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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Conservator as an Art Historian

by Cheryle Harrison

If we look at a cultural object with only a contemporary eye and without inquisitiveness for its historical references, there is a risk of sanitizing its imagery and devaluing its historical context.

Emily Carr, untitled still life (circa 1890-1893)

History is more that what is found in the pages of a book and should have a significant presence in our lives. An artwork offers more than a visual experience. It can offer a connection to different philosophies and provide interpretations of past events and cultural values. Most importantly, an investigation of history can link us to artists and other people of different places and eras.

The analytical study of material properties and the use of solutions, magnifiers, and tiny swabs, comprise only a portion of the array of tools available to the conservator. Whether specializing in minute particles, paintings, or large buildings, the conservator's investigation of an object can lead to a discovery of geographical and cultural references.

Emily Carr, Totem Poles, Kitseukla (1912)

A knowledge of history enables one to view a piece from the aesthetic standards of its time of origin and to perhaps further understand the impetus underlying a certain style or period of art. The treatment approach to conservation problems extends well beyond a technophile's equipment, to the inherent value of an object. The question asked is: "How does this artist, or artwork, fit within the spectrum of history?"

These three images illustrate different phases of Emily Carr's evolving approach to painting. The still life piece was painted between 1890 and 1893 while she was studying art in San Francisco. She described the traditional training offered at the school as uninspiring. The second image, Totem Poles, Kitseukla, from 1912, shows a more expressive use of vivid colour which reflects Carr’s exposure to the Impressionist and Fauvist movements during the six years she spent in England and France.

A later work, Quiet, circa 1942, shows further development of her painting techniques, use of colour, and adoption of simplified forms and rhythmic movement. During this latter period, Emily Carr was inspired by the Group of Seven received encouragement from Lawren Harris in her search to refine her interpretation of the spirit and wild landscape of British Columbia.

Emily Carr, Quiet (1942)

By incorporating the value of history, and searching beyond an individual work, we may discover the particular evolution of an artist's creative endeavours. Close proximity to a painting offers the conservator a unique vantage point for examination of an artist's approach to the process of painting through deciphering how brushstrokes are laid and how the composition emerged. The conservator, as art historian, endeavours to combine such an intimate view of an artwork with a study of history to achieve a skillful balance with the results of technological decisions made under the scope of preservation.

Consider adding the following titles to your reading list: Seeing Through Paintings by Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson, Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery and the Art of Emily Carr, by Gerta Moray, Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon, by Hill, Lamoureux, and Thom.

next issue: Murals: painting as architecture.

Previously: Alum sizing and the art of W.J. Phillips
Next Issue: Murals: painting as architecture

 Fri, Nov 2, 2007