Friday, July 21, 2006

Fine art gleams after a scrub and touchup

It's a dirty job, but a River Forest man is happy to restore museum paintings for free

By Joseph Ruzich
Special to the Tribune
Published July 21, 2006

Sometimes when Barry Bauman is done with his high-tech cleaning of paintings, he revels in their original splendor.

Take the cleaning he is doing of an early 1920s landscape painted by Oak Park artist Louis Hovey Sharp.

For years, the painting, hung on a wall at the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, portrayed the ocean scene as dark and somber because of the accumulation of dirt and grime.

Now the painting's original bright and colorful image of land meeting water is being uncovered.

Without the expertise of painting conservators like Bauman, many paintings would eventually become unrecognizable because of dirt, oil and wax.

Bauman of River Forest is offering his service free to the historical society, much as he does to museums and other not-for-profit institutions. The institutions are only required to pay for the supplies.

"Museums can't afford to keep the lights and heat running," said Bauman. "Conservation is very expensive. So I thought I would service their needs. My reward is being able to work on magnificent works of art."

Since starting Barry Bauman Conservation in 2004, he has worked without charge at more than 70 institutions, including the Phoenix Art Museum, Indiana State Museum, Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla., and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

He has restored 300 historical paintings by such artists as John Singer Sargent, Anthony van Dyck, Alessandro Magnasco, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Sanford Robinson Gifford and Henry Tanner.

Bauman, who has a master's degree in art history from the University of Chicago, studied painting restoration while working for the Art Institute of Chicago.

He also was a visiting conservator with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1983 he created the Chicago Conservation Center, which he said was thelargest private restoration facility in the United States. In January 2004, he sold his business and began volunteering full time.

"I was very successful with my business, but my company was running me instead of me running the company," said Bauman. "I wanted to work on the paintings from start to finish, which I couldn't always do while running a business."

Bauman, 58, said there are three steps to restoring a painting. The first layer of dirt and film is removed by using a microscope and cotton swabs dipped in solvents.

Organic solvents are used to take off discolored varnishes, oils and waxes. Next, the painting is examined to make sure it is structurally secure; this may include repairing tears on the canvas.

The last step is to retouch any missed or chipped areas with paint.

Diane Hansen, research center director at the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, said the historical society decided to have the piece restored because it hangs in a place where visitors often congregate.

"You can already see in the cleaned area that the painting is much brighter and the colors jump out," she said. "I even notice more details."

Bauman said he has no plans to stop working. "How many people love their job so much that they would work for free?," said Bauman.

"Conservators come and go. In the end, no one knows who did the restoration. But to have a historical work of art in pristine condition is my reward."


At 3:33 AM, Blogger jane said...

Nice blog - haven't had time to browse/read properly but I definitely will!

Thanks for your comment on ephemera.


At 2:01 PM, Blogger Darth Punky said...

I have never really taken an interest in art until recently, but I have to say this was pretty interesting. I think I'll read some more. Thanks!



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