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West and West Hill Streets
Nassau, N.P.
The Bahamas

(242) 328-5800

Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Conserving art in the tropical home

Holly Bynoe

One of the things that makes a retrospective exhibition like R. Brent Malone: Reincarnation so special is seeing decades-old works looking as fresh as some of their newer counterparts. This is no easy feat, particularly for art collectors living in tropical climates. Humidity and pests take their tolls on paintings quickly, and without knowing how to care for their works, collectors risk seeing some of their favorites deteriorate. In developing countries like The Bahamas, where art often serves as a method of historical documentation, this can be a significant loss.

That’s why Katrina Vanderlip sees a niche market for art conservation in The Bahamas, and she hopes emerging creatives will too. Both an artist and conservator, Vanderlip trained at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum. She has worked for private collectors and museums including the Musee du Louvre, in Paris; Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Los Angeles County Museum.

Spending winters in The Bahamas, she volunteered her knowledge to friends who owned works that were becoming affected by the elements.

“I’ve found worm holes eaten through the frame and the paper. There’s water stain damage, there’s mold – just a lot of problems that you don’t have elsewhere because of the tropical climate,” said Vanderlip. “I just thought that I’d like to make people aware.”

One of the most common issues she’s seen is paint becoming separated from the canvas. According to Vanderlip, humidity causes the canvas to shrink and expand. The movement causes the canvas to separate from the paint and the paint falls off.

She believes that one of the solutions lies in changing the way artists build canvas stretchers. She recommends using stretcher keys to help tighten the canvas periodically to prevent it from separating from the paint.

“Up North, you can use animal glues. You can’t use that here because the bugs will eat it, so you end up having to use glue that is much more like Elmers, because the bugs don’t eat it,” explained Vanderlip. “You have to rethink your whole way of conserving because of the tropics down here.”

Vanderlip hopes to be able to find people who are interested in learning about art restoration and conservation, and to train them. Becoming fully qualified requires pursuing a postgraduate degree, but she feels confident there is a market here for “first-aid” restorers, who could learn basic care before studying.

Those interested in learning more about caring for their artwork and anyone keen on finding out how he or she can begin a career as an art restorer are welcome to attend the NAGB’s next talk. Vanderlip will be speaking about best practices for collectors in the tropics and solutions for their problems. The talk will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 2 at the NAGB. As with all gallery talks, this will be free and open to the public; all are welcomed to attend.