Washburn University’s Mulvane Art Museum is now showing its latest display, “Endangered Art.”
“The exhibition showcases works from the Mulvane Art Museum’s permanent collection,” said Shannon Sweeney, collections manager of the Mulvane. “These works are in need of conservation and frames.”
A painting, like any other tangible work, does not last forever. Paint chips, frames crack and canvases stretch. Each work that gets damaged requires special maintenance to correct these issues.
“What we hope by having these works on view is that the public, Washburn students and Washburn faculty and staff will help us fundraise money to get these works conserved,” Sweeney said. “We want the community to feel a sense of ownership with the works on our collection because it really is here for everyone.”
The exhibition features about 30 paintings, primarily from late 19th century and early 20th century American artists, in need of repair in one way or another.
Clarisse Madelene Laurent’s untitled portrait of a man embodies this exhibit well. The oil painting has improperly aligned structure bars, causing the canvas to twist over the years. This issue, combined with the lack of a varnish, causes the paint to chip and flake off.
“As a museum, it is our responsibility to bring this work back to some of its former glory,” Sweeney said.
However, to achieve their goal of restoring these paintings they need money, which they hope to amass through a grant and donations from the public.
“We decided to do an exhibition and, in correlation with it, a fundraising initiative to, over the course of the next year, hopefully raise the funds necessary to conserve these artworks,” said Rebecca Manning, co-curator of the display.
Repair and conservation of paintings, especially when major damages are in play, is not a simple task. A great deal of thought is put into the details of each piece, all the way down to the frame.
“Frames are artworks themselves,” Manning said. “Usually museums and cultural and educational institutions try to make sure that frames are appropriate to the period of the painting.”
The Mulvane Art Museum plans to use this as an educational opportunity for the public as a whole.
“We have plans for a kind of a lecture series,” Sweeney said. “Where a conservator will come in and talk to the public and the students about all of the different facets of conservation.”
Being a painting conservator, however, takes more than a steady hand with a brush. There are plenty of prerequisites to enter this field of practice to ensure that the masterpieces of museums remain in pristine condition.
“Conservators… have to have Bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, studio art, and art history,” said Sweeney. “We are hoping to really reach out to all different departments, on the university too, because there is such a science behind art conservation.”
The “Endangered Art” exhibition is currently ongoing at Mulvane Art Museum until June 3.