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Thursday, June 1 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
(Paintings) What the Folk Happened to Kitty James and other Folk Tales

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What the Folk Happened to Kitty James and other Folk Tales.  In summer of 2016 the Colby College Museum of Art mounted the exhibition A Useable Past American Folk Art.  This collection of early American folk art is very significant to the Colby Museum.  A majority of the works in this exhibition belong to the American Heritage collection of Edith and Ellerton Jetté-- one of the earliest collections to enter the Colby College Museum of Art.  Many of these works had not been displayed for years and most were in need of extensive conservation treatments.  Paintings in the collection had either received very little or no conservation in the past, or they had fallen prey to overzealous restoration attempts.  The conservation goals for this exhibition were very ambitious as over twenty paintings were conserved in just under two years.  The Colby Museum does not have a conservation laboratory or a conservator on staff.  Like many smaller New England Museums, the Colby Museum relies on the expertise of conservators in private practice.  Typically, conservators in private practice form strong relationships with the institution and collection, but rarely do they have the opportunity to work closely with so many paintings for one exhibition.  The scope of this project allowed for the conservation needs of many of the early nineteenth- century folk paintings to be assessed in a thorough manner by both the conservator and curator, thus allowing for conservation planning from the onset of the exhibition.  This paper will describe how a conservator in private practice worked with museum curators and registrars to manage and plan several conservation treatments.  Challenges included assessing what type of treatments could be performed on site at the museum and what types of treatments were too complex, thus necessitating transport of paintings to the conservation studio.  Treatments ranged from simple surface cleanings to major structural treatments, including linings of paintings with signatures on the reverse.         During the course of the treatment of a portrait of Kitty James by Ezra Ames it became apparent that drastic changes had been made to the dress and hairstyle of the sitter. This discovery necessitated a close collaborative approach between conservator and curator.  In order to examine compositional changes X-radiography was necessary. Fortunately, the local hospital performed digital radiography of the painting at no charge, allowing a small institution with no technical analysis equipment or in-house conservation staff to perform X-radiography. This informed the treatment of a significant early American portrait by a noted artist, and also prompted a re-identification of the portrait's subject.   Clues from the X-radiograph, and consultation with curators versed in early American fashion, indicated that the sitter's original neoclassical dress was from a much earlier period than the Victorian garment painted over it.  Similarly, long painted locks concealed a neatly cropped hairstyle, fashionable for girls in the very early nineteenth century. After careful consideration both conservator and curator decided to uncover the earlier composition

avatar for Nina Roth-Wells

Nina Roth-Wells

Conservator, Nina A Roth-Wells LLC
Nina Roth-Wells has a bachelors degree in French and Art History from Bowdoin College and a masters is art conservation specializing in painted surfaces from Queens University in Kingston Ontario. Nina became a Fellow of the AIC in 2014.For over 20 years Nina has been a conservator... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm CDT
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower