The Conservation Center Participates in EXPO CHICAGO/2015

The exciting fall art season is upon us and The Conservation Center is ready to participate once again in the annual international art fair, EXPO CHICAGO! Now in its fourth year, EXPO CHICAGO is a four-day event (September 16–20) taking place at historic Navy Pier, featuring more than 140 of the world’s leading art galleries from 16 countries. This fair draws visitors from all over and continues to demonstrate Chicago as an important destination in the art world. As we have for the past three years, The Center is proud to serve as EXPO CHICAGO’s exclusive art conservation and custom framing provider. Our conservators will also be on-call and on-site to assist dealers and galleries whose pieces have sustained damage related to transportation and handling.

The Conservation Center's booth at EXPO CHICAGO this year

The Conservation Center's booth at EXPO CHICAGO this year

The Center’s educational booth this year (Booth 118) will include five pieces, showcasing some of the past year’s projects for our clients. Treatment images and a short explanation of the conservation process will accompany each project on display. In addition, our Senior Paintings Conservator, Amber Schabdach, will be stationed in our booth on Thursday, September 16, and Friday, September 17, for a live conservation demonstration. Amber will be cleaning a painting and educating visitors on paintings conservation.

Featured in our Booth 118 are works including a Boulle Clock; two watercolors by Alphonse Mucha; a painting by Roger Brown with a gilded frame; a John Singer Sargent painting with a carved gilded frame; a Balloon Dog Plate by Jeff Koons with a custom-made mount and vitrine; and two examples of heavily fire-damaged frames from the LaSalle Bank fire of 2004. 

A few of the highlights are the clock, the Sargent, and two frames from the LaSalle Bank fire of 2004.


Boulle Clock
Wood, Brass, and Tortoise Shell

This clock was brought to The Center after changes in its environment caused the carcase to shrink and become unstable, resulting in the inlaid tortoise shell and brass cleaving from the surface. Areas of the decorative surface also suffered delamination and loss while the oil finish on the brass sections degraded and discolored. Additionally, there were segments of poorly executed previous repairs, where areas of loss had been filled with pigmented, painted plaster that were readily visible on the surface. 

The Center's conservators first stabilized the core structure and addressed the shrinkage splits by filling them with an appropriate species of wood. To do this, 19 panels of the boulle work was removed so that the conservators could address the carcase as well as the decoration. The panels were flattened and the previous repairs were removed. The conservator’s talents truly came to light when they hand-cut brass and imitation tortoise shell to integrate fills into the areas of loss. These had to be cut exactly to ensure they fit perfectly into the areas of loss. (Imitation tortoise shell was used because the use of actual tortoise shell was prohibited in 1977).

The mercury gilded figurative decoration comprising the ormolu was chemically treated for to clean it and remove the degraded finish. The ornamentation was then re-attached to the clock. The treated boulle panels were then individually re-attached to the carcase using conservation adhesives before the brass was sealed with lacquer to protect it.


John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Olive Trees at Corfu, 1909
Oil on Board with Carved Gilt Frame

The piece was brought to The Center to address the frame, as there were many areas of loss, unstable gesso and gilding, and missing areas of carving. Our conservator first addressed the unstable miters by removing the areas of excessive glue from the previous repair.

The miters were then stabilized and filled with an appropriate type and amount of adhesive. He then consolidated the finish using conservation adhesives to preserve as much of the original as possible before cleaning the piece.

Areas of missing carvings were filled with blocks of bass wood and were re-carved in situ to emulate the present carvings in other areas. The fills were then coated with layers of gesso before being in-gilded and toned to match the existing finish. Large areas of loss to the gilding were then filled with gesso, in-gilded, and toned to replicate the appearance of the rest of the finish.


LaSalle Bank Fire frames (2004)

The frames inside the vitrines were recovered by The Center’s Disaster Response team from the 29th floor of the LaSalle Bank Headquarters following a massive fire from an electrical short in the wiring in December 2004. The photographs once housed inside the frames were successfully recovered and preserved by The Center’s conservators.

While some of the photographs were charred beyond repair, most of the collection was salvaged, due largely to the foresight of the collection’s curator. The curator had taken preventative measures and had the entire photography collection framed to museum standards using high quality, archival materials. During the fire, the framing materials served as a protective barrier from the smoke and the heat.

The effect of the blaze’s intense heat is readily visible in these examples. In one example, the Plexiglas melted and in the other, the Plexiglas bowed convexly, away from the artwork. After The Center’s conservators recovered and treated the photographs that were once inside these frames, The Center then re-housed them to protect them for years to come.


Please stop by Booth 118 at EXPO CHICAGO to learn more about The Conservation Center, our projects, and the world of art conservation. We look forward to seeing you there!  

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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