Trash? Or Restore? PART I

When Pastel Is Damaged

Fire... water damage... even a heavy layer of dirt can obscure a painting's color, details - and sometimes, your judgement.

"It's ruined!" might be a collector's first reaction, but read on for an example of art that was rescued.

Decades ago, pastels were frequently categorized as paintings, but the powdery medium feels completely different from paint, and is far more susceptible to damage. Treating pastel on paper, board or canvas is a delicate challenge. When Pratzon Art Restoration received this Brown & Bigelow calendar illustration by pin-up artist Earl Moran (1893-1984), well known for discovering Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jean Dougherty, the first step was to confirm that the calendar reproduction was available to use as reference. Without reference, restoration would be guesswork.

Brown & Bigelow calendar page

Luckily, the calendar page was found.

"Too bad it's not signed," the owner lamented, but careful examination yielded a wonderful surprise: the signature, though abraded and smudged, was still there. It was almost invisible to the naked eye, but under magnification, Jill Pratzon was able to strengthen the faint lines.

First, however, a heavy layer of grime and black pastel that had migrated from the background needed to be lifted from the model's skin. Scratches were treated throughout, and a large hole was filled. Once rescued, some of Moran's original pastel revealed itself, including the vivid aqua green of the drapery. Using pastel from the period, colors were matched and added in where necessary, especially along the tide lines that stretched across the board - and across the model's legs.

Moran's dramatic lighting and sensitive drawing can wow viewers all over again. Or would you call it a painting?