TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — A painting at the Swope Art Museum has recently undergone a months-long restoration process and is now back in the museum just in time for the holidays.
“I found this painting and I could see that it couldn’t be exhibited, it had some places where bits of paint had flaked off, it was really dirty, and the frame was chipped and scratched, and I thought, ‘God, it’s a T. C. Steele, it’s this great composition,’ so we decided to make this an educational process. The first treatment was in August, and I really wanted it to be an educational process so that the public can understand really what it means to be a caretaker of all of this artwork here in the museum,” explained Amy MacLennan, curator of the Swope.
After 5 months of step-by-step restoration, the painting and its frame are now completely restored and have been returned to the museum.
“It was donated to the Swope in 1973, so from 1909 to ’73, in all that time it has not been cleaned. And I was actually with the conservator and they were saying that it was tricky because there are so many layers,” MacLennan said. “They use a cotton swab and a solution to wipe away layers and you finally get down to the varnish layer, so after the varnish comes off, then there’s still dirt to get off. And they said it was just black. So it’s really been completely cleaned. It’s always real tricky to do the signature because I was told that you don’t really know if it was done before or after the varnish so that takes some real skill and technology to figure out.”
During the process of restoring the painting, some insights into the history of the painting were discovered, bringing more detail to the timeline and life of the piece.
“Also discovered on the back of the painting that had been covered, there was a stamp that indicates that this painting was in his studio at the time that T. C. Steele died. And also underneath it, there was a little butterfly stamp, and that indicates that the painting was passed onto his children,” MacLennan explained.
Eventually, the painting made its way to the Swope to later be on display for the community. The conservation process was made possible thanks to Barbara Krieg, the Marilyn Scott Allen Fund, and the Wabash Valley Community Foundation.
“But I learned a lot, you can really see in some places how thinly he painted when you couldn’t really see it before, and he’s also pulling out layers of paint from underneath and it really shows off his control and his mastery. It’s really lovely to see that come out when it was totally missing before. So it’s pretty wonderful that we can have it out here now. It’s just so beautiful. I admire this so much and it’s just been such a great moment for me to be able to contribute,” MacLennan said.
For those who want to learn more about T. C. Steele, the restoration process, or just to see the newly restored painting, the Swope is open Tuesday – Sunday and admission is free. For more information, visit the Swope’s website.