When Joe went down into the basement of his girlfriend’s house to repair a leaking pipe, he would have never guessed that within hours he would be at The Conservation Center’s doors with a striking, but severely deteriorated, painting of Superman in hand. It was wet, stained, moldy, and even had insects living behind the frame. Fortunately, The Center’s team was at the ready to stop this kryptonite before it could do its worst.
A bright, bold, and large-scale image at 60 x 42 inches, it is easy to see how it caught Joe’s eye that day. “When I got down [to the basement] I was in awe of the painting that seemed to come to life when I saw it.” The image of Superman with the iconic logo for the The American Red Cross is certainly distinct, and research soon revealed the origin of the image; it is a DC Comics Superman cover from May of 1945, issued mere months before the end of World War II. The cover was one of many comic book images used during WWII that combined a beloved character with messaging in support of the war effort.
Upon its arrival at The Center, the painting needed attention immediately to prevent any further water or insect damage and to remove the active mold growth. Senior Paintings Conservator Amber Schabdach recalls, “when it came in, everyone thought it was a complete loss—water damaged, covered in mold, with live bugs between the canvas and frame. It was so wonderful to be able to say ‘I can save that!’ It took a team of us to immediately remove the frame and excess wet wood on the back in order to let the painting dry so we could proceed with a viable treatment later.”
Once the painting was dry after successful removal of the wet wood strainer the remaining wood paneling on which the canvas was adhered was treated to discourage any future mold growth. With the structure of the painting now stabilized, attention turned to the right side of the painting which had suffered notable stains in the image of Superman, running the entire length of the painting. While the stains could not be removed, they could be visually reduced with the application of conservation-grade paint that had been carefully color-matched and inpainted on top of an isolating layer of varnish.
Now housed in a new frame specially designed and hand-made by the conservators here at The Center, Superman’s heroic stance is no longer impeded by the mold, water, and stains that had made their mark on this impactful artwork. While the origin of this painting and its artist remain part of the mystery, it is wonderful to see it back to its bold origins. As Joe noted, when he first saw the painting, he “just wanted to save a little bit of history,” and indeed with the team of conservator’s at The Conservation Center, he was able to do just that.
Harrington, Wallace. “Superman and the War Years: The Battle of Europe Within the Pages Of Superman Comics” <http://www.supermanhomepage.com/comics/comics.php?topic=articles/supes-war>
“Superman Vol 1 34” <http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Superman_Vol_1_34>