected in place with an overlay of five-mil Mylar attached with double coated tape (3M 415) on a barrier layer (B72), and detached labels can be encapsulated in Mylar. Exhibition labels have traditionally been placed on frame and stretcher backs. A less intrusive and longer lasting location is on the painting’s backboard encapsulated in Mylar, or placed in the owner’s records. Modern inventory marks are applied between soluble varnish coatings to a discreet part of the frame, usually an outside corner and/or the back. Troublesome old inventory labels include gummed paper on water gilding, and pressure adhesive labels or masking tape on oil gilding. Gilding that has been covered with a title plate is usually better preserved than adjacent surfaces and indicates an earlier condition. The silhouette revealed when plates are removed may need to be masked with pigments. The introduction of new title plates will eventually result in the same irregular coloring to the gilding. Rebate modifications

Frame rebates are sometimes modified to improve the fit of a painting. When an aperture is too large to neatly and safely house a painting, the sight size can be reduced by fitting flat or L-section wood slips (or a liner) within the rebate. Mitering the ends of the slips is often sufficient to hold them in place, rather than adding fasteners or adhesive. L-section slips can double-serve by also centering the painting. Whether to only paint the reveal of the new slips, include a cavetto profile, or gesso and gild the reveal with oil or water gilding, depends on the frame’s existing gilding quality and the extent of the reveal. Linen covered liners were popular in the second half of the twentieth century and they can be original to a twentieth-century frame, but they are a later addition to a nineteenth-century frame and were added to modify the sight size. A keyed-out stretcher or a larger painting can require the widening of the rebate. Wood may need to be removed with a sharp chisel or router, although this obviously involves the loss of original material and detail. Strips of felt tape with an adhesive backing (e.g. Decco tape) are now generally fitted to rebates to cushion the edges of the painting. Attachment of the felt is improved by first dusting the rebate with a brush, and/or coating it with thin varnish (e.g., B72, shellac). Glazing

Glazing is added to frames for the protection of artwork, generally for specific exhibitions and travel. Modern glazing materials are lightweight thermoplastics (acrylic or polycarbonate) or heavier-weight laminated glass, and most have proprietary coatings to reduce UV light and reflection. Glazing is fitted in the rebate (or in front of a liner) and is backed with dark-colored and felted wood or acrylic spacers. The increased protrusion of the painting in the back can be enclosed within an added build-up.

Figure 3


Sealed microclimate enclosures are used to stabilize environmental influences during exhibition and travel. The history, development, and design of various enclosures have been described in recent literature: e.g., Kamba (1993); Richard (1995); Wadum (1995); Sozzani (1997); Phibbs (2002). The painting is enclosed behind glazing within the frame (or travel frame), and larger vitrine enclosures can also include the frame. Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  21

Sozzani demonstrates that the moisture content of wood within the enclosure (i.e. stretcher, panel, cradling, interior frame and build-up, etc.) helps control RH (relative humidity) during temperature variations, and a silica gel component can be a hindrance. The method described uses gaskets fitted between the glazing and rebate, and between the back of frame or build-up and an aluminum or acrylic sheet backing, plus additional seals as needed. Phibbs describes a simple method that uses a single piece of Marvelseal covering the object’s back and sealed to the front edges of the glazing with double-coated adhesive tape. Phibbs also describes a more labor-intensive method that involves Marvelseal, bonded to the front and back edges of the glazing with hot-melt adhesive, and folded and heat-sealed over the painting’s backboard. Factors influencing the choice of microclimate method include size, weight, shape of the packaged artwork, rebate size of the frame, the exhibition environment and duration, and individual preferences. A small data logger enclosed within the envelope can record the temperature and RH. Build-up

A build-up is an addition on the frame back that extends the rebate’s depth to improve the housing of protruding artwork. A build-up is usually made from four pieces of straight-grained and lightweight wood (e.g. sugar pine, tulip poplar), one-half to one-and-a-half inches deep, and attached to the frame back with a minimum number of woodscrews. Joining the corners of the build-up with splines or lap joints adds useful support to the frame’s own corner joinery, and beveling and painting the outside edge reduces visibility. A build-up for an oval or round frame can be prepared from birch plywood cut to a circle with band saw and jig saw. Reasons for adding a build-up include protecting the back of protruding artwork, as a component of glazing and microclimate set-ups, and as a support for failing frame joinery. Build-ups do push the hanging object away from the wall, but they also hold hardware and can provide an insulating air space behind the object.

Hugh Glover is conservator of furniture and wood objects at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, where he has worked since 1988. He received diplomas in Antique Furniture Restoration from West Dean College in 1979, and Conservation and Restoration of Wood, Stone, and Polychrome from The City and Guilds of London Art School in 1985.

22 | Art Conservator | Spring 2014

Members of the Consortium

Williamstown Art Conservation Center

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, —Hartford, CT

227 South Street, Williamstown,

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,

MA 01267

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 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 Connecticut Historical Society —Hartford, CT T‌he Daura Gallery at Lynchburg College —Lynchburg, VA Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art —Amherst, MA Farnesworth Art Museum —Rockland, ME

—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 Institute —Utica, NY Museum of Connecticut History

—Purchase, NY New Hampshire Historical Society —Concord, NH Services, Empire State Plaza Art Collection —Albany, NY Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge —Stockbridge, MA Picker Art Gallery,

Portland Museum of Art —Portland, ME

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center,

Preservation Society of Newport County

—Ogdensburg, NY —Clayton, GA

conserve and maintain the objects

—Potsdam, NY

of our cultural heritage; to provide

St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

examination, treatment, consultation

—St. Johnsbury, VT Smith College Museum of Art,

and related conservation services

—Northampton, MA

for member institutions, and for

Springfield Library and Museums

other nonprofit organizations,


corporations and individuals; to

—Springfield, MA Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

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

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

cultural interest; to participate in the training of conservators; to promote the importance of conservation

—Lenox, MA

and increase the awareness of the

Union College —Schenectady, NY

issues pertinent to collections care;

Vermont Historical Society

and to conduct research and dis-

—Montpelier, VT

seminate knowledge to advance the

Vermont Museum and Gallery


Alliance —Shelburne, VT Williams College Museum of Art —Williamstown, MA

Atlanta Art Conservation Center 6000 Peachtree Road Atlanta, GA 30341

New York State Office of General

Vassar College

Gershon Benjamin Foundation,

nonprofit institution, is to protect,

University of New York

Purchase College, State University

—Hamilton, NY

—Poughkeepsie, NY

Roland Gibson Gallery, State

‌he mission of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a

of New York

Colgate University

Frederic Remington Art Museum


—Corning, NY

Neuberger Museum,

—Cooperstown, NY —Ticonderoga, NY

Western Art

—Hartford, CT

Fenimore Art Museum Fort Ticonderoga

Mission Statement

T‌he Rockwell Museum of

—Newport, RI Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art —Providence, RI

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 Telfair Museum of Art —Savannah, GA

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



Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.