Caring for the DAR Museum Collection: Recent Conservation Projects

Written by: Anne Ruta, DAR Museum Collections Manager
August 21, 2019

Have you ever wondered what happens when an item in the DAR Museum collection needs to be repaired?   Important considerations for repairs include deciding what kinds of conservation treatments help preserve an object and which areas can, or should, be fixed.  In general, these actions do not attempt to make something look like new, but seek to arrest deterioration and improve the overall health and appearance of an object.

This small watercolor portrait of Dr. Gerrit Parmele Judd, painted by an unknown artist about 1827, was framed with an oval mat that left a brown ring on the paper surrounding the image.   This picture needed a new mat made of acid-free materials that would not break down over time and release the type of acid that had caused the paper to turn brown and become brittle. Since the staining could not be removed, a new mat was cut so that the opening matched the brown ring left by the previous mat.  Although the appearance was not greatly changed, the new archival framing materials will help protect the picture from further damage.

Silk fabrics in a pieced quilt made in 1844 had begun to split due to the type of dyes used in the nineteenth century.  Fine black net sewn over black silk pieces preserved the remaining original fabric and camouflaged the visually intrusive damage.  While this decline could not be prevented, supporting the fragile areas stabilized the quilt and allowed it to be displayed.

Removing dirt and loose corrosion on a cast iron teakettle could not erase surface damage, but applying a light coating of conservation wax could provide a barrier between the iron and its environment to retard further corrosion. This defensive measure helps maintain the existing surface condition.  

While less dramatic treatments are the norm, sometimes conservation results in marked visible changes to an object.  The portrait of Emeline Underwood suffered from an aging varnish that had yellowed and obscured fine details of her face and clothing. Removing the thick dirty varnish revealed not only a brighter image, but also areas of paint loss that had been covered during a previous repair effort. The conservator repainted these areas to successfully blend them with the artist’s style and then applied a new protective varnish.

Repairing water damage to Caroline Scott Harrison’s desk provided an opportunity to restore its appearance. While early photos of the desk showed it with a dark finish and remnants of this finish remained in crevices, the desk had acquired a modern light brown stain sometime during the 1960s.  Refinishing the water damaged area meant that the entire desk could also be refinished and returned to a dark walnut color that closely replicated the original 1910 look.

Conservation of these objects did not erase all traces of the injuries they sustained. The measures employed by conservators mitigated the damage using standard archival materials and techniques to preserve these objects so that they can continue to play an educational role in the DAR Museum collection.

If you are interested in sponsoring the conservation of a DAR Museum object visit the DAR Wish List or contact the Office of Development at development@dar.org.  

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