Art conservator restores beloved painting
River Forest, 07/29/12--Art conservator Barry Bauman discusses his art restoration work on Sister Catherine Wall's 1903 copy of "Madonna della Arpie" currently hanging in the Social Hall. Dominican University celebrated a century of fine arts support Sunday with an arts lecture, sculpture tour and ice cream social. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Barry Bauman’s restoration work on the Sinsinawa sisters’ painting can be viewed at his website, baumanconservation.com. Click on “participating institutions,” go to 2006 inventory, and then to “page 127.”
Updated: September 3, 2012 1:01PM
RIVER FOREST — Art conservator Barry Bauman believes he has one of the best jobs in the world, and he likes sharing it with others.
On Sunday, Bauman gave a 20-minute presentation at Dominican University in River Forest on his restoration of a century-old painting by two Sinsinawa sisters. The painting is a “re-creation” of a 15th century masterpiece, “The Madonna of the Harpies,” by Italian artist Andrea della Sarto.
“It was in dire need of repair,” Bauman said Tuesday. “It was extremely dirty and structurally it was in poor condition.”
The work took planning, preparation and skills learned over several decades. For five months Bauman, a River Forest resident, worked meticulously to carefully remove the layers grime and restore the original hues the two sisters laid done around 1905-06.
“This is not something done at a local frame shop,” he said with a master’s pride.
Though no recreation can compare with an original, the 7-foot-tall devotional painting hanging at Dominican had great meaning to the two Sinsinawa nuns, and their work holds great meaning for their fellow sisters.
Bauman, a former associate conservator of painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, sold his art conservation business nine years ago. Since then, he’s offered his skills free of charge to a variety of museums and non-profit organizations.
Asked why his efforts matter, Bauman quoted British politician and wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Faced with the great expense of defending Britain during World War II, Churchill was counseled to cut funding for the arts.
“If you do that, why are we fighting the war?” Churchill replied.
Bauman said he understands Churchill’s reverence for art.
“(I) do it to preserve art, to preserve history,” Bauman said. “To know art is to know where we came from. Art captures a time. Social, economic and political eras.”
Bauman said he wants those artistic messages to retain their full meaning and visual effect, unmuted by time or grime.
“There’s nothing romantic about 500 years of dirt,” he said.