tv Art Conservation in the U.S. Capitol CSPAN September 27, 2015 9:00am-9:56am EDT
from austin for the texas book festival. we will be covering to book festivals on the same weekend, from our nation's heartland, the wisconsin book festival and the boston book festival. ,e will be in portland, oregon followed by the national book awards from new york city. we are live for the 18th year in a row from florida for the miami book fair international. if you of the fairs and festivals this >> next, u.s. capital conservatory kristy cunningham adams talks about the process of restoring original paint and paintings in the capital after years of over painting and improper cleaning. she also describes best practices for conservation and restoration. her years of experience, and how
she got into the field of conservation. this talk was hosted by the u.s. capital historical set -- society, and is about 50 minutes. this is the third of our august lecture series about whatever we wanted to be about. i am particularly pleased to introduce today's speaker, christina, but we can call her kristy -- christy cunningham adams. i get to talk about her and her friend, the artist she has had over the to work on course of her career. i want to mention some of them. these are my favorites. john singer sargent, sir joshua
reynolds. monday. she has worked for clients at yale university, the national parks service, and the capital where she is currently senior conservatory of the restoration project. she is coming from a background harvard,udes study at germany, italy, and rome. please help me welcome -- before i start. by way of fighting into our , toram, we thought we might start with, if you questions about her background. particularly maybe her interest in art preservation. how are conservators get into the field today, or how they did it back in the day. i thought that would be interesting.
some of us are coming from a nonprofessional background to hearing a professional at the top of her game, artist conservatory. is that all right if we start with that? we will ask her when she comes up to the podium to tell us more about her background. what about our conversation sparked her interest? how people would go about doing it today? thank you. >> thanks a lot. i went to art school in boston after junior college. i switched to art school, the school of fine arts. i became interested in conservation, restoration, preservation because my mother was involved.
i helped her in her efforts to allect information about church that had burned down in our town. eventually, she became very prominent in preservation in our town, arlington area. she took over the preservation efforts, or she began at, and then ran it off an old woodworking no. i don't know if you have heard about it. au can google it it is beautiful mid-1800s woodworking no. the oldest continuously operating round and oval picture frame mill in the united states. they still have all of the machinery, the leather belts.
the legs -- lathes for turning the oval frames. i set up a studio on the top floor of the building. i then became involved with her in saving documents from the fire i mentioned that happened contemporaneously. i became aware of preservation in general. after my studies at the museum school, i decided to go to europe to visit friends. who lived in rome. so i did. when i got there, it changed my life forever. what i saw, what i felt, what i learned there. it changed my life. i wanted to stay and learn more. lessonsto teach english
so that i could stay. , i learned from berlitz how to teach english. i worked on my own. among the students i got with, one of the top conservators. in speaking with her, i learned about the restoration institute. i got excited about it. eventually, i decided to try to get in. i studied for a year. i worked with various conservators and took various projects that would prepare me for the entrance exam. to get in.nd managed it was very competitive. they had 550 students who apply every year. they take 10, five foreigners.
it was very lucky to get in. anyway, i have excellent training at the institute. ,mong the things we worked on we worked on joe told. we worked on the best. we learn from the masters. i saw that was a tremendous advantage. when i go back to the states, i found a lot of training programs don't work on good things. they work on what we call dogs. idea is that you don't know what you are doing yet. in italy, they train you, how to handle important things. how to protect the work of art while you intervene in its history. i say intervene because that is another difference between american and european or italian
approaches. treason.cans call it -- treatment. the italians called her work on a painting intervention. i love using that word over here. it helps the persons to realize and remember they are intervening in the history and life of this work of art. they must member that. are not a dentist going and unplugging a whole. they are actually intervening, participating in the life and history of that particular piece of art. i feel very privileged. i had a great opportunity. then i went to germany and came back to the united states. i went to the museum and started working privately. i will slide right into what i was going to talk about anyway.
