We here at Open Culture take great pleasure in soup to nuts documentaries of master craftspeople at work, particularly when the narration has been left out deliberately.
The meditative effect is more powerful that way, as is our wonderment.
We can always go rabbiting after the technical specs of the trade being plied if we’re not entirely sure what we’re seeing.
For instance, those tiny strands conservationist Julian Baumgartner of Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration places ever so carefully across a tear in painter Emma Gaggiotti Richards’ untitled 38”x29” self portrait?
A technique known as bridging, wherein a rip is sutured using individual strands of Belgian linen and reversible conservation adhesive.
(We found that out on Baumgartner’s Instagram…)
We also take geeky delight in still life-like presentations of tools both specialized and shockingly ordinary.
Baumgartner’s include an over-the-counter iron and a pair of orange-handled scissors, labelled so that no one walks away with them…
And who couldn’t think of alternative uses for those giant Q-tips, though watching Richards’ skin tones go from dingy to dewy in just a few measured swabs implies that art conservation is the reason they were put on earth.
The conservator’s own painterly skills are very much on display as he recreates damaged areas with filler and conservation quality oils.
As he has noted elsewhere:
Just as difficult as faces but no less important is fabric. Getting the color and volume just right is very rewarding.
The goal of conservation is that the damage no longer affects the image as a whole. So we’re not terribly concerned with whether under a microscope or extremely close examination the restoration is visible. If you look close enough all conservation is visible.
Our philosophy is to alter the artwork as little as possible with respect to the original intention of the artist.
There is one question left unmet by filmmaker Jack Brandtman’s video portrait, one that casual online research seems unlikely to satisfy.
What kind of music does the conservator listen to in the studio? Not that soporific instrumental soundtrack, we hope!
Perhaps Northwestern University’s great listener-supported, student run station, WNUR?
WBEZ, the legendary public radio statio?
Or CHIRP, the latest addition to Chicago’s radio pedigree?
We live to have our expectations defied!
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.