ICA’s revealing work at Oberlin’s Allen Museum
Last month ICA conservators put the finishing touches on a truly grand treatment at Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. The ICA’s 8 month-long cleaning and conservation of the painted ceiling and clerestory walls in the King Sculpture Court, was completed on time for before the museum’s celebration of its centennial in 2017.
Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the Italian Renaissance style structure to house Oberlin College’s new museum in 1916, cared deeply about the interiors of his buildings. He worked closely with the decorative painter Frederick Wiley, who was responsible for the painted plaster work design and the elegant still life and landscape subjects on canvas.
ICA’s staff spent more than a year collaboratively meeting with staff from Oberlin College and the Museum to plan the enormous project. Archival research, materials testing, cross-section analysis, and the organization of timetables, teams, contracts, and permits all had to be complete before on-site treatment could begin. Teams of ICA conservators rotated through eight months of neck-breaking work on the three-story scaffolding in the Museum’s central court. The conservators removed 100 years of very dark surface grime, did minor structural work, in-painted areas where the original paint had worn or flaked away, and aesthetically unified the compromised painted decoration.
The results are remarkable. Many strolling visitors, who stopped to watch the progress of the conservation work remarked to ICA staff that they had visited the museum many times, but had never even noticed that there was a painted ceiling. It had become almost too dark to see. Now, the ceiling is resplendent and we encourage you to visit the Allen Memorial Art Museum and see for yourself.
ICA Art Conservation
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