Whether massive in size or delicate in material, many projects taken on by The Conservation Center pose unique challenges for our team of expert conservators. Recently, the Robert R. McCormick Museum located in Wheaton, Illinois, brought us a curious object from its collection: a wooden model replica of a naval cruiser named the Kreuzer Konigsberg, commissioned during the WWII era. The amount of detail and veracity in the ship’s execution is staggering. However, upon closer examination, the model—which measures a miniscule 15” wide, 3” depth, 6” high—was found to be in poor condition, with broken segments throughout and worthy of a thorough cleaning and treatment effort.
Well before Matt Groening’s Marge Simpson character became pop icon, artist Ed Paschke (1939–2004) created his own version of a Yellow Lady in 1969. In the same way that the bizarre appearances and situations as depicted in “The Simpsons” comment on pop culture, Paschke’s manipulations of mass media aim to do the same. The technicolor tones and flat background aim to dissociate the woman from her body and her surroundings; the addition of the admiring man takes on the role of the consumer and the viewer, aiming to make the voyeur uncomfortable. While only minor conservation was needed for this vibrant painting, the private collector knew very little about its history, causing us to reach out to the Ed Paschke Foundation and even the artist’s daughter, Sharon Paschke. Neither was familiar of the piece’s existence, and Sharon, especially, was excited to see a new example of her father’s early work. In order to discover more about this very special Yellow Lady, we studied the canvas under ultraviolet light and found some surprising details. With these new findings, The Conservation Center was able to shed new light on this painting for its owner as well as the Paschke family.
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.
Our staff at The Conservation Center is always up for a good challenge, so when an elaborate frame surrounding a 17th-century Spanish Colonial painting (most likely from Peru) came to us for repairs recently, we rallied not one, but two conservators from different departments to collaborate on this project. Towering at 6 feet tall by 9 ½ feet wide, the sheer size of this frame is impressive enough before even considering the stunning craftsmanship and details worked into the edges and corners. The Center's Senior Gilder and Frames Conservator teamed up with our Senior Furniture Conservator and worked their magic on this amazing frame.
"Boxing is what you did, not what you are." That's what Nobel Prize-winning author George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once said to the legendary heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney (1897-1978). Gene Tunney was recently introduced to The Conservation Center by way of his son, Jay Tunney, when he brought in a beautiful portrait of his father painted by family friend and Irish artist Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) in 1928. While Gene Tunney's heart was in boxing—a fighter Muhammad Ali called "the greatest of the old-timers"—the painting does not depict what you would traditionally expect to see in a portrait of a tough, prominent athlete.
They say “fashion is cyclical”—trends from each decade have re-emerged one way or another on the major runways around the world. The 1960s, in particular, featured a number of diverse trends. It was a decade that broke many rules and traditions, mirroring social movements during the time. In the middle of the decade, the modish (and not terribly functional) culottes, bikinis, go-go boots, and PVC clothes were all the rage. And what about those “Paper Capers”? One such rare, never-been-out-of-the-box Butterfinger paper dress from 1966 was recently unfolded at The Conservation Center, and our textiles conservator collaborated with our custom framer to properly showcase this très chic item from the Swinging Sixties.
Girl with a Spray Can was first printed in Wallace Ting’s book 1¢ Life, often viewed as a compact visual manifesto of the sixties. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s color lithographs were printed on pages 118-119. This piece offers a unique juxtaposition. The right panel of the diptych consists of a reference to the simple printing process of using Ben-day dots (which dates back to 1879). The left side of the diptych consists of a small segment of a comic-strip imagery for which Lichtenstein became quite famous. This piece is the first instance of Lichtenstein featuring a blonde girl in his works, iconography which now is considered some of the most desirable in his oeuvre.
The Cressent Boulle Clock is on view at The Conservation Center's Pop-Up Lab @ EXPO CHICAGO/2014 (Booth 113) from September 18–21.
Charles Cressent (1685-1768) was a descendant of a family of furniture makers and talented sculptors. As a pupil of André Charles Boulle (1642–1732)—the French cabinetmaker who is generally considered to be the preeminent artist in the field of marquetry—Cressent's work is characteristic of the Rococo period with adornments of feminine figures and motifs, floral Arabesques, and exotic animals. To combine the gilt-bronze elements of his unique style and to ensure the quality of his mounts, Cressent broke the rules of the French guild system and was prosecuted for practicing two professions in the same workshop—cabinetmaking and gilding.
The gateleg table is on view at The Conservation Center's Pop-Up Lab @ EXPO CHICAGO/2014 (Booth 113) from September 18–21.
This gateleg (folding) table is likely British or American due to the use of walnut and box wood inlay. Stylistically, it is a 19th copy of an original produced in the late 17th century. It references a simple, utilitarian style, but the flair in the marquetry nods to a later William and Mary motif. The table came to The Conservation Center with loose veneer, and missing areas in the turned legs. In addition, the previous treatment relied on heavily pigmented polish to disguise the poor quality repairs—which masked the decorative effect of the inlay and the burr walnut veneer.