Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All Is Not Lost

Central Virginia is a lovely place.  Although it isn't as warm as I expected, it still beats Chicago.  (When I first moved here and spotted somebody with a University of Virginia Ski Team tee-shirt, I thought it was a joke.  But there actually is a ski team...and ski slopes).

Because Charlottesville and surrounding counties have so much to offer, people are moving here all the time, and of course moves often result in breakage of  one's belongings.  I am called quite often by new residents to the area.  The calls come immediately after  they have unpacked.  One client discovered  a rocking chair poking through a painting. In the case of this sculpture, it arrived in pieces, the casualty of an inadequately reinforced cardboard box. Who among us has not experienced  that sinking feeling upon hearing a rattling sound issuing from a box labeled "fragile" ?  
This figure, reminiscent of a Giacometti sculpture, is approximately three feet tall.  It is cast plaster, covered with textured paint.

This photo is a little confusing.  The red ribbon is part of the band clamp that's holding fragments in place.  
The first order of business was to find all the broken pieces hidden in the bubble wrap and try to reattach what we could.  We were able to salvage perhaps half of them and fabricated the rest in epoxy putty.

Once the arm and neck were restored, we replicated the texture and the layered paint.

Now the figure is back on display in the owner's home after languishing for years in storage.  
The moral: don't give up on your damaged artwork.  At least get an estimate for its restoration.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thinking of Frames

 It is a beautiful spring day here in central Virginia.   Oddly, I find myself thinking of the perennial holiday special, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer-- the one with claymation figures that resemble squishy ping-pong balls.  In particular I am thinking of the  Island of Misfit Toys, where the odd and unwanted reside.  Perhaps there is a similar island for all the ornate gilt picture frames that everyone seems to be discarding right and left.

The plight of these frames has come to my attention in recent weeks.  It happened that three paintings I have been restoring,  all dating from earlier centuries, were housed in elaborate gold-leafed frames.  All three owners want to discard these frames in favor of something with cleaner lines.  Wood seems to be the preference over gilt.  Will these frames end up on their own Island of Misfit Decor ?    

I find it interesting that many of us are comfortable with  an eclectic grouping of paintings from several periods and in several styles, but prefer our frames to be contemporary or at least unobtrusive. For many, an ornate frame seems dated, not in keeping with a home's decor.  Apparently, the frame is judged in the manner of furniture while the painting is its own self-contained world.  A nineteenth century portrait can "work" with IKEA furniture, but its original frame (if full of furbelows) cannot. 

Now and then, a client wishes to repair a gilt frame.   I  take casts from existing  areas to recreate the missing ones or I carve these pieces out of epoxy.  Although I do not do gold leaf, I have been able to blend colors by  using high-quality metallic paints which I then glaze with earth-toned oil paints. 

I wonder what the future holds for all these unwanted frames.  My guess is that a lot of frames will be showing up in antique and consignment shops, and on EBay.  Hopefully they will find will find new homes, and new lives as mirrors. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Never Know What You'll Find

I wish I could remember where I bought this painting.  Something tells me that it was from a studio sale when an artist was moving out of McGuffey Art Center, an artist's co-op in Charlottesville.  On the other hand, I may have bought it at a yard sale.  The only thing I do remember is the price:  two dollars. I was attracted by the painting's well-worn condition as  well as its naive charm.
There are nail holes which suggests that the painting (done on board) was never framed, just attached to a wall.  I actually like this aspect of it, the way the painting is as much an object as an image.

For at least a decade this painting has been displayed on a table in the entry hall of our house, just casually leaning against a wall.   A few weeks ago, I decided to take a closer look at it.  I think Antique Road Show may have been on TV and I got inspired.  The first thing I did was to research the name of the ship, Nancy Weems.  Here's a closeup of the name.
 In this age of easy internet research, I googled Nancy Weems and found out that the ship was originally named the Corcoran and was built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1919. It was renamed the Nancy Weems in 1923.  It was a cargo ship and had a crew of 41 people.  Another interesting fact was that it's home port was Baltimore.  On the back of the painting is a label from the art supply store where the board was purchased:  the  Hirshberg company of Baltimore.  So from these facts I think it's fair to say that the artist was painting from observation or from the memory of having seen this particular ship.The work is not signed or dated, but I was able to find out that the Nancy Weems was scrapped in 1955.  The typeface of the Hirshberg label seems to fit with a 1920s or 1930s date, but that's just a guess. 

Now that I've learned a bit about the painting, it has emerged from obscurity, at least in my mind.  I wonder if the artist set up an easel in the inner harbor area of Baltimore which is now such a tourist hot spot.  

There isn't very much I intend to do with the painting in terms of restoration.  I will probably varnish it with a matte finish and make sure the label on the back is secure. And that will be pretty much it, because I like the evidence of age.  Sometimes the most fitting restoration strategy is the minimal one.