The Art of Restoring Church Paintings with Parma Conservation

An image showing the serene beauty and value of proper art restoration.
Art restoration is a major component of the liturgical arts.  Just as words edify the ears so also images stimulate the eyes and satisfy the soul.  Church paintings, murals, marouflaging images on architectural surfaces (designs painted on canvas and adhered to walls), and frescos both true and a secco on plaster do age significantly with time and so interventions are necessitated almost from day one.  Images can be ascetically compromised by pollutants such as soot, dirt, and grime that accumulate quite naturally.

Paintings over time can darken, varnish can yellow, and dust can accumulate.  Sometimes there is water or light damage.  Sometimes there has been human negligence or images have been restored poorly in the past.  Over time plaster walls crack and paint layers can flake off.  Over the years some works have been repaired, but never cleaned.  In former generations other works were wrongly cleaned with furniture varnish.  The work of restoration is continuous and a never ending and welcome challenge.  Through proper conservation techniques and timely intervention, there is always hope to save what appears ruined.     
Parma Conservation based in Chicago provides coast-to-coast expertise in the area of conservation, preservation, recovery, and restoration.  Their primary role is to conserve what is original in the artwork.  Over the years they have worked on countless church related projects restoring great works of ecclesiastical art in various states.  Parma was founded by chief conservator Elizabeth Kendall who has been conserving art for nearly forty years.  She got her start in Italy where she learned hands-on from professionals for fifteen years.  After she received her BA degree in Art History, she set off for conservation studies in Florence at the Instituto per l'Arte e Restauro.  After graduation she apprenticed on multiple conservation projects.       

The vast contrast of before and after, highlighting the splendor of the original color.

Recently Parma did work on this heavenly panel at St. Stanislaus Kostka church in Chicago, Illinois.  The original artist was the Polish painter Tadeusz Zukotyski.  He painted the sanctuary and three years later painted the dome.  The central panel depicted here shows Our Lady with the Divine Child appearing to St. Stanislaus.  In the 1950's the panel was repainted to repair previous water damage.  

The original image is brought back to life, removing paint and varnish from previous restoration work.

The process of restoration is a complex interaction of various materials such as mild solvents, distilled water, pigments, veiling layers, mediums, substrates, varnish, and so on.  Materials that are compatible and reversible are used.  Parma set to work on this precious panel and cleaned away layers of grime, discolored varnish, and overpaint, reclaiming the original oil on plaster work of 1897.  The definition has been restored, strengthening the position of the image in the sanctuary.  Parma also restored the image of the Triumph of the Risen Christ in the same church, a mural in the apse dating from 1899.      

The panel before its most recent restoration, showing darkening from broad stroke liberties taken by an artist during a previous restoration.

The position of the panel in the sanctuary.

A historical photograph depicting what the panel looked like originally.

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