The Dean was due for a makeover — Dean Henry that is. Last fall the oil portrait of the college’s first dean was taken down from its longtime perch in the Ag Hall stairwell and sent into the shop of fine arts conservator Tony Rajer. Later this month Rajer will return it to campus. It won’t look like new — that’s not the goal of conserving an old painting — but it will show its age more gracefully.
Here’s Rajer’s account of the work involved:
“About 30 years ago (the portrait) was torn and someone wax-lined a new piece of canvas to the old canvas, thereby increasing the weight and making the painting very rigid. It was overkill. Too much art medicine nearly killed the patient. In addition, many areas of the painting were completely overpainted and changed. The lovely ornate frame, which originally had gold leaf, was repainted in gold radiator paint.
“My challenge has been to clean the painting, by reducing the old varnish, and modifying the retouching to make the picture read better. I want it to look old but well cared for, not neglected.
“Structurally the challenge has been to get the painting to lie flat and put an even tension on the canvas. In addition, I cleaned the frame and repaired the broken gesso ornaments, to give it an appearance of its former beauty. It would have been impossible to remove all the old gold paint that covered the frame, so I chose to clean it and highlight some areas.
“The patient is making a full recovery. Professor Henry will live on for another one hundred years.
My last challenge is getting it back to the university — it’s so big and heavy.”
Wonder if Tony knows that direct vehicle access to Ag Hall has been suspended for the duration of the construction next door. Hope he has a good hand truck.