Saving Grace
           
The dream long held by Dorothy Ann "Dot" Shields De Spain '52 is slowly becoming reality. Though buried beneath layers of dirt and grime and yellowed varnish, the paintings that she cherished as a student at Rosary College over 50 years ago are gradually coming back to life. It's a project that would not have happened without her tenacity and financial support and without the expertise of renowned River Forest conservator Barry Bauman. As a young art education student in the early 1950s, De Spain often admired the many Madonna paintings that she glimpsed as she ran to classes or studied as she sat in meetings. It became her dream to restore four of her favorites. "The Madonna paintings just beckoned to me," De Spain explained. "My father was a professional artist and while reframing one of his paintings, it struck me that I really wanted to take care of the paintings that I remembered so well at Dominican." The four paintings, which were created in the early 1900s by Sisters Catherine Wall and Angelico Dolan, were copies of famous works by Raphael, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto. Mother Emily Power had dispatched the two sisters to Europe in 1903 by to study the great works of art, re-create them and send back the fruits of their labor.
           
After receiving De Spain's generous offer to fund the restoration of the four Madonnas, Amy McCormick , senior vice-president for Administration, contacted Barry Bauman, a River Forest resident and founder of the Chicago Conservation Center. Bauman agreed to restore the re-creation of Raphael's Madonna della Granduca (Madonna of the Grand Duke) in 2002 and Botticelli's Madonna the Magnificat in 2003. The Raphael now resides in Mulroy Lounge, and the Botticelli hangs in Lewis Lounge. Bauman is currently repairing a re-creation of del Sarto's "Madonna delle Arpie" (Madonna of the Harpies), which will eventually enhance the Social Hall. Del Sarto's large painting-just under seven feet tall and six feet wide-was executed in 1517 as an altarpiece for the nuns of San Francesco dei Macci. It depicts the Madonna and Child, flanked by St. Francis and St. John the Evangelist, standing atop a polygonal pedestal decorated at the corners with monster-like figures (the harpies). The most recent interpretation of the painting describes it as a depiction, based on the Book of Revelations, of the Virgin triumphant over evil.
           
 

 
 

"Madonna of the Harpies" 1903
Re-created after Andrea del Sarto
 
           
"I was surprised to learn that the Sister's re-creation was not executed by a full-time working artist because the competence is astonishing," Bauman said. "The painting had never received any conservation attention and had been so varnished and yellowed over time that it was a visual falsification of what the painting was supposed to look like. A dark film flattened the painting's perspective and made monochrome its vivid colors." Bauman, who has over 30 years' conservation experience as the former associate conservator of paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago and founder of his highly respected conservation business, has been restoring the painting since March and hopes to have it back to its original glory by the end of the summer. The long, delicate process of restoration includes the meticulous cleaning of the surface, the relining and stretching of the canvas, the application of a layer of a layer of non-yellowing varnish to protect the original surface from dirt (and to provide a buffer between the original surface and the restoration work) and, finally, the retouching of the painting with special conservation acrylics. The retouching in former cracks will involve a careful mixing of colors to exactly match the original oil paints. Since selling the Chicago Conservation Center in 2003, Bauman does this punctilious work free of charge, except for the cost of supplies and materials, which are usually only 10% of normal conservation fees.
           
"I'm in an enviable position now because I only work on the paintings that really intrigue me. I take on projects for small museums that are stretching just to pay the heat and electricity bills, let alone the costs of conservation of their works. They're thrilled that their neglected paintings can be properly cared for-in a sense, I serve as a foster parent. And it's a real thrill, after months of work, to reach that 'phoenix moment' when the picture springs back to life," laughed Bauman. "We are so fortunate that Dorothy "adopted" these paintings and that Barry agreed to nurture and restore them for the university, says McCormack. This process would have been cost-prohibitive but their generosity has made it possible for students and the Dominican community to appreciate these paintings the way they were originally intended to be enjoyed." Next on Bauman's agenda-and the painting that will complete Dorothy DeSpain's dream-is the Madonna della Seggiola (Madonna of the Chair), a re-creation of Raphael's 1514 masterpiece. The re-creation, which currently resides in Lewis Lounge, is scheduled for its "phoenix moment" in 2007


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Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532
e-mail:barrybbc7@yahoo.com