Guest blogger: Stephanie Hufford
Hello, it’s Stephanie again! The UMFA collections staff and I have been hard at work this summer surveying the European paintings collection. Painting conservator Carmen Bria joined us for a week to help perform the survey along with Yasuko Ogino, another conservator from the The Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts (WCCFA).
Before I fill you in on what we’ve learned so far about the UMFA’s important collection of European paintings, I’ll tell you a little more about why we’re all here in the first place. The UMFA was recently awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This grant is funding a thorough object-by-object survey of the Museum’s European paintings collection with assistance from contracted conservators from the WCCFA.
As part of the grant, UMFA engaged a pre-program intern (me!) to help with the survey. When the project concludes, I will assist in publishing a case study and summary of results to share with museum and conservation communities through the Web and conference presentations because the structure and process of this survey could help other museums plan similar projects. For the UMFA, the survey will help inform future conservation strategies, including a phased re-interpretation of the permanent exhibition galleries next year, beginning with European paintings.
And now back to our progress…
On Monday while the museum was closed to the public, we ventured upstairs into the European galleries to evaluate the paintings currently on view. Most of the paintings there are in good shape—with no obvious aesthetic or structural issues—so those didn’t take very long. After that, we moved down into the Museum’s secure collections storage, where the majority of the paintings being surveyed are located. The UMFA’s new curator of European, American, and regional art, Leslie Anderson-Perkins, was with us most of the time, adding a curatorial perspective to the process.
While we were in storage, we found some paintings that were in need of immediate intervention. One large wooden panel painting was found with a vertical crack in the middle. Some paint was flaking off along the crack and needed to be consolidated so that it would be safe to continue storing the painting in a hanging position on the storage screens. (Flat storage takes up considerably more space, which is at a premium.) Carmen performed some spot treatment to adhere the flaking paint chips to the panel, and now it’s safely stored again.
All the paintings that were surveyed were separated into three groups: paintings that need no treatment, paintings that need minor aesthetic treatment that can be done on-site, and paintings that need to be sent away for full treatment at a conservation lab. Now that the survey is done, we’ll be able to look at all the condition reports for each individual painting and talk with Leslie to decide on treatment priorities, based on what will be exhibited in the future.
Overall about 200 paintings were surveyed. Now it’s time for me to compile all that data, and I’ll be back soon to report the results!