It seemed like any other Wednesday in September at The Center. Things were relatively quiet after a previously hectic week at EXPO CHICAGO, and the Client Services team was expecting an appointment with Israel Idonije who had a large watercolor piece that needed display options. When the client arrived with the watercolor, the team quickly realized that “display options” was an understatement. The Conservation Center prides itself on interdepartmental collaboration and the consultation soon included several conservators from many departments, all of whom were ready to Bear Down and tackle the task at hand.
Whether ancient, contemporary, or any time in between, there are countless types of artwork of all styles and ages that challenge conservators. Every piece of artwork has its own nuances and characteristics that are the result of the artist’s technique, the materials used, and the conditions the artwork experiences over the years. When it comes to conservation there is probably no type of artwork as commonly complex as traditional Asian screens. Typically constructed of paper decorated with paints, gilding, and stretched over a wooden support, Asian screens are a type of object that can require consultations including conservators in many different specialties. Collaboration between paper, furniture, painting, and gilding conservators can be critical to determine the appropriate treatment and achieve successful results when treating Asian screens.
Made of delicate fibers, folded, and carried in the pockets of soldiers, Japanese “good luck flags”, commonly known in Japan as yosegaki hinomaru, were parting gifts for soldiers deployed into battle. These flags are evidence of a long standing tradition among Japanese servicemen. The Japanese National Flag, commonly known in Japan as hinomaru, was used to facilitate these messages of prayers and well-wishes from loved ones, so that the soldier could endure the difficult times ahead; yosegaki, refers to the gathered writing, often inscribed in a pattern radiating from the center of the flag. A yosegaki hinomaru experienced only a fraction of the harrowing perils of war experienced by the soldiers who carried them to the front lines. It is remarkable that these flags have survived to continue the story of the soldiers who brought them into battle.
Recently, Senior Paintings Conservator, Amber Schabdach, conserved the original cover art for the first edition of pulp magazine Adventure, which was published in 1910.The owner of this unusual painting started reading pulp magazines almost 40 years ago, and his budding interest quickly grew into a collection of pulp magazines and eventually, the original cover art as well. “I always enjoyed the cover art, and in the early 1990's had an opportunity to buy my first two pulp paintings… from that point on, I was hooked on collecting original pulp art.” Pulp magazines reached the pinnacle of their popularity during the early 20th century.
Much like newspapers, advertising materials have a definite and distinct shelf-life. Products come and go, and for those companies that do stick around for many years, marketing slogans and styles will change with the times, thus deeming periodic updates to advertising campaigns a necessity. As a result, vintage advertising materials were not made to last for very long: they were constructed with low cost materials and quick reproduction methods that make their survival a rarity. That’s why it is so astounding when items like these banners make it decades remarkably intact. Here’s a look at four advertising banners that have come through the doors at The Center over the years.
In 1883 while presenting a lecture at Oxford, premier art critic John Ruskin said that “for a long time I used to say, in all my elementary books, that except in a graceful and minor way, women could not draw or paint. I’m beginning to bow myself to the much more delightful conviction that no one else can.” It was the paintings of artist Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) which were causing Ruskin to question his convictions. With Ruskin’s support, Trotter was at the cusp of a new career that could have changed art history; in fact, Ruskin believed that if Trotter devoted herself completely to her artwork, that "she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal."
In 1994, The Conservation Center, received a phone call that would put into motion one of the largest mural restoration projects Chicago has ever seen. At the request of a teacher from Lane Tech High School, TCC staff were called to examine a torn painting at the school. That painting turned out to be one of 66 murals that are part of Lane Tech’s collection of Progressive (1904-1933) and New Deal era (1933-1943) murals. Those 66 murals were only the beginning of the trove of murals in the Chicago Public Schools that had been all but forgotten.
Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 - 1977) was the only child of two opera singers who happened to be on tour in Texas the day she was born. While they continued to relocate throughout her early childhood, the family eventually settled in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago where Abercrombie lived for the remainder of her life. While Abercrombie had some formal art training (she took courses at The School at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art) and she worked in art advertising for a time. Here she quickly developed a distinct style that was all her own, taking inspiration from the Chicago jazz scene.
When Greg brought his map into The Center, he wasn’t seeking conservation work - the map was already in great condition. What it needed was quality framing to properly display it in Greg’s home and keep it safe for another 373 years. That’s right - dating back to 1643, this map of the Great Lakes by Jean Boisseau may not be helpful for travel these days, but will take you on an interesting trip to the past.