Monday, January 17, 2011

When Memory Doesn't Serve

The next time you misplace your car keys try not to beat yourself up about it.  Just be glad you aren’t part of the Albemarle Historical Society.  In anticipation of Charlottesville’s 250th birthday, members are trying to locate a time capsule that was buried fifty years ago.  They just can’t seem to find it.  Steven Meeks, President of the Society, managed to track down three of the people who witnessed the burial of the time capsule.  Unfortunately,  they can’t remember where the ceremony took place.  (Daily Progress, page 1, Jan. 16, 2011). This is understandable, since they were children at the time. Hopefully the capsule will be rediscovered without excavating all of downtown. A likely scenario is that the search will be dropped since nobody can remember exactly what was placed in the capsule.  It may not be worth the trouble.

It just goes to show that history can go astray even when one has organized a ceremony to preserve it.  Time capsules and parades do not necessarily translate into hard data.  This newspaper article served as a reminder to me that documentation and a clear filing system are part of the restorer's job.

This lesson is especially pertinent as I launch on restoration of a painting that has been in our family for sixty years or so. .  We don't know anything about it other than the fact that my grandfather bought it from the junk shop near his office.  The artist was Ebinger, which is actually quite a prominent name in Chicago, although I have discovered nothing about Ebinger the artist.
The subject matter, a Chinese woman dressed in traditional costume, would seem to date from the twenties, when Asian themes were popular. It currently hangs in our hallway, but for decades it  held a prominent place in my grandparents' living room.  Over the years it hovered behind us in family photo after family photo. As you can see from the family photos, the  hair styles evolved.  We see a bouffant here, a shag there.  My brother and I change quite a lot. 
c. 1964

The painting, though, has changed very little...or so it seems. 

Upon closer inspection however, we can see drying cracks  and missing paint, along with general instability to the surface. 

Surely those problems weren't present in 1964.  But it's hard to know for sure if they were there or not. Ironically the photographs that  might have served as a document have faded. Like the painting, they are showing their age and are unusable to determine the painting's condition from so many years ago. From that standpoint, they are as helpful as a lost time capsule. Of course that was hardly the intent of our family photos.  They did a great job capturing the fashions of the day as well as the various ways one can express long-suffering tolerance while posing.

Today  as I begin to reline and clean this painting you can be sure I will take many digital photos.  I'll label them and I'll hope that Windows remains a software platform for years to come. I'd better make some archival prints just to be on the safe side.

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