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Conservation Treatment

  • Treatment Report I
    In August 2003, Lithgow's first painting, Heyward and His Female Companions, was restored.

  • Treatment Report II
    In August 2004, Lithgow's second painting, The Mohawk People, was restored.


Treatment Report I


Artist: D.C. Lithgow (1868–1958)
Title: Heyward and His Female Companions (c. 1932–33)
(signed in the BR corner)
Item: lean vehicular oil paint on cotton canvas marouflaged with animal glue to the east wall
Dimensions:      45 3/4" x 71"
Text: visible in the center of the lower border
Before Treatment Detail


Summary of Conditions


Before Treatment
Before Treatment

The primary concern for the treatment of this mural in the summer of 2003 included the following: areas of canvas detached from the wall support, water drip lines, white wall paint splatters over the surface, youth cracks in the figures, isolated areas of paint loss and lifting paint, as well as the compromised perception of the composition and matte appearance due to accumulated airborne grime on the surface.

During Surface Cleaning Detail During Surface Cleaning Detail
Details of During Surface Cleaning

A variety of cleaning tests were performed over the surface to remove the grime layer. Both a mild enzymatic solution and 1.25 % solution of diammonium citrate successfully removed the grime layer, however there were colors in the painting that were sensitive to the aqueous material. Still some areas remained sensitive and could only be safely cleaned with an Absorene Dirt erase (natural vulcanized rubber sponge, Absorbene, St. Louis MO) followed by mineral spirits to rinse the surface. Tests with organic solvents showed the paint layer to be soluble in all but mineral spirits. It was therefore unsafe to remove the white paint with solvents. Mechanical action also endangered the paint layer. As a result, it was decided to mask the white paint through retouching.

Details of Surface During Cleaning  Details of Surface During Cleaning
Details of Surface During Cleaning

The cleaning proceeded using Absorene Dirt erasers, then 1.25% diammonium citrate restrained with mineral spirits. Grime was removed as safety allowed. Grime removal also lifted accretions that were deposited on the surface by the running and dripping water. After cleaning it became clear that the running water had removed and abraded the paint layer.

During Surface Cleaning
During Surface Cleaning

The detached areas of canvas along the right side and the bottom right corner were secured with Shur-Stick Wall Size (proprietary methyl cellulose in distilled water, Gibson-Homans, Twinsburg, OH), Beva film (ethylene vinylacetate in film form, Conservators Products Company, Chatham, NJ), a stronger adhesive than methyl cellulose, was used to reattach the stiff and curled strip of canvas at the base. The Beva film was placed between the wall and back of the canvas, then the area was set down using a warm tracking iron through silicone coated mylar.


Before Treatment
After Treatment
After Treatment
(Before Treatment shows the lifted edges and loss from water damage. After Treatment shows the lifted edges secured and damage retouched.)

Minor areas of friable, lifting and unstable paint were scattered across the surface of the painting. It was observed surrounding the small losses of paint, at the youth cracks in figures and along the vertical undulation in the wall support. These areas were stabilized using a brush and beading a dilute solution of Acryloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer resin, Conservation Materials, Sparks, NV) adhesive along the crack allowing capillary action to draw the consolidant into the voids within the paint layer. Once the solvent had evaporated, the lifting paint was set down using a heated spatula through silicone coated mylar.

Before Treatment Raking Light
Before Treatment Raking Light
Detail
Detail
(The vertical undulation seen in the detail is found
towards the center of the painting.)

It was originally proposed to apply a protective surface coating. However, due to the sensitive paint medium and the likely complications of removing any surface coating in the future, it was decided to forego applying a coating at this time.

Before Treatment
Before Treatment
After Treatment
After Treatment
(Before Treatment shows loss and abrasion.
After Treatment has had fills and retouching.)

Before Treatment

Before Treatment
Before Treatment

After Treatment
After Treatment

Localized losses were filled with Fine Surface Polyfilla (calcium carbonate in a styrene acrylate based polymer, Polycell Products of ICI, England). Losses were inpainted and abrasion was retouched with glazes using colored pencils (water soluble color pencil, Caran D'Ache, Switzerland) and watercolors (Holbein Artists Materials, Willston, VT). Areas where white wall paint existed on the painting were toned back using Winton (polycyclohexanone resin, Winsor and Newton, England) and raw pigments (Kremer, New York, NY).

