Up for adoption

Museum program invites patrons to sponsor conservation of paintings

Museum program invites patrons to sponsor conservation of paintings

November 21, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Barbara and Fritz Bowers of Hagerstown recently acquired a new family member.

They are the first to participate in a new program at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

"Adopt-a-Painting" offers individuals or businesses opportunities to sign on to pay a conservator's charge to clean a painting and/or restore the frame on a particular painting in museum's collection.

"It just seemed like something I'd like to do," said Barbara Bowers, who's been a member of the Singer Society, the museum's volunteer organization, for five or six years.

American impressionist painter Frederick Childe Hassam's "White House, Gloucester," created in 1895, is the first painting to be adopted.

It is one of the more famous paintings in the collection, said Joseph Ruzicka, museum director. Also, the painting was part of the initial 1931 gift of museum founders William Henry Singer Jr. and his wife, Anna Brugh Singer.


In 1997, a general survey of the museum was conducted by Sian Jones, a fine arts conservator in Baltimore. The museum has applied for a grant to fund a detailed survey, which Jones will conduct next year.

The conservation program is the basic nuts and bolts of museum work, Ruzicka said. "Things need to be cleaned," he added. He joked that the Hassam painting's nickname is "Yellow House, Gloucester."

Artists were taught not to varnish paintings until they were at least a year old, Jones said. They got dirty in the meantime.

Jones will examine the painting under a microscope, test it and clean it. "We use lots of medical materials - instruments you may have seen on 'CSI,'" she said.

The television series "CSI" focuses on the use of forensic science to solve crimes.

The work is slow and painstaking. Among Jones' cleaning utensils are hand-rolled bits of cotton wool on toothpicks or bamboo skewers.

Jones thinks the Hassam piece is in its original "beautiful period frame" that has little distracting damage.

Barbara Bowers is interested in the painting's conservation and said she'd like to visit Jones' studio.

"You're going to take good care of my baby," she said.

This winter, Ruzicka will devote a small gallery at the museum to a handful of other paintings that need to be adopted.

The estimates for the paintings that Ruzicka has identified as priorities range from $600 to more than $5,000. Sometime this winter, he hopes to devote a small gallery to some of them, with text panels explaining what work each picture requires.

Ruzicka is happy that Barbara Bowers has a sense of ownership for the painting.

That's appropriate because the museum holds the art in trust for the community, Ruzicka said.

For information on adopting a painting at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, call 301-739-5727.

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