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Thursday, May 16 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Paintings) Conserving a Conservator’s Paintings: Study and Preventive Care of Works by Felrath Hines

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Felrath Hines (1913-1993), better known as Fel by his colleagues, was an African American artist and conservator of paintings. Fel Hines studied art at the Chicago Art Institute, Pratt Institute, and New York University. He worked primarily in geometric abstraction, citing Ad Reinhardt and Josef Albers among his influences. In the 1960s he joined Spiral, a group of African American visual artists formed in response to the civil rights movement. In the late 1950s, Hines apprenticed under Sheldon and Caroline Keck during their tenure at the Brooklyn Museum. Finding conservation to be a natural extension of his interests and skills, Hines went on to operate a successful private conservation practice while continuing to paint and exhibit his own work. He treated works for many prestigious clients and institutions in New York and Washington, DC. Later in his career he served as the head of conservation at the National Portrait Gallery from 1972-80 before taking a position at the Hirshhorn, where he was the chief conservator until his retirement in 1984.
Hines’s paintings in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) collection were painted in oil with thin, even brushwork that describes fields of color, luminous blended passages, and hard edges. A dialog between conservator and artist is readily apparent within his work, revealing a meticulous hand and a deep understanding of the materials available during his career.
Many twentieth-century oil paintings containing zinc oxide are at risk of deterioration due to soap formation, a phenomenon that has been increasingly studied in the past two decades. A number of cracks on Felrath Hines’ Untitled (1978) were found to lengthen each month while on display, with the largest propagation coinciding with seasonal changes outside the museum. Previous analysis conducted in 2016 prior to treatment indicated the presence of zinc soaps, which are known to induce cracking, paint loss, and other deterioration following exposure to water. In response to the condition of Untitled (1978)an investigation into the materials of three contemporaneous works by Hines in the NMAAHC collection was undertaken. The paintings were closely examined and documented in normal and raking light, ultraviolet radiation, and under magnification. Samples of the ground and paint were removed from the tacking edges and analyzed with XRF, ATR-FTIR, and reflectance µ-FTIR. Data were correlated with reference zinc soaps and previously collected data from a test panel. FTIR indicated nearly all samples contained zinc soaps, however, none of the three contemporaneous works showed any signs of deterioration. A comparative study into the effects of relative humidity on titanium white and zinc white oil paint, two common materials in Hines’s ground, was also undertaken. Because all four works appear to have been executed with similar materials, preventive conservation strategies are being employed with the aim of preventing or forestalling the occurrence of zinc soap-related deterioration. This study of a fellow conservator’s paintings offers humbling insights into the inherent instability of modern materials.

avatar for Christine Romano

Christine Romano

Paintings Conservation Fellow, Smithsonian Institute
Christine Romano is a joint paintings conservation fellow with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Museum Conservation Institute (MCI). She received her MA and C.A.S. in Art Conservation from Buffalo State, NY in 2016. Christine... Read More →

avatar for Jia-sun Tsang

Jia-sun Tsang

Conservator, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute
I am a senior paintings conservator working at Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute for over twenty years and serving to SI museums that do not have in-house paintings conservator.  My specialties are research on modern materials and conservation of modern and contemporary... Read More →
avatar for Thomas Lam

Thomas Lam

conservation scientist, Smithsonian Conservation Institute
Thomas Lam has a Ph.D. in Ceramics from Alfred University. After his PhD, Thomas completed a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Thomas is a Physical Scientist at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), where he applies his knowledge... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 10:30am - 11:00am EDT
Salon B2, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Paintings
  • Track Paintings
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Christine Romano, Jia-sun Tsang
  • Abstract ID 18983
  • Tags Felrath Hines,modern,oil painting,oil paint,zinc white,zinc soaps,relative humidity,preventive conservation,XRF,FTIR