Before During After
Before, During & After Treatment
(A loss to the right of the barrel in the center foreground was stabilized, filled, and retouched to match its surroundings)

Written and photogrpahic documentation was kept throughout the treatment. Digital and 35 mm color slides were taken before, during and after treatment.

After Treatment
After Treatment

Recommendation:  Consideration should be given in the future to the application of a protective glazing cover, separated from the surface of the painting and sealed with gasket along the edges to preserve the surface of the murals from airborne grime.


NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Bureau of Historic Sites — Peebles Island
P.O. Box 219 — Waterford, NY 12188
(518) 237-8643 — Fax: (518) 235-4248



Treatment Report II


Artist: D.C. Lithgow (1868–1958) — signed in the BR corner
D.C. Lithgow
Title: the Mahikan Indian People Lived on Both Sides of the Hudson River
Description: lean vehicular oil paint on cotton canvas marouflaged with animal glued to the east wall (Mural #1)
Dimensions:      44 1/2" X 52 1/2"
Text: visible in the center of the lower border
the Mahikan Indian People Lived on Both Sides of the Hudson River
Date of Report: August 24, 2004


Summary of Conditions


Before Treatment
Before Treatment

The major concerns for the treatment of this mural in the summer of 2004 included the following. The lower-right corner of canvas was detached from the wall support. There were localized areas of flaking paint with some paint loss. The perception of the composition was compromised, appearing dull and matte from accumulated airborne grime on the surface.

The mural is located on the east wall, in the north east corner of the room. Its width begins in the corner and extends to the window opening. The surface of the wall does not appear to have been prepared in any way prior to the mounting other than pencil lines drawn on the wall outlining the murals placement. A water-based adhesive was used to attach the canvas directly to the wall surface. This adhesive was applied over the entire reverse so that every area of canvas was well adhered to the wall.

The primary support is a plain tabby weave canvas of medium weight. The painted border extends all the way to the exposed rough cut edges. There is some old fraying along the edges, but it is now inhibited by paint. Pinholes are in both upper corners and are believed to be a legacy of Lithgow's mounting method during the original painting at his studio. The canvas is in good condition and well attached to the wall support except for the lower-right corner where it has detached in a triangular shape 6" up the right side and 5" along the bottom. Adhesive residue was found on the wall beneath the detached fabric and on the reverse of the fabric. This adhesive became tacky when exposed to moisture.

The canvas was prepared with a thin white ground. The paint layer was applied by brush with some impasto in the foreground and mid-ground. Both the paint and ground layers exhibit a craquelure pattern in the upper right and lower left quadrants. This cracking is likely a result of the artist's technique and the painting's attachment to the wall. Despite the craquelure, the paint layer was found to be quite stable with only a few areas of localized minute flaking in the bottom left quadrant with some paint loss. The primary areas of loss were in the skirt of the woman sewing and in the trees in the top-right quadrant.

Detail Tree Loss
Before Treatment Detail
(This is the largest loss, 1" X 5/16", found in the upper right quadrant.
The surrounding paint was secure)

The painting appears to have a history of damage and restoration possibly dating back to the artist. There is a series of large crude fills in the painted border, especially along the bottom. These fills are tan in color, very hard, thick with a strong texture and crack pattern, and insoluble in aqueous and polar solvents. In many instances there is also an excess of the fill material spilling over the edges of the loss covering original paint. There are a few examples where paint covers these fills. It is these last vestiges of paint, similar to Lithgow's work in color and texture, which may be evidence of the artist's hand in restoring the mural.

Paint Over Fill
Before Treatment Detail
(left half of the bottom border)

Overpaint was also applied directly to the paint layer. Generally, this was found in areas of abrasion and loss in the painted scene. This overpaint has discolored and no longer matches the surrounding areas. Multiple cleaning tests along the bottom-right edge reveal the presence of a heavy grime layer over the surface of the painting.

Shin Before Treatment
Before Treatment
Shin After Treatment
After Treatment
(Discolored overpaint on the upper shin was reduced mechanically, then retouched to match original.)



Treatment Report


The treatment began with a technique called consolidation to stabilize the flaking paint. Consolidation merely utilizes an adhesive to rebind underbound paint or to reattach flaking paint or ground to its support. The consolidant used on this mural was a 12.5% solution of Acryloid B-721 in xylene. It was applied along cracks and under flaking paint with a fine sable brush and allowed to set. The lifting paint was then set down with a warm tacking iron. Any excess Acryloid B-72 was removed from the surface with xylene.

Once the paint layer was confirmed to be completely stable, it was safe to begin cleaning the surface. Each color of the painting was tested for sensitivity to a variety of aqueous cleaning materials. All colors, except for an intense bright orange, were resistant to a short-term exposure to the cleaning agents. After testing, a 2.5% solution of diammonium citrate in distilled water was selected to remove the grime. Sponges with small "closed" pores, saturated with the 2.5% diammonium citrate2, were gently passed over the surface to remove the airborne grime. Immediately following the cleaning, the surface was rinsed with distilled water. With the removal of the grime from the surface, the colors, especially in the sky area, increased in brightness and clarity. It should be noted that the contrast between the discolored overpaint and the original paint was also enhanced after cleaning.

Lower Right Diagonal Cleaned
During Surface Cleaning
(The lower-right diagonal has been surface cleaned.)


1 Acryloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer resin, Conservation Materials, Sparks, NV)

2 Diammonium citrate (ammonium citrate dibasic, 1,2,3-propanetricarboxylic acid, mild cleaning agent, Conservation Support Systems, Santa Barbara, CA)

The detached lower right corner was re-adhered to the wall with a mixture of Golden Harvest3 wallpaper paste in distilled water. The viscous material was brushed onto the wall and the lifted corner was set down, then held under pressure until secure. This water-based wallpaper paste also re-activated the original adhesive aiding the re-attachment.

 Lower Right Corner Before Treatment
Before Treatment
 Lower Right Corner After Treatment
After Treatment

Localized losses were filled with Fine Surface Polyfilla4. Then losses were inpainted and the abrasion retouched with glazes using colored pencils5, watercolors6, and gouache7. Areas where white wall paint existed were reduced using a scalpel, then remaining residue was toned back using gouache.

The large fills in the borders posed an interesting challenge. Though the fills are a heavy-handed restoration attempt, they may be the work of the artist. With this in mind we opted to remove only filling material that covered the original paint layer and to reduce the thickness of some of the fills to bring them more in plane with the painting. Any remnants of paint over the fills were left untouched. Scalpels were used to mechanically reduce the fills and the large cracks, then the uneven textures were smoothed with the Fine Surface Polyfilla.


3 Golden Harvest (5.6g. wallpaper paste in 4 oz. distilled water, proprietary methyl cellulose in distilled water, Original TEKNAbond, Golden Harvest, Roman Adhesives, Inc., Calumet City, IL)

4 Fine Surface Polyfilla (calcium carbonate in a styrene acrylate based polymer, Polycell Products of ICI, England)

5 colored pencils (water-soluble colored pencil, Caran D'Ache, Switzerland)

6 watercolors (water-soluble, translucent washes of pigment suspended in a solution of gum arabic and distilled water, Holbein Artists Materials, Williston, VT)

7 gouache (an opaque, matte, water-based paint made from gum arabic and a chalk-like filler, Holbein Artisits Materials, Williston, VT)

Loss Filled During Treatment
During Treatment
 Loss Filled After Treatment
After Treatment
(The loss was filled, then retouched to match the surrounding area)

The original treatment proposal suggested applying a protective surface coating. However, due to the sensitive paint medium and the likely complications of removing any surface coating in the future, it was decided to forego applying a coating at this time.

After treatment, the colors of paint appeared brighter and more saturated due to the removal of surface grime. This also allows for a greater sense of depth within the composition. The distractions from the loss of original paint, discolored retouches and old fills from past restoration have been treated allowing this mural to be appreciated as a unified composition.

Written and photographic documentation was kept throughout the treatment. Digital and 35 mm color slides were taken before, during and after treatment.

After Treatment
After Treatment

Recommendation:  Consideration should be given in the future to the application of a protective glazing cover, separated from the surface of the painting and sealed with gasket along the edges to preserve the surface of the murals from airborne grime.





Painting Conservator_________________________________Date_________





Painting Conservator_________________________________Date_________


NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Bureau of Historic Sites - Peebles Island
P.O. Box 219 — Waterford, NY 12188
(518) 237-8643 — Fax (518) 235-4248



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