Conservation at Work

Caroline Ward, Marketing Intern

On March 13 2017, the Miami University Art Museum invited a Cincinnati conservator to speak with faculty, students and the public about art conservation. This event included a presentation on general conservation information, a demonstration on a painting in the museum’s collection by the Italian artist Francesco Bissolo, and a conversation about careers in the conservation field.

Cincinnati conservator Michael Ruzga speaking with Miami University students at the event Conservation at Work on March 13, 2017.

The conservator, Michael Ruzga, explained how conservation works to keep the integrity of the original work by the artist. He showed conservation techniques used on Rembrandt paintings, Seurat panels and Monet’s beach paintings. His discussion covered the change in techniques over time and the way paint had been stored in early times to the present. Did you know paint used to be stored in small animal bladders?

During his visit, Mr. Ruzga discussed conservation topics such as light, cleaning and the different layers of a painting. Light examination, including ultraviolet and infrared, were addressed, as were examples of underlying layers being discovered through light examination. The removal of grime and dirt was one cleaning technique discussed by Mr. Ruzga. Often, paintings need to be cleaned after a certain amount of time. Mr. Ruzga also showed the five layers in the construction of a painting. These layers include the auxiliary support (stretcher or strainer), the canvas (with a weave pattern and weight), the sizing and ground layers (which could be the imprimatura or underdrawing layer), the paint layer (this could be oil, acrylic, tempura, mixed media, etc.), and the varnish and grime layers. All of these layers are important to the  future of the painting, helping conservators determine what steps need to be taken to restore the piece.

Francesco Bissolo (Italian). Madonna and Child, 16th century. Gift of Gregory M. and Jeffrey B. Bishop. Acc. No. 2014.B.E.L.15

Students from many disciplines attended the event. Art history, studio art and science students spoke with Mr. Ruzga about the physical process of conservation as he worked on  Francesco Bissolo’s Madonna and Child, a 16th century Italian painting. He lightly removed a grime layer on the surface to reveal the original sky painted by the artist. It showed a remarkable difference. Students were allowed to step close to the painting to witness the transformation. They asked questions concerning the rules regarding how much can be removed, what determines his decisions and what steps must be taken to protect the painting during transport.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Ruzga opened up the floor for questions, not only about the conservation process but also the career field.He covered the background most conservators begin with, including education in chemistry, humanities (such as art history, anthropology, architecture, and archaeology), and studio art. After graduation, interested people may look into options such as apprenticeships, internships and post-graduate training to develop the beginning of a conservation career. This career field does not just mean being a conservator. It also offers the option of being a conservation administrator, educator, scientist, technician or preservation specialist.

Thank you to all who came out to the museum and attended the event!

Cincinnati conservator Michael Ruzga demonstrating on the Italian Bissolo painting on March 13, 2017 at the Miami University Art Museum.