Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Catalgirone vase: conservation for free is slow going

I have taken on a few personal conservation projects since my move here to Sicily a year ago. One has been hanging over my head for some time as it turned out to be much more challenging and time consuming than anticipated.

See this lovely 18th century Caltagirone vase?

Well, it is really broken into many pieces and was badly (or not so badly, depending on how you look at it) restored in the past. 

My husband purchased this for his father's 70th birthday some years back. When his father opened the gift, it had mysteriously been cracked along the rim. We were very upset and being a conservator I promised to fix it the next time I came for a visit and would bring the right kind of glue.

A few years passed and we suddenly found ourselves in Sicily, not visiting, but actually living across the street from my father-in-law. The vase was returned to me and it sat on the shelf. There was much to do before I managed to get it together to fix the vase. I finally got settled and got around to examining it. And with the right light and the time to really look at the surface I realized there was much more going on than what I had observed in that dim, dusty antique shop. 

This piece had been HEAVILY restored in the past. It was broken into at least thirty fragments and had many blind cracks. In technical terms it had 'sprung'. This means it was impossible to make all the breaks line up properly and there were little steps from uneven joins all over. That explained the heavy restoration. The only way to hide the uneven surface would be to overfill it completely. Fill in the cracks and many surface losses with a putty that would not only just fill in areas of loss, but also cover up originally glazed surfaces. 

So, even though I knew it would mean more work for me, I decided to not just fix the broken piece and pretend as I if I knew nothing about the overpaint covering up the beautiful glazed surfaces of the vase. I decided to take it all off!!!

First, all the old paint came off. Not as easy at it sounds. Then, as I realized taking the old joins apart and rejoining them would cause more damage than good, with no guarantee of a better result giving the many blind cracks, I decided to leave the piece intact, live with some misalignments and rework the original fills. That means after my work the fills would only be filling in areas of loss, and not covering up any original surfaces.  That took some time and careful smoothing. But then, for the real challenge--inpainting (or painting in of the fills). The white fills would painted in to match the surrounding colors of the glazed surfaces. This would make the fills blend in with the piece so that the areas of damage would only be visible when viewed up close. The overall effect is to make the piece look whole again without completely hiding the fact that it is damaged (if you click on the image you'll be able to clearly see where my inpainting is).

Color matching can be frustrating, but also great fun. In this case it was mostly fun. I approached it one color family at a time. My medium of choice was watercolors. And finally, after weeks of doing a little bit here, and after starting to feel embarrased when asked by my in-laws would ask me about the status of the vase, I finally finished!!! 

It feels great to be done with it, a load of my chest, something to cross off my list, and I can't wait to move on to some other long  awaited personal projects (stripping down and refinishing an old chest is one, another one will be to finishing cleaning up some old Sicilian puppets, and there is more....).

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post! Fantastic job on the vase!

    I found your blog while referencing Sicilian mummification on my own (very new) blog, and have been completely engaged while reading your stories of Sicily! I am a huge fan of Sicily, and art conservation of Sicilian works. I am searching for Sicily in NYC... I will definitely be back to your blog; I hope you'll visit mine :)

    Great job!



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