Over the past 29 years The Conservation Center has developed a national reputation as the ‘go to’ place for the rescue of some of the nation’s finest artworks and artifacts from fire and floods, as well as the restoration of cherished personal heirlooms. As of July, The Conservation Center has a space to match the breadth of their work: the company has recently moved into a newly designed, state-of-the-art 25,000 square foot space in Chicago’s upcoming arts district.
The Center’s new conservation laboratory was designed by Jeanne Gang, the renowned Chicago architect. The lab sits on the fourth floor of The Center’s new home, a LEED certified building with a geo-thermal HVAC system that allows for control of temperature and humidity throughout the facility. With 16-foot ceilings and large arched windows along the South, West and North walls, the space provides perfect lighting conditions for the delicate retouching of paintings or for the fine sewing techniques employed in the restoration of textiles; and is equipped with a large scale photography room for UV analysis, flat bed photography, and large-scale documentation.
The new space also enhances the ability to conserve works of art on paper of any size, as it is outfitted with a large-scale water washing station with a light bank overhead, a wet cleaning room and several humidification stations. Additionally – reflecting The Center’s broad range of on-going projects (from furniture to fine art restoration, frame conservation to custom framing) – the facility has numerous vacuum presses, suction and hot tables, framing and wood-working stations, microscopes, extraction and ventilation units, as well as contained triage room for biological reparation treatment.
MacArthur Genius grant recipient, Jeanne Gang, gives positive feedback about The Center's new location: "High ceilings and arched windows arrayed across the space make this a great studio for the important restoration work of The Conservation Center. Our work focused on creating functional and user-friendly individual workspaces for conservators while enhancing the architectural qualities of the interior."
“We now have the space we need to match the breadth and diversity of The Center’s work,” explains Heather Becker, The Center’s CEO. Heather purchased the company from the founder in 2003 and has grown the company to become one of the nation’s largest privately-owned conservation facilities. While The Center handles all manner of artifacts—from furniture pieces, to works on paper and textiles—for museums, private collectors, historical societies and families, it is perhaps best known for its unmatched Disaster Response services. The Center has aided with the restoration of artworks ravaged by major disasters that have marred the last decade, including those damaged by flooding from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. When the hurricane struck, The Center flew conservators to the site to assess and transport the damaged items back to Chicago for full restoration. Similarly in 2008, The Center was called upon to rescue and restore entire collections from five museums that suffered from the Iowa floods that year.
Closer to home, in 2004 a fire at Chicago’s LaSalle Bank damaged one of the nation’s finest collections of 20th Century photography. The bank immediately turned to The Center. "The Conservation Center did incredible work in restoring our photographic collection which included works by many of the nation’s most important photographers," explains Norm Bobins, then President of LaSalle Bank and now Chairman of The Private Bank in Chicago. Mr. Bobins now serves on The Center’s Board of Advisors.
"We have more space in our new facility for handling claims and conducting the triage and stabilization work required when responding to such disasters," Ms. Becker notes. The disaster response work is significant, but just as relevant are the items brought to the facility day after day which have personal, historical, or cultural stories behind them. Ms. Becker explains, “We are always ready to respond to emergencies jeopardizing art anywhere in the country, but much of our work is conserving precious objects subject to unavoidable problems of age, deterioration, and accidental damage.”
The Conservation Center has cared for fine art from some of the country’s most prestigious museums, galleries, corporations and private collections. Among its specialties are paintings, works on paper, photographs, frames, murals, furniture, textiles, objects and sculpture, gilded artifacts, rare books, collectables and heirlooms. In addition, The Center offers custom framing, long-term art storage, and transportation and installation services nationwide.
Marshall Field V, a private collector and member of The Center’s Advisory Board notes, "This is an important move – From tracking works to ample work space, from total environmental control to easier parking and deliveries, the space works well for conservators and customers alike."
Ms. Becker notes that the company move is particularly timely, as The Center is the fine art conservation sponsor for EXPO Chicago this September 20-23 at Navy Pier. The Conservation Center’s team of conservators will be on call for the dealers and exhibitors, handling any art emergencies that may arise.