A New Life for Old Paintings | Nebraska Stories | NET Nebraska

A New Life for Old Paintings | Nebraska Stories | NET Nebraska


ic) NARRATOR: Let’s
start with the painting. It’s called “The
First Homestead,” and that’s what it depicts. The artist is Gusto Strohm,
who lived in Beatrice near the site of Daniel
Freeman’s homestead claim. Painted in 1888, likely
working off a photograph. KENNETH BE:
It’s a very honest attempt
to reproduce what we know of the first homestead. NARRATOR: The
painting took a beating, for a while, tucked
behind a door in a U.S. congressman’s office, before landing in
Kenneth Be’s lab at the Ford
Conservation Center. There are problems, like
large tears and small holes, a brittle canvas pulling
loose at the edges, and lots of dark
grime and soot. MIKE TOBIAS: Remount, clean it,
make it brighter, fix the holes, varnish it, all in the next month. KENNETH: All in the next month,
you’ll see a big difference. We want to, number one, make
sure that work of art survives past our generation and forward
into the next generation, but we also wanna make
sure it’s presented in the best way possible, as the artist would have
originally intended. So here, we have the canvas, which has now been removed
from its old wooden stretcher. I’ve also prepared these
areas, where there were tears and the canvas was
buckling, with weights, where I’ve had overnight
flattening going on, so that we can now
line the painting and have these tear
areas aligned properly. NARRATOR: Adhesive is helped
by a heated table and vacuum to attach the painting to
a new reinforced canvas. (soft pensive music) KENNETH: So I’m about to
start cleaning this painting. (soft pensive music) NARRATOR: Getting
rid of decades of exposure to black soot. KENNETH: This
darkening of the picture has sort of illusionistically
compressed the image. We no longer have
that sense of space that the painting was
meant to have at one time when you looked at it. (soft pensive music) NARRATOR: Be’s also filling
those tears in the canvas. (soft pensive music) KENNETH: By varnishing,
I’m adding a protective layer, but aesthetically, I’m
adding a layer that fills in that prime and pitted surface, and gives a nice
even saturation, and a slight gloss
to the painting. MIKE: This will
bring out some of the colors– KENNETH:It will.
MIKE: And the feel. KENNETH:Not only will it
even out the sky, but it’ll especially
saturate and darken all the dark foreground terrain. (bright pensive music) MIKE: How hard
is it to match that color? KENNETH: What I actually see
is not just one color, but it’s a whole
sequence of colors. I’m trying to create
the same illusion that the original painting has of layering little
wisps of color. And I’m using pigment
and paint medium, which is easily removable. NARRATOR: That,
plus a lot of testing, provides a safety net. But to me, working on
another artist’s creation, owned by someone else,
would be nerve-wracking. KENNETH: One of the skills
that I’ve developed is knowing what not to do,
knowing the battles to pick, knowing where to stop
and knowing my limits, and even conservation
can have limits. And so, we owe it to the artist and also the owner
of the work of art to know what we
can’t do for them. So that’s how I
stay out of trouble. MIKE: So you’re done. KENNETH: Yes, the painting
treatment is finished, and now we can see
it much better, as it was originally intended. (soft piano music) NARRATOR: Gusto Strohm’s
“The First Homestead” leaves refreshed for display at the Homestead
National Monument. Be moves on to more paintings
in need of new life. KENNETH: I think art
conservation is very important because we only have the
material heritage, the artwork, the historic artifacts
that we inherited, that have come to us
down through history. I love it,
I love art conservation, and it’s what I do.

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