i was saying before showing you that wethe paintings have been working on, the landscapes we have been working on at the capital, i wanted to review a little bit with you first, some of the basic of our conservation and restoration. over the years, many people have asked me if restoring the paintings simply means repainting it, or how i decide what to add to a painting if some parts of it, some details are missing. what to do in creating a painting, today's
conservator is guided in his treatment i an internationally recognized set of guidelines designed to preserve the painting's true identity. the criteria? respect the painting's authenticity, age, distort character, iconographic significance, and the nature and quality of the material. guidelines developed with respect to the criteria which are no part of an internationally accepted professional code of ethics, standards, and practices, were designed to protect the work of art from losing its natural age and natural place in our history. or being misinterpreted aesthetically by eight conservatory. those guidelines dictate we are not allowed to fall -- altar
significance by adding, removing, or covering any detail. we are not allowed to endanger any part of the original, or do anything to a painting we are working on that can't be undone in the future. be,atter how damaged it may it can be exposed again readily if it is necessary without any of its repairs. correct and respectful methods of treatment are followed strictly, whether the painting is a rembrandt or something their own grandmother did. it is not our job to select and ,avor works of art that we like but to respect all artistic expression and preserve it as it is, not as we like it to be. before developing a treatment plan to work on a painting, we
must undertake a conditions examination and analysis. executionne its techniques, how it was made, and with what materials, what previous restoration work has been done on it so that we can tell a difference between what should be there and what shouldn't be there. what the exact nature of its condition is, and what caused any deterioration or alteration present. this determination must be made for each of the primary layers of a painting. the reparation, and paint layer. the conservator's use of
laboratory analysis is often helpful in this process in identifying the elements. the initial analysis is important, very key. it may include the use of chemical test, observations under high-powered microscopes, ultraviolet, infrared, and x-ray radiation to determine the work,us restoration, conservation causes of deterioration. this macro photograph, for ofmple, shows deterioration a layer, the blue, hidden by subsequent repainting. this is a confirmation. if we go down and find scraps of blue mix in with scraps of gray, we can confirm our suspicions that one is older than the other by having a sample analyzed in the laboratory. treatmentvator's
deals with two main issues. the structural stability of a painting, and the recovery of its original aesthetic character, or its restoration. the first and most important and is to arrest decay stabilize the painting. most problems that threaten the painting have to do with how well the painting's layers are sticking together. in this photograph, this macro photograph, separation of the uppermost layer is visible. although it may have been visiting -- hidden. paintinglity of the usually depends on the cohesion its adhesion, or to the layer beneath it.
flaking, blistering, cracking, allbling, and powdering represent breakdown in the painting's cohesion and adhesion. these are minute flakes in the trophy room. that was a big problem. before starting treating the , we soundly while for any instability in the underlying plaster. failured any detected graphically. internaltreat the failure before working on the surface. this graphic is a typical example of how we record the worst sections in red and the
secondary sections in blue. painting's the surface is sometimes part of the conservation, and sometimes part of the restoration. if the foreign material on the surface is threatening the stability of the original, then removing that foreign material is part of the stabilization. if the foreign material on the surface impairs visibility and enjoyment of the aesthetic, removing the foreign material as part of the restoration.
this rectangle at the center of the photo will improve the painting's legibility by improving visibility of the original colors and brushwork. removal of the discard varnish also reveals extensive abrasion to the paint layers, apparently caused by previous cleaning attempts. in this case, i hope you can notice the vertical lines in the mountain and sky where scrubbing in the past in an attempt to clean it reduced some of the paint. this wasn't really that visible until the discolored yellow varnish came off.
