Located in the Land of Lincoln, The Conservation Center sees its fair share of memorabilia connected to the 16th President of the United States. Among various Lincoln memorabilia, in 2014 we had the honor of restoring the courting couch, the sofa on which a young Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd actually sat throughout their courtship in the home of Mary’s sister, Elizabeth. So when a Lincoln relic causes our conservators to stop in awe, rest assured it is a truly special item.
The name may not be immediately familiar, but anyone who has spent time walking through the streets of Chicago, will likely recognize the distinctive figurative sculptures of Chicago artist John “Jack” Kearney (1924-2014). Kearney’s sculptures, like those in Oz Park, Chicago, capture a playfulness not always found with public artwork. Kearney trained at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and later at Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy. He became interested in creating artwork using a unique yet common material: chrome automobile bumpers. When his interest sparked in the 1950s, these materials were plentiful, durable, and added an unexpected element to his whimsical animal sculptures.
During the progressive early-mid 20th Century, the genre of Abstract Expressionism became a wildly popular timeperiod in American art history. New York School, as some called the movement, was a way for artists to break traditional and social conventions surrounding the art world, and adopt more emotional expression through abstraction. Among the list of Abstract Expressionist artists was Norman Lewis.
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."