Restoration Underway for Historic Paintings from Watertown’s City Hall

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1930 geographical painting on treatment table at studio, in bottom section of its foam-core box. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)

A group from Watertown recently visited the studio of the art restoration specialist hired to refurbish historic paintings that normally hang in the main entryway in Watertown’s City Hall.

Joyce Kelly of the Historical Society of Watertown provided the following account:

The geographical paintings that usually flank the foyer at the main entrance to City Hall are currently in the studio of conservator Louise Orsini being refurbished.

In 2022, the Historical Society of Watertown received a grant from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for the conservation of the two geographical paintings in the foyer of City Hall. The 5.5 x 7.5 foot paintings were installed when the building opened in 1932. One painting represents a map of the town in 1630 (the year of its founding) and the other painting is a depiction of an aerial view of Watertown in 1930 (our Tercentenary year).

A “field trip” to see the progress of the refurbishing was arranged by Historical Society project manager Joyce Kelly, who was joined by CPC Coordinator Lanae Handy and CPC member (and former Chair) Elodia Thomas.

The paintings are being worked on in the foam-core boxes that were designed and built by Maquette Fine Art Services to transport them. This keeps them level and helps keep them firmly in place.

Loose dust was vacuumed off by affixing vellux (a synthetic material) to the vacuum intake and dabbing it across the painting.

Nano-gel sheets, approx. 4 inches x 5 inches, are being used to clean the paintings. They have the consistency similar to a big, wet noodle and are designed for surface cleaning art without the mechanical action of a cotton swab. This makes them a non-invasive, more efficient method than traditional surface cleaning.

The nano-gel sheets are put into distilled water to soften them before being applied. They are left in place for 20 minutes and then removed. When removed, they have a yellowish-tannish tint to them, quite possibly from picking up nicotine accumulated on the painting from cigarette smoke that was in the air for the almost 90 years they were hanging in the foyer of Town Hall. The nano-gel sheets can be cleaned and re-used.

Nano-gel sheet in place treating a section of the 1930 geographical painting. Notice the many scratches that need to be touched-up. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)
Nano-gel sheet yellowed after treating 1930 geographical painting. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)
Before and after treatment on painting title is stark – the left side has been treated, the right side has not. The left side is much clearer. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)

The outer edges of the paintings have been stabilized with an adhesive applied with a brush. This will help halt the fraying and material loss that has occurred around the nail/screw holes.

There is a brownish streak of a substance (to the left of the pointing finger) that may have been used years ago to try to clean or repair a section on this painting. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)

The 1630 geographical painting has been vacuumed of dust and tested for cleaning with nano-gel. It is being stored on its side in Louise’s studio, awaiting cleaning.

The 1630 geographical painting is awaiting treatment, stored on its side. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Watertown)

Both paintings are expected to be ready for reinstallation before winter.

One thought on “Restoration Underway for Historic Paintings from Watertown’s City Hall

  1. It is heartening to see these historic paintings are being restored, especially after the February 28 Historic Commission hearing. The 4 to 2 vote by the HC forces reasonable people to consider the possibility, as painful as that may be for some residents, that some members of the HC, for reasons having nothing to do with the merits of the issue before them on the 28th; for reasons having nothing to do with fair and impartial decision-making; for reasons having nothing to do with what is best for Watertown’s historic legacy; decided not to “preferably preserve” the two 117-year-old, Illife-built storefronts at 104 and 106 Main Street, the only commercial buildings by Watertown’s master residential builder in the city and intact examples of the Watertown’s commercial history. After the vote, one HC member, in a head-scratching disconnect, bemoaned that Watertown has done a poor job of inventorying its historic assets over the years. He expressed this regret after he just voted to allow the storefronts to be torn down.

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