in this case, the removal of foreign material is both a stabilizing measure and an effort to restore the original character. most of the painting you see here is over paint, coloring the delicate original. the blue arrows in this photo point to the only original paint left visible by those who repent of the decorations years before. recovering over the original over paints. time, over paint was added by a person unaware by the code of ethics and standards of practice. and, people who are unaware of , the artisticce and iconographic significance of the original. case, the over paint is also much stronger than the original delicate painting
underneath. removing it would be a good thing to do, because the over paint could rip up the delicate time but as it response to changes in the environment. capital, we have found as many as 20 layers of over paint on the paintings there. is escala, italian for steps. it is an exposure where i have left a little bit of each layer . have encountered visible this is the original wall, washed out right now. this was the first layer of over paint put on it. this was the second layer, fourth, fifth, sixth, and this
was the p green that all of the walls in the corridor were when we started. now they are a pinkish tan color. that was the original color, and that is the color we return them to. all of these layers were added at various times throughout the years. instead of cleaning the walls, repainted them, trying to match the services that have become dirty. this shows you how dirty the original has become. they matched it. that got dirty, and any matched it. that got dirty, and a matched it. at a certain point, they thought we are just point -- painting brown walls, let's give it color, let's go green. that is how it became key green green.- incredible, but that is how it happened. we record everything out. witheports are extensive
argumentation about what we have found, what we have done, with the causes were, the executions, and so forth, so that this will never happen again. hopefully, they will look at the reports before they dare touch them again. i have putther scala in the trophy room. those are all of the different layers i have encountered. bottom-green at the being the one we looked at for 50 years or more. most of the time, on the painted decoration with flowers, squirrels, all of the other decorative detail, we find asween two and six layers you see here. that is the layer, the original layer on top of that. those are the layers that were added.
it, we take off all of these and go down to the original 1800s color surface. the same thing happened here. as a got dirtier, it match that, that factored in. that match that, so forth. with the landscapes in the center reception area that we restored two years ago most of the landscapes that amy talked about last week are located, we found a variety of conditions. some of the oval medallions were found heavily covered with over paint that required removal. some were found in various conditions of repair, but only with a minimal past retouching and discolored varnish covering them. like this one.
so pretty. that is after this, obviously. often, when the old varnish which is discolored to a dark yellow is removed, previous losses in the paint layer due to lost damage -- past damage or past over the vigorous cleaning efforts become visible. as you can see here. a nice,supposed to be smooth purple mountain. it has abrasions. it was thinly applied. then when someone comes along and scrubs it, it will pull up. that happens a lot with the darker colors and violets. in the same room, however, the landscape that presented the most damage had extensive damage throughout the whole section of
wall that it was on. through all of the damage you see here, the battered landscape the whole section had been repaired several times over the past 100 years, as evidenced by the many layers of over painting and the different types of fill material used on the holes. riddled.cape was in our documentation, those losses were carefully reported and looked like this. red are old losses and the blue are the new ones that we filled. this is quite extensive. most graphics for the other landscapes in that area can be discussed.
the documentation looked more like that. you see those places up in the mountain where i show the paint was abraded. buy in painting all of those losses, especially in the one i showed you a minute ago, with a multitude of tiny dots, we were able to get back much of the original aesthetic character of that landscape. in the nearby north entrance quarter, the landscape there presented a variety of conditions. the landscape with the most dramatic change was this one. in removing the over painting, we created a scene -- simple beach with pine trees. i was never able to discover why
this completely changed the scene. you can see in the lower right, an area where i have begun to remove the choppy over paint to really a wonderfully delicate and detailed portions of the original painting that have been covered over. the brushwork is refined and specific, elegant, highly skilled, with exquisite, minute detail, masterfully rendered. that is the after shot. you can see the lovely waterfalls, islands, suspended bridge over a luminous body of water, specifically not a generic beach. among the landscape depicted were some commonly featured animals set against a rather gloomy landscape background.
