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 was featured in San Diego Home & Garden's "Saving Time: A Guide to Conservators" piece.
"When works you've collected show signs of deterioration, you may need a conservator's help ..."
Read the original article, here.
"The artworks are beloved by that community and the artwork was saved by that community" Dana Springs, executive director of the City of San Diego's Commission for Arts and Culture (in 2014) said, referencing the paintings, murals, and other work from Aztec Brewing's rathskeller now housed at the Logan Heights Library.
In the late 80s, a group of concerned artists and citizens convinced the city to take ownership of these historic pieces after discovering that the building that once housed Aztec Brewery, a former gathering place in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood, was to be demolished. Decades later, the city received a grant to help with their restoration, and after months of work by BACC's team, they can now be viewed at the Logan Heights Library.
Browse the collection of articles below to learn more about the amazing history of Aztec Brewery and BACC's role in treating this collection: