MOA Behind-the-Scenes: Conservation
This year, we started sharing an inside look at what it takes to put together an exhibition at the museum. MOA Behind-the-Scenes, parts 1, 2, and 3, explore the making of two popular MOA exhibitions: We Could Be Heroes: The Mythology of Monsters and Heroes in Contemporary Art and Work to Do: Trent Alvey, Pam Bowman, Jann Haworth and Amy Jorgensen.
This month, we consult Marian Wardle, Curator of American Art, to discuss the intriguing cleaning and conservation process of the painting, Saint Michael the Archangel, included in our current long-term exhibition, Shaping America: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection of American Art.
Q: Where did the modern conservation of this painting take place?
MW: Works of art must be cleaned and conserved by trained conservators. We do not do this type of intensive work on paintings here at the Museum. Saint Michael the Archangel was conserved in Denver, at the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts.
Q: What is the typical process of conservation?
MW: Conservators start by cleaning the painting. As they clean it, the colors brighten up and the paint losses become more noticeable. Then they take off over-painting that has been added in the past to cover up losses. In the process they might discover losses beneath the surface that were the reason for the over-painting. They often discover other unique issues with the work. For example, with Saint Michael the Archangel, they needed to remove the painting from a wook backing it had been glued to. Conservators also discovered that someone had added a piece of canvas all the way around the edges of the front of the painting and painted an extension on the additional canvas. So, the painted part on the additional canvas was completely made up, not part of the original work, perhaps in an attempt to add more room around the painting to better suit it for display.
Q: Can you tell us more about the over-painting?
MW: During this conservation process, they needed to take off the over-painting that had been done in the initial conservation, which likely took place before 1914. Nowadays, conservators don