A Closer Look: Conserving Made in the USA

Take a look at how the Phillips conservation team prepared for Made in the USA, including starting two years in advance of the exhibition and removing 60 years of accumulated grime from the surface of Bradley Walker Tomlin‘s
No. 9 (1952).

Conservation Gets Ready for Made in the USA

Conservators at The Phillips Collection have been getting ready for Made In The USA, the exhibition celebrating the return of the collection’s American masterworks after almost five years on tour. A few works that did not go on tour but will be featured at the Phillips this spring and summer have recently received attention to treat structural issues such as canvas distortions and insecure paint. In addition, all of the works required cleaning to remove dulling layers of surface grime.

Setting down raised cracks and consolidating insecure paint on "No. 9" by Bradley Walker Tomlin. Top: The painting is raised on blocks and a suction apparatus is placed behind the canvas to aid in consolidation and drying. Bottom: Adhesive is wicked into the paint cracks using a small brush. Suction from the reverse helps pull the adhesive into the cracks as well as to pull lifting paint into plane as the adhesive dries.

Setting down raised cracks and consolidating insecure paint on “No. 9” (1952) by Bradley Walker Tomlin.
Top: The painting is raised on blocks and a suction apparatus is placed behind the canvas to aid in consolidation and drying.
Bottom: Adhesive is wicked into the paint cracks using a small brush. Suction from the reverse helps pull the adhesive into the cracks as well as to pull lifting paint into plane as the adhesive dries.

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Structural treatment to reduce canvas distortions in “Fall of Old Houses” (undated) by Ernest Fiene.
Top left: The painting is carefully removed from the stretcher and the folded over edges are flattened using controlled moisture and gentle heat from a heated spatula.
Top Right: Strips of linen canvas are prepared.
Bottom: With the painting off its stretcher and laying face-down on the table, strips of linen canvas are attached to reinforce the tacking edges. The painting will be placed in a work stretcher so that all of the canvas is accessible, and the distortions will be relaxed and reduced using controlled humidification and suction.

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Using a soft sponge to remove grime from the surface of “Gray Buildings” (1925) by Niles Spencer.

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Watercolors are used to retouch minor losses on the frame for “Grey Buildings” by Niles Spencer.

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Removing dark grey grime from the unvarnished surface of “Catalpa in Bloom” (undated) by Anne Goldthwaite.

After cleaning, applying wax to the surface of "Ancestor" (1958), by Seymour Lipton.

After cleaning, applying wax to the surface of “Ancestor” (1958), by Seymour Lipton.

Other works treated for the touring exhibition in the past five years include:

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square (1957)

Milton Avery, Black Sea (1959)

Alexander Calder,  Red Polygons (ca. 1950)

Stuart Davis, Eggbeater No. 4 (1928)William Gropper, Minorities (1938 or 1939)

Marsden Hartley, Off the Banks at Night (1942)

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (between 1845 and 1846)

Stefan Hirsch, Mill Town (ca. 1925)

Karl Knaths, Deer in Sunset  (1946)

Walt Kuhn, Plumes (1931)

Seymour Lipton, Ancestor (1958)

Loren MacIver, New York (1952)

Peppino Mangravite, Political Exiles (ca. 1928)

Grandma Moses, Hoosick Falls in Winter (1944)

Alfonso Ossorio, Mother and Child (1951)

Theodoros Stamos, Sacrifice of Kronos (1948)

Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8 (1952)

Jack Tworkov, Highland (1959)

Tweeting Behind the Scenes of Made in the USA

To celebrate the opening of Made in the USA, we held a series of tweetups in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. Participants used #MyAmericanArt to share photos of their behind-the-scenes preview with friends. We started with a tour from exhibition curator Susan Behrends Frank:

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TWEETS (Clockwise from top left): “‘Everything is pushed to the corners.’ #myamericanart,” @sam_theriault; “Can a work of art be too realistic? People thought this one was at the time it was done. #MyAmericanArt,” @sbanks20; “Rockwell Kent went into nature to capture grittiness and drama: witness ‘The Road Roller.’ #myamericanart,” @museums365; “Great seeing 200+ old faves back from tour & home @PhillipsMuseum ‘Made in the USA,'” @efstewart; “Moving on to the Degrees of Abstraction room with Avery painting #myamericanart,” @jackievicino

Moved to the conservation lab to hear insights from Associate Conservator Patti Favero:

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TWEETS (Clockwise from top left): “In the conservation room @PhillipsMuseum! #MyAmericanArt,” @swahilary; “I would die for these @KremerPigments in the @PhillipsMuseum conservation studio. #MyAmericanArt,” @studio9201; “Our tweeters get a chance to look at a #Gauguin through the microscope #myamericanart,” @phillipsmuseum; “Restoration and conservation tools. #myamericanart #phillipscollection #art #dc,” @sam_theriault

Then pieced together our own masterpieces based on works from the exhibition:

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TWEETS (Clockwise from top left): “Now we’re making our own art! (With snacks) #myamericanart,” @philipsmuseum; “Before and after shot of collaborative art project at @PhillipsMuseum #myamericanart tweetup! You were a great host!” @danamuses; “Stefan Hirsch’s New York, Lower Manhattan, as interpreted by today’s #MyAmericanArt tweetup.” @Phillipsmuseum; “Before and after! #picstitch #myamericanart,” @VanitaKataria

See the rest of what our tweetup participants had to say on the Phillips’s Storify account, and join the conversation with #MyAmericanArt!