Watercolor Technique and Conservation: A Case Study



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Winslow Homer: The Color of Light
The Art Institute of Chicago is fortunate to house among its collections of American Art twenty-five watercolors and three monochrome drawings by Winslow Homer.

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John Marin
One of the foremost members of the group of artists around Alfred Stieglitz, Marin created paintings that are among the most ground breaking and influential of his generation. His oils, watercolors, and drawings, produced during the early years of the 20th century, stand today as icons of American modernism.

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Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield
Heat Waves in a Swamp will be the first major Charles Burchfield exhibition to be mounted on the west coast and the first in New York for more than twenty years. Arranged chronologically, it approaches Burchfield’s work with a new perspective facilitated in part by the curatorial sensibilities of Robert Gober.

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Heat Waves in a Swamp: A Preview with Robert Gober
Curator Robert Gober discusses the Hammer exhibition featuring the paintings of Charles Burchfield.

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Infrared radiation
Infrared reflectograms, as called by art historians, are taken of paintings to reveal underlying layers, in particular the underdrawing or outline drawn by the artist as a guide.

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X-Ray Fluourescence Spectroscopy (XRF)
When a primary x-ray excitation source from an x-ray tube or a radioactive source strikes a sample, the x-ray can either be absorbed by the atom or scattered through the material. The process in which an x-ray is absorbed by the atom by transferring all of its energy to an innermost electron is called the "photoelectric effect."

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Raking Light
Diagram of raking light setup.

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Carbon paper
Carbon paper (originally carbonic paper) is paper coated on one side with a layer of a loosely bound dry ink or pigmented coating, usually bound with wax. It is used for making one or more copies simultaneous with the creation of an original document. Manufacturing of carbon paper was formerly the largest consumer of montan wax.

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The Golden Age in British Watercolors, By Dr. Patricia Crown
One of the most striking accomplishments of British art was the development of watercolor painting beginning in the second half of the 18th century.

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Basic wax resist technique
Click the link to see photo progression.

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The Gulf Stream
The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Strait of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

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A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.

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Art Institute's Technical Glossary
Many of the terms used in this talk can be found here.

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Pigments Throughout the Ages
The first paintings were cave paintings. Ancient peoples would decorate walls of protected caves with paint made from dirt or charcoal mixed with spit or animal fat.

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For To Be a Farmer's Boy
The sun had set behind yon hill across the dreary moor
When weary and lame a poor boy came up to a farmer's door
Can you tell me where'er I'll be and of one who'll me employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy

My father's dead, my mother's left with five children great and small
And what is worse for mother still I'm the eldest of them all
Though little I am I would labour hard if you would me employ
To plough and sow, to reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy, and be a farmer's boy

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Sponges are animals of the phylum Porifera. Their bodies consist of jelly-like mesohyl sandwiched between two thin layers of cells. While all animals have unspecialized cells that can transform into specialized cells, sponges are unique in having some specialized cells that can transform into other types, often migrating between the main cell layers and the mesohyl in the process. Sponges do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems.

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Sponge Reef Video
A scuba diver shoots the sponge reef in Aruba.

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National Gallery of Art: Winslow Homer
From the late 1850s until his death in 1910, Winslow Homer produced a body of work distinguished by its thoughtful expression and its independence from artistic conventions. A man of multiple talents, Homer excelled equally in the arts of illustration, oil painting, and watercolor. Many of his works—depictions of children at play and in school, of farm girls attending to their work, hunters and their prey—have become classic images of nineteenth-century American life. Others speak to more universal themes such as the primal relationship of man to nature.

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Winslow Homer's Muse
Mary Richardson of Chronicle interviews Mildred "Midge" Crocker about her grandmother, a muse for Winslow Homer.

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Winslow Homer's Maine
Down a narrow road that traces the Atlantic shore in southern Maine sits a series of sprawling shingled homes with names like Twainways, Daisy Sailer and Juniper Ledge. Many are weather-beaten, with gardens of day lilies, hydrangeas and lilacs grown a bit wild.

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John Singer Sargent Beyond the Portrait Studio
About 110 paintings, drawings, and watercolors selected from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive holdings illuminate episodes in Sargent's career as he studied and sough inspiration outside the confines of the portrait of studio.

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Channels: Charles Burchfield

Conservator Kristi Dahm gives an inside view of the techniques employed by masters of watercolor painting, as well as the chemistry of pigments and the cutting edge contemporary methods used to analyze and preserve them. Dahm is an Assistant Conservator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has researched myriad topics related to the preservation and technical study of art on paper, from the analysis of Italian Renaissance metalpoint drawings to longevity issues for contemporary prints. She co-authored "Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light," a study of the materials and techniques in Homer's watercolor paintings.

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