Sendak in Spring

Photo credit: The Chertoff Mural, prior to conservation. © 1961 by Maurice Sendak, all rights reserved

Once upon a time, there were two children who lived in a bedroom enchanted by a magical mural–the only mural ever painted by illustrator Maurice Sendak! Who wouldn’t be jealous of Nina and Larry Chertoff for having the opportunity to grow up in a place that surely fostered their imaginations in unspeakable ways. I’ve been meaning to write about this mural ever since The Rosenbach Museum and Library began advertising it’s conservation, in January, and I was reminded of it this morning both on NPR, and in the NYT. The whole project has been really exciting to experience as a Philadelphia resident, especially since the museum has organized so many outreach events to get the public interested in the mural’s conservation.

I’ll let you read a little more on the history of the mural, if you haven’t already, in the articles above. I’d like to elaborate on the conservation planning and treatment as discussed in a talk that I attended at the Rosenbach on February 23rd:

Milner and Carr is a firm that specializes in the documentation, analysis, condition assessment, testing, monitoring and treatment of historic buildings, monuments and sites. They were likely an obvious choice for the conservation of the Chertoff mural because not only are they highly respected in the field of architectural conservation, but they’re also located in Philadelphia, and they were able to carry out all aspects of the process–removal from the wall, stabilization, re-mounting and treatment.

Conservator Andrew Fearon was involved with the removal of the mural from the Chertoffs’ apartment in New York, subsequent transport to the Milner and Carr facility in Philadelphia, and, finally, to the Rosenbach exhibition space. Andrew did some research on the type of wall, and found that it was a non-load-bearing wall made of gypsteel that could easily be removed in two sections without causing structural problems to the rest of the apartment. Great news. There were a few obstacles, however, including the insecurity of the mural pigments, a gas pipe running through the wall, a service elevator barely big enough to fit each part of the object, and only 10 hrs to complete the entire removal and restoration of the original wall. Whew! Somehow, the folks at Milner and Carr managed to do it and arrive in Philadelphia with the mural intact, encased in a package of: polyethylene barrier, plaster, volara, honeycomb, and an aluminum frame.

Conservators at Milner and Carr immediately began building a new structure to house the mural, while conservator Mary McGinn consolidated the flaking paint. Once stable, and set up at its final location in the Rosenbach, the mural underwent its final stage of treatment by Cassie Myers. One problem she noticed, probably caused by the removal and handling, was a convex warp in the left-hand panel. Cassie was able to re-align both pieces using a reference photograph, then build up the gaps to create an even, unified surface. From there, Cassie could face the multiple forms of damage the mural had incurred throughout the years: melted paint from the radiator, water damage, housepainters’ layers covering parts of the mural, and a black magic marker repair performed by one of the children, among others. “Getting the panel right” was very important to Cassie, just as ethical issues are always at play in a conservation treatment; she was fortunate, though, to have the full support of the artist. Word has it that Maurice Sendak even made it to Philadelphia to complete the final touches of the mural himself.

The conservators’ specific techniques and the time it took to complete them are all documented in a video that accompanies the exhibition–now open!

Listen to an interview with Maurice Sendak on NPR’s All Things Considered, from February 1st.

Categories: Exhibitions, Outreach, Talks | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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