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Selected Conservation Projects
Physicromie #300 before treatment view slideshow
A Vibrant Work by Carlos Cruz-Diez

Carlos Cuz-Diez is the rare artist who planned the method for the restoration of his work before he fabricated it.  In preparation for the MFAH retrospective exhibition of this Venezuelan artist, three MFAH conservators traveled to Paris to team with members of the atelier to study the artist's materials and methods of restoration.  As part of the study, the MFAH conservators were guided through the complete restoration of Physichromie 300, a prime example of Cruz-Diez’s work.  This piece uses thin painted cardboard strips separated by translucent plastic strips to create the Cruz-Diez optical experience, the illusion of color in motion as the spectator's eye sweeps across the surface.  

The process of conserving Physichromie 300 involved intricate planning. First, the entire object had to be disassembled. The plastic strips, made from a material called Rhodoïd, had shriveled with age, distorting the overall look of the piece.  They were replaced with new PVC plastic strips. The painted strips had small losses that needed to be compensated. The piece was reassembled and has regained its original vibrancy.

Federal Parlor mantel cleaning view slideshow
Mantelpiece at Bayou Bend

The Federal Parlor mantel (circa 1800) was constructed of a wood base with Composition ornament that was painted overall.  Conserving the ornate mantel at Bayou Bend required an understanding of the composition material used to cast the fine details, as well as scientific analysis of the paint layers. The conservators investigated various chemical methods of removing the paint however the fine details were revealed with manual methods using surgical scalpels.

The cleaning process yielded an exciting discovery: uncovering the signature of the maker of the ornament, Robert Wellford of Philadelphia. Previously, the mantel had merely been attributed to Wellford because it was similar to other pieces made by him. After removing the paint, the conservators restored much of the fine detail of the mantelpiece by making casts of intact ornamentation using silicone rubber molds. The final steps were to repaint the surface with an oil-based paint similar to the kind used in the 18th century and to reinstall the mantel in the Federal Parlor.

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Paneling at the Bayou Bend Visitor Center

The restoration of the pine paneling in the Hogg Family Legacy Room has a remarkable backstory. Miss Ima Hogg was a great patron of American decorative arts. She and her brother Will kept an apartment in New York City, and it is believed that they admired the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, especially the decorative arts collection housed there. In fact, when the Hogg family began working with architect John Staub on the construction of Bayou Bend in the late 1920s, one of the rooms was an adaptation of one they must have seen at the Metropolitan Museum, a pine-paneled room from the home of Metcalf Bowler in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Nearly 80 years later, the Metropolitan Museum replaced the Bowler room, and the original paneling was acquired for Bayou Bend through the generosity of Hogg family member Alice Simkins. This paneling was painstakingly conserved by MFAH decorative arts conservators and installed as the backdrop for the Hogg Family Legacy Room when Bayou Bend’s Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center opened in 2010.