inspection associated with our 2008 restoration, the brushwork could be seen as very awkward and unskilled. to thenature appeared lower left of one of the pictures. the date that he added his over paint, 1924. beginning to remove his over paint, i was surprised to find that the original back round was black, and that they replaced only a sliver of ground. complete removal of all of the over paint, the striking beauty and distinct character of the original added an impressive and dramatic punctuation in the
north entrance corridor. the unskilled and apparently careless over paint, seen in this picture, also rendered this scene suddenly generic. you can see these but down the middle. how much over paint and gratuitous dabs with a brush lovely,changing this delicate mountain into this mess. all of this confusion down here. the gratuitous sketching and random brushstrokes covered very distinct detail. you can see it in the wall itself. i am just not very good at that. you can see here close up what a that crazy, obsessive over
paint was. just dabbing away with no idea of what they were trying to create. robbing the painting of that luminous, simple gracefulness of the painting. with all of the over paint removed, we have a beautiful water, with illuminated sky, mountains, clearly, this is a specific place. even in those landscapes that were not dramatic altered by over paint, there were numerous , and a thick layer of darkened varnish and dirt on them. removing that had phenomenal results on the other paintings as well. in this one, you can see up close, the beautiful, skilled
brushwork that creates the effects of these craggy rocks and lovely mountains in the distance. landscape, when the dark , a multitudemoved of minute details were revealed, along with the true palette of the original as it communicates the light and airiness of the aqueducts, fresh bubbling waters, blue skies. we are so lucky to have such a evocative and sophisticated works in the united states capital. in restoring them, we have done recover thek, to original elegance and sophistication of the building. inc. you. -- thank you. [applause] >> any questions?
>> do we have any idea what was in the minds of the over painters in so drastically altering these paintings? one thought came to my mind. by darkening them, it makes them look antique and older. is that what they were trying to do? >> in the first place, they were never cleaned. when i got down with a scalpel,e with my shaving off layers of over as i showedan see you and is graduated exposures, each time, they are matching a dirty surface. i think the darkness and dirtiness is usually associated with a layer of dirt. it is not that they take a nice, bright painting like this and make it look old.
it's got dirty so that when they repainted it, they keyed into that palette. as to why they changed so dramatically some of the pictures, changing the scene altogether, i think that our appreciation today of the significance of these scenes as amy has discovered in the reception area, those are not just seems of pretty countryside's. those are specific places in this country. where today, perhaps, there are strip malls, baseball field, and i don't know what. we have a very fresh collection in those landscapes that grace the walls of the reception area. i know that she is working on researching those in the north entrance. i know you sure, as might be in looking at them,
that these are not just odd, fantasy scenes. these are specific places, wouldn't you say? they are just too specific. i think they did not know that. i think they lost sight of it. it was only this year that amy found the source. up until now -- i have been here 20 years. they are not just landscapes, they are important documentations. i think you have to have either that knowledge or the appreciation. conservators see the original as a piece of chew cross and sacred. that is why a lot of these rules that i mentioned a few of our in place, to save absolutely everything of the original. until that day when we can understand it.
a lot of times, we don't understand things until years later. we see it and think, that is the place in montana, or something like that. >> one of the things that i got from this that i haven't before is that when people attempt to clean them and screw them up, they are caught between a rock and a hard place, right? >> that is true. they certainly did. what i have found, the evidence microscope,er the they weren't putting a darkened, of aue look on top cleaning service. this web them down, repainted them, that got dirty, and then the whole thing started again. you are right. >> you mentioned working between
anywhere between two and 20 layers of paint can you describe the process to be that precise? , thed we did the walls walls throughout the corridors, and i don't know if everyone has visited them, but it is the ground floor, the seven corridors on the ground floor of the senate, the execution technique was something of a modified fresco. a fresco and a line wash -- lime wash. the walls of the corridors are smooth like glass. we were able to remove all of the paint with a scalpel, inch by inch. going down through each of the layers. in the very beginning, we went layer by layer.
