If you saw the 2014 film The Monuments Men you already know a little about a key player in the formation of BACC, even if you don't realize it. Remember Frank Stokes, the main character played by the one and only George Clooney? It turns out that George Leslie Stout, one of the founders of the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), was the real-life inspiration behind Clooney’s mustachioed role.
A pioneer in the field of art conservation, Stout was the Director of Technical Research at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and a part-time Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum before helping to establish the American Defense Harvard Group. This group was instrumental to the formation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Area. Later known as the Roberts Commission, it was “charged with promoting the preservation of cultural properties in war areas, provided this mission did not interfere with military operations.”
In 1943 Stout enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he was initially charged with testing and developing camouflage paint and techniques for military aircraft. Later he was transferred to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section where he used his professional knowledge to help transport and save precious works of art throughout Europe. Harvard Magazine notes that “When George Stout left Europe in August 1945 after little more than 13 months, he had discovered, analyzed, and packed tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, including 80 truckloads from Altaussee alone.”
After Stout returned to the United States, he resumed his post at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, and later accepted positions as the Director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947 and as Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from 1955 to 1970.
A few years after his retirement from the Gardner, Stout was serving as the visiting director at Timken Museum of Art, where he noticed a growing need to establish a conservation center for the San Diego area’s growing cultural heritage. He teamed up with Henry Gardiner, the director at the time of the San Diego Art Museum, to develop a plan for the center and in 1973 BACC was born.
Sources: Monuments Men Foundation, Harvard Magazine.
Major Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Helps Balboa Art Conservation Center Prep for Next Chapter
Janet Ruggles, Executive Director, to Retire after 37 Years of Service
A $700,000 grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in collaboration with the Nonprofit Finance Fund is helping the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), the region's premier art conservation facility, move into its next phase as an institution. Given “to support change and growth capital, as part of the Foundation's Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative,” the grant has already allowed BACC to improve infrastructural elements. Soon it will provide support while the organization searches for its next executive director. Janet Ruggles, BACC’s chief executive, has announced her retirement effective December 31, 2019 after 37 years of service to the organization.
Founded in the 1970s, BACC is a nonprofit organization that offers museum-quality art conservation treatments, investigative technical imaging and analysis, and extensive preservation services for institutions and individuals. It also offers conservation education and often mentors conservation interns and fellows who require years of specialized training before entering the workplace. Like other regional conservation centers in the United States, BACC is dealing with significant structural changes in the field, coupled with funding uncertainties. While art conservation is a field that requires great care and training to protect and restore artistic history, it usually does so with little fanfare or support compared to other fields.
That is where the Mellon funding has stepped in. The first phase of the grant allows for both upgrades to existing equipment and investments in new equipment, giving highly trained BACC staff even better and more cutting-edge tools to do their job. These infrastructure improvements include upgrades to BACC’s paper lab, upgrades to BACC’s digital infrared reflectography (IRR) system, purchase of a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) tool (that helps identify inorganic materials more precisely when examining objects such as paintings on canvas and panels, polychrome sculpture, works on paper, and gilded ornamental frames), and IT upgrades in support of imaging and for tracking projects.
The second phase of the Mellon grant will help BACC look for its next executive director as Janet Ruggles, who has served in the role for more than two decades, has announced her retirement. She currently serves as both chief conservator of paper and executive director, splitting her focus between these two critical areas. The Mellon grant will assist the transition to a new organizational model that provides equal focus on museum-level conservation and organizational sustainability by separating these roles out into distinct positions. The new model also looks toward partnerships with institutions of higher learning, enhancing relationships with museum and private clients, as well as implementing innovative fundraising strategies. Ruggles notes the grant funding could not have come at a more perfect time in BACC’s development.
BACC board president Jennifer Nelson says, “Ruggles has been a resourceful leader for the BACC, developing and overseeing programs that have spanned conservation, education, scholarship and field services throughout the Western United States. I’m especially impressed by her expert conservation work as chief conservator of paper. We are so grateful for the foundation she has laid through her tireless work, and acknowledge her great contribution to the field of art conservation.”
Karen Coutts, vice president of BACC’s board, says “The Mellon Foundation has been a partner of the Center for decades, and they have always been supportive of conservation as a practice across the country. This funding is allowing us to evolve, to better meld tried-and-true practices with cutting edge technology. The expertise of our staff, combined with new equipment and innovative practices, will allow us to make great strides in preserving and restoring important art — important history — for years to come.”
With funds from the Mellon Foundation, and an invigorated board that has been diligently planning next steps, BACC looks forward to launching a new business and leadership model.
For those interested in applying to the Balboa Art Conservation Center’s executive director position, please visit www.bacc.org/job-opportunities.html
About the Balboa Art Conservation Center
With more than 40 years of experience, the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC) is the region's premier art conservation facility, offering museum-quality conservation treatments, investigative technical imaging and analysis, and extensive preservation services for institutions and individuals. A nonprofit organization, BACC is located in the heart of Balboa Park. Learn more at www.bacc.org
(Click here to download a copy of this press release in PDF format)
What the Balboa Art Conservation Center, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Grandson, and a YouTube Video with More Than 2 Million Views Have in Common
Maybe you’ve seen this video already on social media. The one masterfully produced by Great Big Story that features intriguing glass vials filled with colorful pigments that have been collected from all over the world. The deep blues, vibrant yellows, earthy reds, and myriad other colors inside are made up of minerals, plant dye, dried insects, and many other materials, and are an important reference point for conservators, scientists, technical art historians, and others. Referred to as the Forbes Pigment Collection, this more than 3000 sample strong assortment is stored at the Straus Center for Conservation and Preservation as part of the Harvard Art Museums.
Back in the 1920s a gentleman named Edward Waldo Forbes (grandson of the famed philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson) began collecting pigments and their source materials over a period of several decades. An art historian, he directed Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum from 1909 to 1944 and laid the foundation for this unique collection. George Stout, a graduate student at Harvard at the time Forbes was the museum director, began using the samples as a teaching tool. Later Stout worked for the Fogg Museum, as well, becoming a pioneer in the field of art conservation.
Fast forward to the 1970s in San Diego: Henry Gardiner, San Diego Museum of Art director from 1969 to 1979, was significantly expanding the museum’s collection, and grew concerned about its ongoing care. In November 1973, Gardiner sought the counsel of George Stout, who happened to be the visiting director of the Timken Art Gallery (now the Timken Museum of Art) at the time. Together, Gardiner and Stout developed a plan to establish a conservation center in San Diego, and in 1974 hired Richard Buck, an important leader in the field of conservation, and fellow Harvard alum, to establish and direct the Balboa Art Conservation Center.
Buck had experience opening regional conservation centers. He had also been a conservator at the Fogg Museum, where he had helped organize and manage the Forbes Pigment Collection. At the time Buck was starting BACC, conservation centers could obtain a portion of the pigment collection to keep as a reference resource in their analytical toolbox. So, with Buck’s connections, the Balboa Art Conservation Center did just that.
To this day, BACC is one of only a handful of institutions that house a subset of this extraordinary pigment collection, both maintaining a tangible connection to the very beginning of the professional art conservation movement in the United States, and creating a new and fun connection to that wildly popular (more than 2 million views! ) video on YouTube.
The San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) opened "Art and Empire: The Golden Age of Spain" this May. In it, a gorgeous oil on canvas titled Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist by Francisco de Zurbarán is featured. Painted in 1658, it's a magnificent example of a devotional painting by this Spanish artist.
Exhibition goers may not realize that the painting had been removed from the SDMA galleries in 2017 to undergo a meticulous conservation treatment.
Over the years, the varnish on the paint surface had aged considerably, yellowing the Spanish master's luminous color palette underneath. Thanks to funding from a generous SDMA donor, the painting came under the care of BACC's conservator, Alexis Miller, who completed technical analysis with infrared reflectography and x-radiography to fully understand the layering structure of the painting and the condition of those layers before embarking on treatment. She then consolidated the paint layer and lifted the varnish to reveal the vibrant, warm color tones that Zurbarán had originally intended.
The painting can now be seen in all of its glory inside Art and Empire, on view at the San Diego Museum of Art through September 2.
You can learn more about what went into conserving and restoring this masterpiece on August 23, 2019 at 7 pm when Dr. Michael Brown, Curator of European Art at SDMA, and Alexis Miller, Chief Conservator of Paintings at BACC come together for an in-depth discussion at the James S. Copley Auditorium at SDMA (buy tickets, here)
Featured in this post: Francisco de Zurbarán, Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, 1658. Oil on canvas, Gift of Anne R. and Amy Putnam. 1935.22.
BACC's Assistant Paintings Conservator, Bianca García, recently presented a talk on 14th Century Italian paintings at the Timken Museum of Art as part of its docent training.
Garcia spoke about the traditional materials and techniques used to create egg tempera panel paintings with gilded backgrounds, a technique that was common during that time. She also brought some of the materials and tools (like gold leaf and powdered pigments) to share with the docents so they could get an idea of what the pigments and layers of the painting look like before the piece is finished.
Learn more about the Timken's collection, here.
After a year-long conservation treatment of California Impressionist Edgar Payne's mural Settlement, the painting can now be viewed at the Laguna Art Museum for their exhibition California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820 - 1930!
The mural was originally one of four, installed in 1935 to adorn the walls of the New Lynn Theater, which later became the Laguna South Coast cinema.
For more information about BACC's treatment, the exhibition, and the painting, see the great article written by The Laguna Beach Indy.
BACC's Assistant Conservator of Paintings, Morgan Wylder, presented her research on the materials and techniques of late-19th century French painter Paul Gauguin at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. The two-day long symposium "Gauguin, le droit de tout oser" accompanied the opening of Gauguin l'Alchemist exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris.
The Center recently treated Belle Baranceanu's full-scale cartoon drawings that were used to create The Seven Arts mural at La Jolla High School in 1939-40. The mural was destroyed when the high school was demolished in 1975, and these drawings are all that remain from the New Deal commissioned project.
Check out the coverage in the La Jolla Light to learn more about the exhibition and conservation approach, or visit the La Jolla Historical Society.
The Balboa Art Conservation Center finished an extensive conservation treatment of Belle Baranceanu's "Mission Hills," a 1930s landscape/cityscape of San Diego by beloved San Diego artist Belle Baranceanu.
In the before picture, you can see major paint loss and lifting and loose paint caused by acute water exposure on the right side of the painting.