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Doane Professor, Student Restore Art

Paula Blaylock doing art restoration Fall 2008By Taylor Foy

Time has taken its toll on the ancient Greek architecture of Acropolis.  Structures once built as an altar to the mighty gods now humbly sit in ruins. So Paula Blaylock was extra careful when working with the crumbling creation.

She wasn't repairing the cracks of the ancient Greek cityscape, but she was mending the cracks of an idea captured on canvas.

The 45-year-old oil painting is W. B. Wilson's interpretation of the original, unblemished Acropolis, but like the structures in Athens, it had deteriorated over time.  The image had been painted over the top of another painting and the top layers had begun to crack and flake off, revealing the old painting.  The canvas was brittle and shed chips at the slightest touch.

Blaylock, a senior art major , had always wanted to restore damaged and deteriorating art.  She plans to study art restoration and preservation history in graduate school.  Art Professor Richard Terrell thought this would be a good opportunity for Blaylock to get some experience in her field.

"I had some damaged work of my own and we have some around here [at Doane] so this was a great opportunity at the right time," Terrell said.

The two have worked on several projects this year including paintings and sculptures.  A majority of their work consists of repairing tears and dents, restretching and stabilizing canvas, cleaning and touching up and refinishing varnish.

"We're keeping things pretty simple," Terrell said.

Simple maybe, but a challenge nonetheless.

"We don't want to end up really messing something up," Blaylock said, adding that she was a little nervous the first time she took a brush to someone else's work. 

Richard Terrell works to restore a paintingSo the two are very careful when restoring the art.  They first examine the art and decide if they can help to improve its condition or if it needs any work at all.

"Not everything looks better when it's cleaned up," Terrell said.  "You have to see if you are helping it or hurting it."

Blaylock mixed a chemical compound and spread it over the back of the canvas to secure the existing paint. The restoration process includes a variety of concoctions and precise measurements as well as paint-a synthesis of art and science.

"We are working to bring beauty back to something, so it [art restoration] is art," Blaylock said as she delicately sanded the surface of a corroded sculpture.

To restore art is to be an artist. Returning something to its original state would be difficult without the proper knowledge of how it was first created.

"It takes skill to put the paint on in such a way that it blends with the old stuff," Terrell said.

But while restoring art requires an artist's touch, it also requires an appreciation for the original artist's work.  It certainly doesn't mean adding a new style.  Blaylock emphasized the importance of respecting the original artist.

"We paint to fix things," she said. "We paint to make it look like we never touched it."

Terrell said that all works of art, even those kept in the best conditions in prominent museums need to be restored over time.  It's necessary to preserve the existence of an artist's expression. 

Blaylock said that it is the preservation of that expression that is most important to her.  It ensures that artists' legacies will last long after they're gone. 

"I would like to think that if I have art in a museum and it needs restored somebody could return it to its original state."

Terrell and Doane's art department plan to continue restoring art.  To inquire if the department can repair or preserve your art, e-mail Richard Terrell at richard.terrell@doane.edu.