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Conserving the Barosso Watercolors

Brook Bowman conserving one of the Barosso watercolors.

Painted between 1924 and 1927, the Barosso watercolors consist of six individual main panels, each with an accompanying top and bottom border, for a total of eighteen watercolors. The largest panel is twenty feet long. During their more than seventy years at the Kelsey two of them have been once exhibited. Occasionally used as teaching tools, they have in recent years been rolled and stored in their individual containers in the Museum’s storage area.

The conservation goal for this project has been to mount the individual pieces for exhibition. Size alone presented one of the more difficult challenges. After a special set of tables was constructed, conservation began with the unrolling and documentation of the condition of each watercolor. The long-rolled pieces were flattened in a large humidity chamber, constructed to cover the entire length of the table. Special isolation materials were used to protect the watercolors from any condensation that might collect on the tent. After the humidification process, weights were placed on the backs of the watercolors to help keep them flattened and relaxed.

Each relaxed and flattened watercolor was then inspected for tears, losses, and holes. Every area of previous damage was repaired with a handmade paper and specially prepared wheat paste. Finally, the problem of mounting the watercolors was solved with a lightweight Gatorfoam. Handmade paper hinges were attached to the backs of each watercolor; these in turn were attached to the mount. The conserved and mounted watercolors can now be easily handled and hung for exhibition as well as stored mounted and flat.

Conserving the Barosso watercolors has been a team effort. Vital contributions were made by Kelsey Preparator Dana Buck and his assistant, Dave Huppert; Museum of Art Preparator Kevin Canze; Leyla Lau-Lamb and Tom Hogarth from the University Library’s book and paper conservation lab; as well as my most dedicated volunteer assistant, Thyra Throop; intern Melissa Schaumberg; and seven enthusiastic student volunteers: Lacy Carra, Amanda Edge, Carolyn Grunst, Brenda Longfellow, Laura Nicholson, Stephanie Pulaski, and Betsy Wilson.

—Brook Bowman