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.
For those interested in the care and preservation of digitally printed materials check out the Image Permanence Institute. BACC was happy to help facilitate a 2-day workshop presented by Senior Research Scientist, Daniel Burge during which participants learned how to identify and preserve the most common digital types.
Mellon Fellow in the Conservation of Paintings, Bianca Garcia attended the International Symposium for Paintings on Copper (and Other Metal Supports) in Valencia, Spain. The symposium was the first international forum to discuss the construction, technical examination of, and conservation of paintings on metal supports.