eventually, after a couple of years, we knew it very well and we were able to go down to the original right away. i might carve off to layers at once. the process on the walls with -- scalpel was nested necessitated by the fragility of the wall and their ability to absorb paint was put onto it. compresses of solvents. being in the capital, that is difficult anyway because of all the people and things going on. it was perfect because if i had the paints, the over paint into solution, it would have made the paint wet again and let it sucked back in, let it whisk into the original again and staying at. i really wanted to take it off dry.
that is what we did. for many years, with our scalpels, inch by inch. on the ceilings, we can't do that. the ceilings are textured. rough.e pebbled, if we use a scalpel, we would be carving off peaks of the bumps. we can use a scalpel. we have to use either gels or compresses. at the moment, we are working in the west corridor and using a joke. it is like a vaseline, except that has solvent in it. we spread it on, we let it stay for about half an hour, and then we can wash it off with a brush, lifted off with copper or something. fume extractor's to take
away snow. -- smell. it is also a gel that is not snow very much. that is good. be followedhas to very carefully. with gel, solvent, scalpels. it takes a wild to get used to it. when people first, and work with us, you may have seen our team change over the years. the first thing they do is not clean area it is usually get into the works slowly through retouching, doing something a little less. familiarity up the with the original execution ability tond their see the original. you have to train your ion every
different piece suit what is the original. tell us about the science behind how you find out which layer is older. the methods. said 20 because it is true, but that is only true in the outer clean walls. decoration is a series of turquoise panels with flowers and so forth inside. each one is surrounded by a border. outside of that is the surrounding plain walls. it is the plain walls surrounding. ar six inches wide. they have the 20 layers. that is the easiest thing to
repaint. over the years, we have found that there were six major interventions, restorations since these things were painted in 1850. we were able to identify that through laboratory analysis and numbers of players and a number of ways. were restoreds many more times than that. they tend to get gouged, furniture goes up against them. they are the easiest thing to repaint. they are the 20 layers. when i took off 20 layers there, first, i went down with a microscope. you can see the different colors. you shave it down and you see different colors. familiar with the variety of colors and so forth, i would put some kind of solvent
compress on its to soften maybe three or five at once, get them soft and mushy, and wipe that. it is really fun. it is a challenge. for all of those years we went with the scalpel, i know people thought what kind of nerds are these? spending eight hours a day. honestly, it is fun and challenging. every inch, you don't know what you will find. ihave found a few things like took it off and there was nothing underneath. i thought, oh boy. i kept going and found he was looking down. had thought, he should look down, he should look up. mainly, it is just colors that are different.
yes? >> i have a question about another section in the corridor. entrance wherest the security guards are. it looks like there is a piece removed purposely and exposes what might have been carved marbles on the ceiling. was that done as evidence to support future restorations? do you have plans to explore the area? that is part of the big project we are working on now. right now, the architect at the capital put together a big request for proposal for finishing the public spaces.
we worked for years on the walls piece i piece by piece. then, they put one big contracts together for finishing everything. that is the last piece. we started in the trophy room. we did the refectory walls. corridor, the patent which i hope you have seen. if you have not, it is well worth it, because it is quite spectacular. now, we are doing the west corridor. next year, we will do the main quarter -- corridor. after that, we will do the main quarter. did, memorials i day weekend years ago, looking for what was there in the feasibility of recovering it. when i was able to uncover that fantastic decoration, that
became part of this project. that is something we will be doing. it is spectacular. it is actually spectacular. there, you will see above one of the elevators, it is about this big. very subtle, beautiful, --histicated verbalizing marbalizing. >> has any restoration been done on room 144 on the outside of muda's first work? >> i have been mostly on the senate side. i don't know what is happening over there. >> i had a question, when you showed the slide of the seven or
eight over paints, 175 years after the original, were you able to pinpoint the amount of time between each of the restorations, conservations, or over paintings? >> that is a good question. that is a question we ask ourselves all the time. that is what we try to do. we can't do carbon dating. as is often said, too bad they did not write on this. we are constantly trying to identify and pinpoint the sequencing of this. efforts,th various activities that are scantily recorded.
