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Wednesday, May 15 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Paintings) Technical Study and Treatment of Paintings by Clementine Hunter

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Twenty-two paintings by self-taught artist Clementine Hunter (1896-1988) were investigated prior to treatment for a 2018 exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Clementine Hunter has become known as one of the most important American folk artists of the twentieth century. Born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Hunter spent much of her life as a farm laborer and maid at the Melrose Plantation along the Cane River. She reportedly created thousands of works of art during her lifetime, many of which are in major American collections today. The paintings, which ranged in date from the 1940s to 1980s, were executed primarily in oil on a variety of supports, including wood, cardboard, Masonite, paperboard, and a window shade. In these works, the evolution of Hunter’s style can be traced through the five decades of her career, where a lean, economic use of media gradually gives way to brushy, wet-into-wet impastoed application as she gained recognition and access to materials. The twenty-two works were varied in condition. Prior to treatment, the paintings were analyzed with X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) to qualitatively characterize the pigments present. Four works in particular showed patterns of degradation typical of modern oils, including waxy-textured paint, cracking, protrusions, efflorescence, and sensitivity to water. Paintings representative of each decade of Hunter’s career as well as those exhibiting degradation were selected for further analysis. In collaboration with conservation scientists at MCI, paint samples were obtained from areas of loss, mounted in cross section, and analyzed with specular reflectance µ-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (µ-FTIR) and scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) in order to characterize the materials and degradation products. Loose samples of paint were analyzed with attenuated total reflection FTIR (ATR-FTIR) where possible. Public court documents were obtained from a concluded FBI forgery case in which authentic and forged works were studied and compared to identify discrepancies in technique, pigments, supports, and surface characteristics. Data related to the materials found in the genuine works was correlated with that collected from the NMAAHC works to gain a broader view of Hunter’s palette and working methods. Treatment was carried out to stabilize and clean the paintings. Dry cleaning and gel-cleaning methods were used in order to minimize the paintings’ exposure to water. Thirteen works, on exhibit until late 2019, were mounted and framed in a novel configuration using pins, laminated ragboard sink mounts, and pass-through hinges.

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 →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
Salon B2, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Paintings
  • Track Paintings
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Christine Romano, Jia-sun Tsang, Dr. Thomas Lam
  • Abstract ID 19027
  • Tags Clementine Hunter,self-taught artist,oil paint,modern oils,zinc soaps,treatment,paperboard,XRF,FTIR,SEM-EDS,exhibition