TCC Restores a Treasured Cliff Dwellers’ Painting

John Warner Norton, a charter member of The Cliff Dwellers, became one of the most accomplished and sought-after muralists in Chicago and across the United States by 1920. Norton enjoyed a distinguished career as an illustrator, painter, muralist, and teacher, and was a prolific muralist of the pre-WPA period (Works Progress Administration). In 1910 as Norton’s career and The Cliff Dwellers were both newly beginning, one of his first commissions titled "Navaho" (87" H x 60' W) became one of the private club’s earliest acquisitions of art. "Navaho" was recently conserved by The Conservation Center.

"Navaho" before treatment.

"Navaho" before treatment.

The Cliff Dwellers’ John W. Norton painting, "Navaho" (1910) came to The Conservation Center in the fall of 2012 in need of cleaning and reframing. The frame had been attached to the painting around the edges, and was causing damage to the paint layer, and there were cracks present throughout the figures with small related losses to the paint layer. Also present were small white drip marks on the surface, and general dirt and grime that accumulated over time.

Detail of "Navaho" during treatment.

Detail of "Navaho" during treatment.

Our conservators cleaned the surface of the painting, using solvents that were specially selected as the best to clean the surface of the Norton—removing the dirt and grime while leaving the paint layer undisturbed. The frame was carefully removed, and the areas of paint around the edges that had been damaged were microscopically consolidated so there were no additional losses, and all other areas of the paint surface were checked for stability. Conservation grade paints, that are reversible and detectable to professionals, were added to the areas of loss, to reduce their visual impact and better unify the paint layer. After applying a layer of varnish to integrate the surface finish and allowing it to dry, the painting was installed into a new quarter-sawn dark oak frame to enhance and compliment the beauty of the painting.

"Navaho" being cleaned by Chief Conservator of Murals Dr. Margaret Nowosielska.

"Navaho" being cleaned by Chief Conservator of Murals Dr. Margaret Nowosielska.

The newly restored "Navaho" is now back on view at The Cliff Dwellers. Heather Becker will present a lecture to club members on October 17, detailing the conservation process for the classic painting. For more information on the lecture, please click here.

"Navaho" after treatment.

"Navaho" after treatment.

Justin Gilman

The business end of Twin. In charge of landing interesting new projects, making clients happy, and coffee. A maker of beautiful music and master of oral sound effects. A secret Jim Henson nerd. Will always find ways of working smarter. Will never participate in karaoke.

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