Located in the Land of Lincoln, The Conservation Center sees its fair share of memorabilia connected to the 16th President of the United States. Among various Lincoln memorabilia, in 2014 we had the honor of restoring the courting couch, the sofa on which a young Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd actually sat throughout their courtship in the home of Mary’s sister, Elizabeth. So when a Lincoln relic causes our conservators to stop in awe, rest assured it is a truly special item.
The name may not be immediately familiar, but anyone who has spent time walking through the streets of Chicago, will likely recognize the distinctive figurative sculptures of Chicago artist John “Jack” Kearney (1924-2014). Kearney’s sculptures, like those in Oz Park, Chicago, capture a playfulness not always found with public artwork. Kearney trained at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and later at Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy. He became interested in creating artwork using a unique yet common material: chrome automobile bumpers. When his interest sparked in the 1950s, these materials were plentiful, durable, and added an unexpected element to his whimsical animal sculptures.
Sliver-thin, delicately cut, and masterfully assembled into breathtaking images and patterns; one does not need to know much about marquetry to understand the skill it requires. A process dating back thousands of years, marquetry is the beautiful result of years of training, perfection, and artisanship.
As we move through the holiday season, our focus turns to family dinners, quiet snowfalls, and the joyful challenge of finding the perfect gift; the gift that will be treasured for years to come. And when the years take their toll on those items, we here at The Conservation Center consider it a special privilege to help in preserving those family treasures. This holiday season, we share with you an item brought to The Center by Mary, who reached out to see if it would be possible to restore one of her favorite childhood Christmas gifts: a circa 1964 Murray tricycle.
Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog Plate (Red), recalls birthday parties and carnivals from childhood. The playful subject matter is in stark contrast with the appearance of a metallic medium. In actuality, the piece is made from porcelain with a specially designed metallic glaze, likely to resemble Koons’ 10 foot tall stainless steel Balloon Dog sculptures. An interesting and intriguing piece, its contradictory appearance and composition implores the viewer to touch the piece. The Conservation Center was recently tasked with creating a mount and display case for this 2000 edition Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog Plate (Red). The piece is one of an edition of 2,300 Balloon Dog Plates. As the finish and structure of the piece is extremely fragile and sensitive, it is quite the task to handle the piece and design a mount to properly house the piece to ensure it is preserved and protected.
When wandering a flea or antique market, one just never knows what treasures there are to be found. From terrific steals to relics from a past long forgotten, there is usually something to excite the fancy of just about anyone. During one of his frequent visits to the Grayslake Antiques market, The Conservation Center’s client Robert Le Clerq had one such awe-inspiring moment that brought him back into his younger days. He came upon an old, carved wooden sculpture that immediately reminded him of nuns of the order of the Sacred Heart. Though this probably would not be significant to most, Mr. Le Clerq has fond recollections of Barat College. From serving mass as an alter boy, to watching his older sister graduate, to even dating a few of the girls who attended the private Catholic school, Sacred Heart had played a significant role in Mr. Le Clerq’s younger days.
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.
In preparation for a new exhibition entitled By All Accounts: The Story of Elmhurst, The Conservation Center recently joined forces with the Elmhurst Historical Museum to help get a few artifacts in its archives in tip-top shape. This innovative exhibit contains numerous photographs, artifacts, art objects, and informational materials from the last 165 years showcasing the growth and development of Elmhurst, a Chicago suburb. After an on-site assessment at the museum, The Center identified a few objects that needed our conservation team's attention--notably a vintage barber pole, dated from the turn of the 19th century. Presumed to be from a local barbershop, the all-wood, painted barber pole was found in a local resident's barn, and came to the museum by way of a donation in 1983.