Last year, the History Center applied for the Americana Corner Grant, a grant which provides funds to museums of all sizes to preserve the history of our country, particularly the unique story of its founding extending from the early 1700s to 1865. We are proud to have received funding to aid our restoration of a portrait of Archibald Thompson MacIntyre, an early American settler and frequent legislator from Thomas County.
If you’ve been by the museum in the past two years, you may have seen this portrait hanging in our MacIntyre Gallery. You may also have noticed he’s been looking a little rough, to put it nicely. Then again, we all might look a bit haggard after 150 years.
Long before many of us were born, he proudly hung on a wall in MacIntyre Park school, receiving all the abuse you might expect anyone to receive in a place of education. In the 1960s he was restored by a local member of the public, but years of fluctuating humidity and temperature levels have left their mark on the painting. The exceedingly thin canvas has pulled away from its lining leading to tears and bubbles that are less than attractive or safe for A.T.’s future.
The portrait is currently in the hands of The Conservation Labs, a team of conservation experts located in South Carolina. After initial investigations, they determined a program of conservation that will take part in three stages: removing the ugly, stabilizing the bad, and restoring the good. We recently received an update from Jennifer Bullock, the conservator in charge of our project:
“When we got Mr. MacIntyre to the studio I wanted to give him time to adjust to the environment of the labs, which is quite a bit different to the environment he has been in for many years now. I then took several images in normal light, raking light, and transmitted light, which tells me different things about the painting and its condition. I removed the painting from its gold frame and took some additional photographs of the tacking margins and edges that were covered by the frame.
I have done some preliminary cleaning (removal of lots of spider webs and dust). And I have begun to stabilize the tears and holes in the canvas so that I can begin addressing the removal of the clear sheeting on the reverse.
I created bridges with Japanese tissue that branch over from one side of the tear to the other. Doing this makes it possible for me to move the painting and work on removing the plastic without risking making the tears worse. There will be an overall “facing” applied to the painting later but I have to work very carefully at this stage because I need to be able to remove the plastic sheeting (without causing any further damage or loss). The plastic sheeting must come off so that I can manipulate the canvas more easily and start to see how to address the severe buckling and distortions. I am in a tricky phase.
One thing I have discovered is that some of the tacking margins (the edges that go around the stretcher and hold the painting in place) are either gone or torn. Also we will have to replace the stretcher with a new one. The current stretcher is more like a strainer and cannot be keyed out which is important for the painting now and in the future.“
With special thanks to Jennifer and Mossimo at The Conservation Labs and the kind donation of Tom Hand at Americana Corner, we know that A.T. will return to us in much better shape than when he left.
Published in The Hourglass, Summer 2023