The Catholic New World

 July, 23-August 6, 2006
Restoration Brings Madonna Paintings Back to Life
   

 By Kristin Peterson
   
           
Dorothy DeSpain has always loved art. Her father was an artist, so she grew up around art, majoring in art education in college and later working as an artist. When DeSpain was thinking about a way to assist her alma mater, Rosary College (now Dominican University in River Forest), she decided to fund the restoration of several of the university's religious paintings. She remembered these paintings from when she was a student at Rosary in the 1950s and wanted others to appreciate the true beauty of the works. "The paintings needed some work." DeSpain said. "It was like the paintings were beckoning me."
           
While looking for a restorer, DeSpain came across River Forest resident Barry Bauman. After more than 30 years of restoration and conservation with the Art Institute of Chicago and his former company, Chicago Conservation Center, Bauman decided to offer his services for free and only charge for the materials. He works mostly with small museums and non-profits. Although he has not done a lot of work for religious organizations, Bauman had the unique opportunity with his former company to restore some religious icons brought in by Cardinal Bernardin. Bauman said the late Cardinal was very interested in art. "He always loved coming over," Bauman said. Sometimes the Cardinal would come over by himself and the two would chat about art.
           
At Dominican University, Bauman has been working on four Madonna paintings selected by DeSpain. He has already restored and conserved two and is working on a large recreation of Andrea Del Sarto's, "Madonna of the Harpies." A Dominican sister is believed to have gone to Florence and painted this one-to-one copy. DeSpain said she is thrilled to see this painting restored. "I love it, but it is so huge and it needs restoration," she said. "That was always my favorite of the four." Bauman began the process of restoring and conserving the painting in March and expects to be finished in August. The painting, between 75-100 years old, has never been restored or properly conserved.
           

 

Art Conservator Barry Bauman stands in front of a recreation of Andrea del Sarto's
"Madonna of the Harpies," which he is currently restoring for Dominican University, River Forest.
           
Restoration is a painstaking process. First, the painting was cleaned with solvents to remove the dirt and grime that had gathered over time. "You need to remove the veiling film to see the original paint layer," Bauman said. Next, Bauman applied a non-yellowing varnish to protect the surface and add richness to the painting. Bauman said the varnish also serves as an "ethical buffer" separating the conservator's touchups from the original. Since the varnish and paints that Bauman uses are soluble in turpentine, they can be removed if necessary. Now, Bauman is retouching the cracks that have formed in the painting. A final non-yellowing spray varnish will be applied.
           
Through his cleaning and restoring, Bauman said he is able to "watch the paintings come to life." When dirt covers a painting, Bauman said, "a visual falsification occurs as to what the painting is supposed to look like." He describes cleaning the paintings as a "phoenix" moment. "It is a thrill for me to clean a painting and capture the original colors that the artist intended," he said.
           
Bauman enjoys seeing the response of clients like DeSpain, when they see the paintings restored. "My joy as a conservator is to have the work appreciated," Bauman said. "When you see people get excited about the work, that is a conservator's dream." So far, DeSpain has been impressed with Bauman's work. "I was thrilled that he took this on," she said. "I thing he does a wonderful job." Right now DeSpain is anxious for one of her favorite paintings to be back in the social hall at Dominican, where all who pass can see it. "I'll be happy to see the painting back again,"
she said.


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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