A timeless gift of restoring the past to preserve the future of art history
By Melissa Chipman
Photos provided by Speed Art Museum
Looking for an extravagant present for the person on your holiday shopping list who is impossible to buy for? The Speed Art Museum has recently created an “Adopt an Artwork” program as a way for museum supporters to participate in the process of the restoration of some works in their collection.
The restoration and conservation of the artworks in the Speed’s collection is an ever-present concern. In a recent assessment of the permanent collection, the museum’s curators identified several objects requiring assistance. They’ve developed a section on their website devoted to cataloging these works of art, everything from medieval reliquaries to Impressionist paintings to contemporary sculpture.
Sponsorship is not limited solely to individuals, or entire families, even companies can elect to join the “Adopt an Artwork” program. All funds donated to the program are tax-deductible. As part of the adoption process, sponsors will receive:
• A short dossier on the work they have chosen
• An opportunity to discuss with the curator the issues surrounding the object, why it needs repair or restoration, and the conservation process
• A color photo of the sponsor with the adopted object installed in the gallery
• A credit line on the gallery label giving recognition to the adoptive sponsor for five years
Some of the works have already been adopted. For example, Portrait of a Child (1881) by French artist Paul Gaugin is a small work currently being restored. According to the catalog description, “Currently, there is a thin layer of natural resin varnish on the surface of the painting which is discolored and uneven. Even worse, a significant grime layer coats the varnish. All this can be reversed with the removal of the grime and discolored varnish. Any losses will be restored via Inpaint.”
According to curator Erika Holmquist-Wall, other adopted pieces include Willard Metcalf’s The Convalescent (on view in Gallery 1). Ron and Debra Murphy, who adopted Jean-Léon Gérôme’s In the Alhambra (on view in Gallery 23). The Speed’s Board of Governors banded together to adopt Edward Fisk’s Portrait of Mary Daniel (on view in Gallery 1).
Susan Callen, with her husband, a longtime supporter of the Speed, told the VOICE, “We find conservation of art to be a fascinating process as it brings artworks back to life. This particular oil painting is of a beautiful young woman reading a book in bed. As a bibliophile, I was moved by the use of a book in the painting. It’s possible my husband found the young woman pictured enticing, but he doesn’t admit to that!”
Matthew Henry Wilson’s most famous painting, Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1865), is a notable work that is still up for adoption for $4,000. The description catalogs several portraits, including, “Honestly, Abe isn’t looking too great in this painting…Essentially, at some point, somebody applied a coat of varnish over an already-filthy painting, thinking that it would improve the appearance and make it brighter. Instead, it only trapped the dirt underneath, sealing it in.” Restoration would remove the old coat of varnish and clean the painting thoroughly. Lincoln’s frame likewise needs repair and is available to sponsor for $3,000.
“We are in the process of uploading a whole new group of artworks that we’ve assessed as requiring structural or surface intervention to make the artwork exhibitable in the galleries,” said Holmquist-Wall. “We also present a selection of the most recently adopted works that are straight from the conservation laboratory in Gallery 1, as part of the rotating ‘What’s New at the Speed?’ installation. You’ll always be able to see newly restored works in that space before those works are integrated into the permanent collection.”
Holmquist-Wall says that one piece uniquely holds her heart: Tissot’s Waiting for the Ferry at the Falcon Tavern. It was a particularly long treatment due to a stubborn, aged varnish layer that had shifted in its chemical composition. Seeing how bright that picture is now, after knowing what it looked like in its ‘before’ state, makes my heart happy. We, and especially the adoptive donor, did right by that gorgeous painting.
To view the artwork in the “Adopt an Artwork” collection and to learn more about the program, visit: speedmuseum.org/art_collection/adopt-an-artwork/
Speed Art Museum
2035 S 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40208