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Re: Permanence in General

>I don't mean to be flip here but I think the whole idea of permanence is
>relatively new (though I invite you to enlighten me, gently) and only
>recently have some artists been factoring it into their creative process.
>With time and some strong evangelism on the part of conservators, more may
>begin to see the light and at least give it (the idea) some thought.
>Richard (Miller)

Well, Richard,
This is one of my fun soap boxes, although it's a lot more fun playing
devil's advocate in a roundtable discussion.  Lit up letter by letter, this
way, it's all too easy to come off sounding pedantic, but let's give it a

Permanence is not a new concept.  Conservation/restoration is about 20
minutes younger than art.  More or less.

Anyone who has had an opportunity to closely examine ancient art work has
observed old restorations.  The oldest books of secrets, training manuals
for artists and artisans, contain warnings about things which can go wrong
or things which should not be used together.

It's just that in the old days, restoration was a lucrative sideline for
artists and artisans.  I don't know how much money DaVinci charged to
restore his painting of the Last Supper, but I do know that he was
restoring it before it was finished.  And it is still being restored.
Michaelangelo's ceiling?

My arguement is not with an artist working creatively to learn something
about methods/materials; it is with an artist selling experiments, or
allowing them out into the world.

Two examples.  I once restored a Norman Rockwell pencil sketch.  The final
painting made from the sketch was used as a Saturday Evening Post cover.
The pencil sketch (a group of ladies with doughnuts standing around a
seated soldier) was approx. 3/4 life-size, drawn on heavy, brown Kraft
paper.  Cut into pieces with large scissors, the pieces were moved around
and adhered to masonite with rubber cement.  When Rockwell was satisfied
with the layout, he made the finished painting.

The working model made it out of Rockwell's studio and into private hands.
It was worth a lot of money and the owner paid a lot of money to have it

A well-known Pacific Northwest artist (dead now; therefore collectable)
once made a stained glass window.  To get some idea of how different masses
of colors would work together he made an oil painting on thin paper of his
design.  The window was made.  He gave the painting to someone who asked
him for it.

It was framed by the artist.  Wood frame; window mat; art work adhered to
the window mat with masking tape.  No protection from the back because it
was best viewed by transmitted light.  Right?  Right.

Years later, when the painting was being packed carefully away, something
scratched along the back of the painting, shattering the brittle paper.
Preparing a lining that would hold the pieces together and let the light
shine through was easy; have you ever tried to inpaint hair-line cracks
visible only when the light shone through?  And the light had to shine
through to make the art work.  Think about surface tension and brushes with
2-3 hairs. And time.

And it's not just artists.  In my early days as a conservator I had to
re-restore a couple of pieces worked on by a mentor who had restored them
in his early days in the business.  After 20 years, it's about time someone
got around to re-restoring some of my early work.

Experiences such as these temper my work and the way I look at materials.

Sort of like wondering how many orthopedic surgeons run snow boards down
steep inclines.

Putting the soap box back under the table now.  Good foot rest.


Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217


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