Several paintings of national importance have been saved from the brink of ruin following damage sustained to them during Hurricane Ivan.
The artwork, by the late Caymanian artist Gladwyn K. Bush, better known as Miss Lassie, was cleaned and stabilised for posterity by Toronto-based conservator Mary Peever.
The conservator, called in by the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, worked on 25 paintings over the course of last week.
Much of the damage to the visionary intuitive painter’s work was identified as having been caused by sea water, Ms Peever explained.
Many in the collection were badly warped, where the canvas had become damp. Two pieces created with mixed media on glass were initially thought to be in danger of peeling away.
Over the course of the week, Ms Peever, working out of the Harquail foyer, used a variety of techniques to make each picture stable.
‘As a conservator, what I found (most) interesting were the paintings on glass. Those items are usually hard for us. For some reason they didn’t suffer that much damage. They were dirty but stable,’ she added.
Ms Peever came well qualified for the delicate task of saving the works, none of which is currently owned by the CNCF. She has extensive experience in disaster response and recovery work in Canada for both federal and private art institutions.
‘The worst affected (pictures) were those on artists’ canvas on Fredricks board (cotton canvas stretched over cardboard backing). They got wet and the backing and the canvas buckled and warped,’ she said.
CNCF artistic director Henry Muttoo said that the foundation was pleased with the conservatory work done so far. He said, though, that there might still be further work done to several of the paintings.
‘I think she’s done a creditable job. Six need more (cleaning) work. We’ll have to do more scientific conservatory work on some of them and may have to contact an institution like the American Museum of Visionary Art for further work if necessary,’ he added.
Mr. Muttoo went on to say that it wasn’t the CNCF’s intention to repaint any works to bring them up to their original state, adding that the fact that they were damaged during such a significant storm also added to the historical background of the pieces.
‘If we are advised that any retouching is necessary for the preservation of the works, though, it will be considered by the CNCF board,’ he said.
Conserved for all
Though not owned by the CNCF, Mr. Muttoo, said that the foundation is in the process of acquiring the 25 conserved paintings from Miss Lassie’s son, Richard, through funds provided by government.
‘We made a verbal agreement with her son to purchase the pictures… but before the deal was finalised the storm came,’ Mr. Muttoo explained.
Mr. Muttoo said that the CNCF would have asked to help conserve the paintings for the nation even if there hadn’t been a prior understanding.
The CNCF’s artistic director said that friends of the artist took the paintings from Miss Lassie’s fronthouse on South Sound Road shortly before the storm. While stacked in her backhouse, sea water had come in and sand had also collected on some of the paintings.
‘Just after the storm we went in with Richard who allowed us to take them into safekeeping,’ Mr. Muttoo commented.
He said that CNCF’s 102-strong collection of Miss Lassie paintings had survived the storm in excellent condition apart from one which had suffered from a few drops of water.
The collection is currently being stored free of charge in the vault of Deloitte’s Citrus Grove premises, he added.
Ms Peever was formerly conservator at the Cayman Islands National Museum and was more recently employed at Pedro St. James as exhibits manager.
She was last in Grand Cayman in December 2004 assisting the national museum in its recovery efforts.
Miss Lassie passed away in November 2003 at age 89. Her last exhibition was the Gladwyn K. Bush retrospective at the Harquail Theatre in September 2003.