JOHN A. SPELMAN III Gouache Conservation Project

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY
John A. Spelman III
John A. Spelman III Gouache Conservation Project

JOHN A. SPELMAN III Gouache Conservation Project

JOHN A. SPELMAN III Gouache Conservation Project

025 John A. Spelman gouache conservation project 2021. [spelman_gouache_conservation_025.jpg]

TAGS: John A. Spelman III, artist, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Harlan, Kentucky, gouache painting conservation, restoration project, painting on paper, water damage, ReNewell, Inc.

In the Spring of 2021 the conservation of John A. Spelman’s gouache painting of a local scene near Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky, was completed. As a work on paper the conservation project was a difficult one and required professional intervention. The process of restoring the badly damaged artwork was completed and documented by Virginia Newell of ReNewell, Inc, Fine Art Conservation in Columbia, South Carolina. Virginia supervised a professional staff who conducted a series of interventions to conserve the badly damaged painting.

Pine Mountain gratefully acknowledges the kind donation from PMSS Board member Sandy Miller who subsidized the conservation project. The work of John A. Spelman III is well-known in Kentucky and in printmaking art circles. His linoleum block print illustrations for The Kentucky by Thomas Clark which is part of the Rivers of America series, is much admired across the State and beyond.

Spelman’s work in gouache is unique and echoes the attention to landscape structures seen in his prints. The bold shapes and earthen colors found in his gouache paintings take his art to another level of scale and capture his sensitivity to color. The Spelman art in the collections at Pine is one of the finest and most important collections of the School.

As her report makes clear, the condition of the Spelman gouache painting on arrival in her shop was in “extremely poor” condition. The following issues were listed by ReNewell, Inc.

Condition: Extremely Poor

  • No glass or matting for protection
  • Executed on medium weight laminated card stock paper
  • Severe water damage causing harsh tide lines down the center, lower edge and center rght
  • Tide lines deeply embedded and visible both recto & verso
  • An unsuccessful attempt made to “lessen” tide lines with more gouache
  • Overall planar undulations from improper framing and exposure to moisture
  • Tears lower edge and upper left
  • Surface abrasions & 2 tiny punctures
  • See photo documentaton

The treatment of the painting was labor-intensive and required a series of steps to address the poor conditions cited above. Virginia Newell’s treatment report lists the steps taken to remediate the poor condition of the artwork.

Treatment: Overall

  • Remove from frame
  • Photograph throughout
  • Localized removal of added gouache on surface of image as possible
  • Due to sensitivity of medium, treatment is limited
  • Humidify piece
  • Blotter wash with Tek wipe to pull degradation products from the paper and reduce the severity of the tide lines
  • Moisture aided in paper layers separating
  • One more blotter wash for more “pulling and reducing” tide line
  • Continued removal of added surface gouache
  • Line piece to Japanese tissue with wheat paste for adding strength
  • Wrap lined piece around 8 ply rag board for support
  • Inpaint as needed with minimal gouache
  • Encapsulate label off old backing
  • Using original frame, created a Marvel sealed package with UV filtering glass and riser mat

The following statement accompanied the treatment report:

The treatment was deemed successful but longevity is dependent on it hanging in a very stable environment.

ALL of the Spelman gouaches or art on paper, must be framed behind glass.

Ginny Newell
Lead Conservator
ReNewell, Inc. Fine Art Conservation

There are 4 remaining gouache paintings that need to be evaluated and re-framed under glass. The condition of these remaining paintings reveals some of the same issues found in the conditions addressed in this recent conservation effort.

Pine Mountain will gratefully accept donations to fund the conservation of the remaining works of this important artist held at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

There are many lessons to be learned as a custodian of art. Virginia Newell has reminded us all that art is often a pleasure and often an investment. Taking care of our art at Pine Mountain is similar to the responsibility we share for taking care of our historic buildings. “A little preventive maintenance by the owner will conserve its beauty and value for many years,” Newell has reminded us of our institutional responsibility.

by Virginia E. Newell

The photographic sequence follows the conservation treatment report. (See above)