Revelations in Conservation

Revelations in Conservation: A Study Day
By Rebecca Allan, Head of Education

Rare discoveries and collegial exchange were at the heart of a recent study day,"Revelations in Conservation: The Georges Hoentschel Collection," organized by the BGC Education Department. The impetus for the day was to highlight the conservation project for the Hoentschel exhibition and  draw attention to the special collaboration between curators and conservators that led to important discoveries about each object’s history. Focusing on the conservation of eighteenth and nineteenth-century French decorative arts including metalwork, upholstery, and woodwork from the Hoentschel collection the study day began at the BGC Gallery and concluded at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday, April 26.

In the Gallery, exhibition co-curators Deborah Krohn, Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, and Ulrich Leben were joined by conservators Linda Borsch, Nancy Britton, Christina Hagelskamp, Beth Edelstein, and Pascale Patris. Each conservator discussed a specific object in depth, revealing the complex considerations involved in determining the particular treatment of each object.  Nancy Britton spoke about a gilded armchair for Louise-Élizabeth of Parma (ca. 1749) and the challenge of stabilizing the original silk-velvet upholstery embellished with gold trim. Pascale Patris discussed the painstaking process of removing surface dust on the gilded monumental frame for a 1740 French day bed. She explained that the treatment of the bed was directed by its Rococo character, focusing on the selective loss compensation to highlight the exquisite carving, and to preserve and bring back to life the characteristic lines of its rococo style. Christina Hagelskamp discussed several examples of boiserie (intricately-carved wood paneling) including a rare panel from the shutters formerly in the Chapel Room at Versailles. Linda Borsch revealed her technique for replicating parts of the most finely-chased gilt bronze mounts and ornaments, and Beth Edelstein showed X-ray images of parts of objects that helped to guide the conservators in their research.

After lunch, participants travelled across Central Park to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit the conservation studios where the Hoentschel objects were treated—a rare experience not available to many. At the Met, textile conservator Cristina Carr laid out a sixteenth-century English embroidered panel to demonstrate the challenge that conservators face–the inevitable disintegration of fibers over time and the eventual loss of priceless works of art. Fortunately, advances in digital technology have made it possible to capture images of textiles under magnification. Cristina talked about her commitment to “preserving” these unique objects for future generations, if only in the form digital images.

To our great delight, painting conservator George Bisacca and picture frame conservator Cynthia Moyer invited participants into their respective studios to discuss aspects of treating Medieval panel paintings as well as lavishly carved and gilded Baroque frames. The day culminated with a surprise visit to the specially designed gallery that will soon display the dressing room from a townhouse at 4 West 54th Street that initially belonged to Arabella  Duval Worsham and was later sold to John D. Rockefeller in 1884. Everyone gasped when they recognized the Aesthetic Movement dressing room from its previous long-term installation at the Museum of the City of New York and marveled at the meticulous and caring work of the conservator who is preparing  its furnishings for the museum.  

Conservators and participants alike expressed appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the study day. Conservator Nancy Britton wrote: “We conservators operate below the radar and we rarely have the opportunity to share what we’ve learned with the larger museum audience. “ Participant Victoria Voytek wrote: “The Hoentschel study day was superbly well organized, informative, and impressive. The evident positive collaboration between BGC and the Met was a delight to behold.”

Special thanks go to Metropolitan Museum conservator Mechthild Baumeister, who helped to organize the study day.

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Conservator Nancy Britton with participants.

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Conservator Christina Hagelskamp with a participant.

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Conservators Linda Borsch and Beth Edelstein (behind glass case) with participants.