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Signs of Age: Juniata Painting Gets 'Makeover' by Pro Bono Conservator

(Posted December 3, 2009)

Conservator Barry Bauman worked on "Commodore Perry Ship on Japanese Tour," part of the museum's permanent collection

By Molly Sollenberger '10

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Over time, many precious possessions become aged and damaged. The art in the Juniata College Museum of Art is no different. One of the most valuable paintings in the museum's collection had deteriorated and was in need of immediate conservation.

Many small museums do not have a conservator on staff and operate within budgets that do not include funds for costly conservation treatments. Fortunately, Judy Maloney, the director of the Juniata College Museum of Art, met Barry Bauman, a renowned painting conservationist, just in time.

Maloney discovered Bauman's area of expertise at an American Association of Museums conference. She was captivated by Baughman's presentation on pro bono services for museums and other institutions. He had already treated 350 paintings from 80 or more institutions for free, charging only for the cost of materials, since 2004.

At the conference Bauman made a presentation on his pro bono art conservation service. Art preservation is a costly process, generally starting in the thousands of dollars. His service is designed to help small or rural art and history museums conserve oil paintings.

"The painting had three basic problems. It was cracking everywhere, the paint was falling off, and it was warped. The painting was extremely dirty and covered in a century-and-a-half of dirt."
Barry Bauman, conservator, Barry Bauman Conservation

Bauman went to work on a painting in Juniata's collection titled, "Commodore Perry Ship on Japanese Tour." The 11-inch by 17 1/2-inch painting is part of the college's Worth B. Stottlemyer Collection donated to the museum in 1998. The Perry seascape had an appraisal value of $40,000.

Bauman received the painting and evaluated it to determine what kind of damages the Juniata piece had experienced. "The painting had three basic problems. It was cracking everywhere, the paint was falling off, and it was warped," he said. "The painting was extremely dirty and covered in a century-and-a-half of dirt."

Bauman began his conservation career in 1972 at the Conservation Department at The Art Institute of Chicago where he worked for 11 years. In the following years he founded the Chicago Conservation Center, which became the largest private art conservation facility in America. Still in business today, Bauman began his pro bono conservation laboratory in 2004.

"I told my wife that I would like to do conservation services for a lower cost," Bauman explains. His wife replied, "Why don't you do it for free?" After some thought, he knew it was the right thing to do.

Quayton Stottlemyer, the son of Worth B. Stottlemyer, told the museum how the painting was damaged when he wrote in a letter to the Art Museum, "the paintings endured 45 years' accumulation of dust, cobwebs, dead insects, some bird droppings, and mouse excreta."

The process for selecting the painting was collaborative. Maloney worked with Alex Rae Campbell, a 2009 Juniata graduate, to select the painting and prepare a proposal for Bauman. "We chose the painting because of the combination of its rare historical subject, poor condition, high aesthetic quality and high appraisal value," explains Maloney.

Campbell, now pursuing a master's degree in art history at Richmond, The American University in London, played a large part in making the conservation process possible. In addition to selecting the painting, she performed research on the historical significance of the artwork and wrote the proposal applying for Bauman's services.

Upon receiving the proposal at his home base in River Forest, Illinois in April 2009, Bauman agreed to accept the painting as one of his case studies. He estimated the treatment period to be around 16 weeks for Juniata's painting. Finishing the treatment a few weeks ahead of time, the painting was returned in August.

The painting is a seascape set within the confines of a Japanese harbor. It depicts a commemorative moment when the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854; the first of the treaties signed by Japan and Western countries ending Japanese isolation.

The process was so successful Maloney has decided to propose another painting to Bauman for conservation. Again, collaborating with Campbell, the Juniata team chose a painting by Tiepolo titled, "Angels Carrying the Vestments of Christ."

Campbell thought religion was a dimension underrepresented in the permanent collection at the Art Museum. With the Tiepolo painting restored and put on display, she thought it would enhance the museums diversity of displayed works.

Maloney is planning on having a current student perform research on the historical significance of the Tiepolo painting, similar to Campbell's work.

In the past six years of Bauman's pro bono business he has conserved a number of paintings, averaging three to four a year. The most valuable painting he has restored is a Picasso painting, "Portrait of a Woman," worth $92 million.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.