they have very scanty records. likeare usually things funding was halted for congress for washing, cleaning, attending to the walls of the basement. they were referred to as the walls of the basement. to, we didn'ting know. washing, we didn't know what they were pouring -- referring to. this overdence of cleaning, this aggressive cleaning. we see lots of evidence of repainting. we suspect that some of the washing or tending to was actually repainting. i think that when we did the my husband in 1990, and i did an extensive study throughout the try to figure out what had gone on their and what was the situation.
we determined there were 16 interventions. about every 25 years. that makes a lot of sense. lots of dabbs, repairs intermittently. were these sixe major interventions every 25 years or so. not every surface was read on you canme. sometimes, see in one area, usually the background, that is how it turns from being bright white to yellow. sometimes, birds have feathers the face is fine except the chest has been repainted three times. you have to look carefully, inch by inch.
there were similar efforts at the same time. >> can i ask you a question? i know to a certain extent, is there something special about the capital that makes this mini-corridor so difficult to account for in terms of the state of their preservation and conservation? the use of gas lamps? >> i could say that a lot of these paintings were done while the buildings were just being finished. while the extensions of the senate wing were just being finished. of course, it didn't have air conditioning. the windows would be open, dirty air would come in. i think in some cases, they
could not get a consistent torce of calcium carbonate do them with. pigments thatt didn't have too much clay and them. there were circumstances at the hindered inhibited, some of the execution. arises fromproblems that. , a lightfor example that we use pigment is frequently very undermined. it might be that it had too much clay and it. the clay was absorbed through the surface of the plaster. yellow trouble with river, also. paintingse are some
that have a general rate down in the application of the white background. we have a number of reports where we have special graphics to show the white background problem. that is what we call it. circumstances at the time that these things were painted that did not favor consistently adequate technique. said, theng, as i windows were open. the civil war.g soldiers camped and leaning up against the walls. they were subject to a great deal of mechanical damage. then, crowds and crowds of people going through the building. when i first came 20 years ago,
there were mobs before 9/11. kids going down with their back acks, what doack s you call them? backpacks. there have been a lot of problems. all public buildings. there have been other problems that all public buildings have. one of those is the tradition of maintenance that the public buildings have. they want to look spiffy, clean, pulled together for the public. they often get painters to come and repaint them. often ask meople if restoring a painting means repainting it. it should not. but it has. because of this interest in keeping no scratches showing. capital hask the more problems, or had more
problems than other buildings of that. . -- period. >> was he a professional artist, maintenance worker, somebody's nephew? >> he was definitely someone's nephew. there weren't really conservators at that time. cup, icould stanley think he was probably a painter. i don't know of anything he did besides fooling around with pictures in the capital. i haven't looked into that. >> i was wondering if your work has solicited a lot of interest of seeing that they did in the capital.
>> we certainly do get many inquiries. the capital office would be able to answer that better. feel several -- we field several calls a year. >> thank you very much. [laughter] [applause] >> i was reminded by my colleague who has helped put this together, we have copies of a book called to make beautifully capital. if you enjoyed the show over the last week or so, you will enjoy buying this book.
if you are at home, you can order it online from our catalog. i also want to remind you that we are midway through the series. hopefully, you will join us next week. the following week, the curator is sending over barbara to speak more about the relationship center just and more thank you again, for coming. moore.in [applause] trumanident harry referred to his wife, beth, as the boss. she served as first lady on her own terms. she has much to say to the media, especially after some unforgettable public moments. she's that a good part of her white house years home in missouri. tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern, on c-span's original series,
influence and images. examining the public and private life of the first lady and her influence on the presidency. tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american tv history on c-span3. >> each week, american history's tv visits museums and historic places. the national gallery of art was a gift to the american people from nancy or andrew mellon who served as treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932. up next, we visit the museum to learn about early american portrait painting and the work of johnson looked in. >> and diane stephen. we are standing in a room of