by Mark Ruschman, Indiana State Museum Fine Arts Curator
During a recent visit to Fine Art Conservator Barry Bauman’s Chicago studio to retrieve two recently restored paintings, we (Leslie Lorance, Indiana State Museum new media manager; Shaun Dingwerth, director of the Richmond Museum of Art; and myself) were treated to much more than the typical drop off and pickup experience. Being new to the museum and having never met Mr. Baumann, I was excited and a bit anxious about meeting him for the first time. Mr. Bauman has 40 years experience in the business and is an Elected Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation. He was also formerly the Associate Conservator of Paintings for the Art Institute of Chicago. Now that he’s retired, he generously provides conservation services for the Indiana State Museum and numerous other cultural institutions, basically free of charge – just the cost of materials. As I’ve learned, this is a big thing for many organizations that struggle with budgets and the desire display their collections – some badly in need of repair.
So visiting his studio is another one of the great perks that come with this job. Our host greeted us warmly, more as old friends, than business associates. He gave us a tour of the house and wonderful works of art on display; we were then treated to a spectacular lunch – prepared by him. After lunch, Leslie prepared to video him for a monthly segment we call “In the Spotlight” – a short segment highlighting something new and interesting at the museum. Certainly, the discovery of the new T.C. Steele would qualify, and who better to talk to about this discovery, but the person responsible. As we peppered Barry with questions about the discovery, what struck me most were not only the details of the discovery, which are remarkable enough, but his obvious passion for his work. He talked intently about his role as a conservator and how success is measured not in his notoriety as the conservator, but his ability to make the artist’s original intention crystal clear, unobstructed by the repair just completed. We talked at length about all aspects of his role as a conservator and what goes into a proper restoration. It was a fascinating conversation, with a great number of technical points covered, pointing out the expertise required to accomplish a successful restoration. But beyond the chemistry, you become acutely aware that behind it all is the heart of an artist; the skill to do the work and the knowledge to know what to do, and what not to do. The video interview will be short by necessity, but the conversation could have gone on for hours.
As we collected our restored works and prepared to leave, we talked of his upcoming visit to Bloomington, Indiana, for his talk on the “Steele Concealed” project. I’m looking forward to his presentation; I’m guessing the audience is coming to hear about conservation, I’m confident they’ll leave with a great deal more.