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.
Readers of our newsletter may remember a story that was published in December 2014 about a 10th century Greek Codex we had received from The Center for Adventist Research at Andrews University in Michigan. The Conservation Center was proud to be given the assignment of conserving this precious work. The codex—a rare book containing portions of the Gospels According to Luke and John—was crafted on pages of parchment, written in iron gall ink, containing decoration in gold leaf and bound in leather. Our paper and rare books conservators joined forces and poured many hours of hard work into assessing the damage and researching the appropriate treatment solutions. Additionally, a treatment plan was designed and implemented, to protect this rare volume from further damage in the future.
One of the misconceptions concerning work performed at an art treatment facility such as The Conservation Center is that an object or a piece of art must have significant value on the market to qualify for professional care. This is simply not the case. While many of our clients have high-end pieces that belong to large-scale collections and museums, our conservators also specialize in treating family antiques and heirlooms that have sentimental value.
Family heirlooms connect generations in a deep, personal way. From the handed down bible and grandmother’s knitted quilt, to a late 1800s baptismal gown and photos of a relative going off to war—anyone who has found or kept historic pieces in the family knows how moving they can be. These treasured items, passed down through the decades, provide insight into the lives of our ancestors and a richer understanding of our family's history.
The weather's heating up, but there are no signs of slowing down at The Conservation Center. From intricate conservation projects to private tours, our staff is hard at work in West Town. To celebrate the new season, we are bringing back our popular "A Day in the Life" photo series. With our camera in hand, we wandered around the lab and captured some amazing images to share with you.
There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean. And while spotless living spaces make a house a home, many of us unfortunately have to use harsh chemicals and solvents to achieve that goal. The application of products found under the kitchen sink can lead to chemical reactions on the surface of art objects that can prove to be quite serious, resulting in detrimental losses that are usually so much greater than the reward of a home cleaning approach. When it comes to caring for your art and antiques while freshening up around the house, we strongly advise our readers to adhere to the “DDIY” rule—Don’t Do it Yourself—and leave the job to professional art conservators.
Sometimes a singular work of art can inspire an entire collection. When this is the case, the collector cherishes that first piece above all others. When a client of The Conservation Center brings in a work that we can actually see the joy and affection brought on by it, those feelings are contagious. This is what happened recently when Bruce Romick, a private collector from Indiana, contacted us about one such treasured item. Mr. Romick and his wife had acquired a lithograph of May Milton by famed Post-Impressionist artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1978. While it was in very good condition when purchased, after 37 years, some degradation was to be expected. Our Paper Department was in charge to bring “May” back to life so it would continue to bring the Romicks the same joy for many years to come.
In the field of paper conservation, there are a myriad of challenges that one can encounter. Some of the biggest issues that arise when treating works of art on paper are the result of fragile media and temperamental fibers within the sheet. “Works on paper were intended for daily use and handling, and thus do not stand the test of time as well as other art forms that were meant to be admired from a distance,” said Brian Kapernekas, The Conservation Center’s Senior Paper Conservator. “Many of the conditions we encounter are not only related to age, but also to improper storage.” Acid-free and archival housing materials are relatively new in the scope of framing practices. Most people do not even realize that acidic materials are usually the cause of the gradual deterioration of paper—until it is too late and the sheet is heavily yellowed, embrittled, and the damage is too severe to reverse.
After more than three decades of preserving fine art and heirlooms at The Conservation Center, we now have an impressive answer to one of the most the frequently asked questions by our clients and visitors: “What is the oldest piece that The Center has ever conserved?” Recently, a 10th century Greek Codex—which contains portions of the New Testament Gospels of Luke and John—arrived at our conservation lab, and we, admittedly, are truly impressed. This rare book belongs to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, a Bible-based university supported by Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Here at The Conservation Center, we strive to protect and preserve objects that hold intrinsic value to individuals and families, not just monetary value. During treatment, we often uncover forgotten details about a piece, and it can mean so much more to our clients when this information relates to their own family members and heritage. In this way, we approach each and every object with the highest level of care and attention. Recently, Naomi Steinberg, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, brought us a badly torn ketubah that was believed to belong to her paternal grandparent’s. Our conservators were able to meticulously piece this document back together, and through this process, Naomi also uncovered a slice of family history.