Recently Conserved Paintings from the New Brunswick Museum Collection

A regular part of the care of a collection is the effort to ensure its preservation. Another facet of a museum’s goal is to share the collection with the public through exhibition. Sometimes objects are unable to be displayed because their condition compromises the artist’s intent or exposing them may actually cause more damage. Over the past thirty years the New Brunswick Museum was engaged in an ongoing fine art conservation project in conjunction with the Provincial Fine Art Conservation Laboratory located at the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville, New Brunswick. The works listed below have received recent conservation treatment by now-retired Fine Art Conservator of New Brunswick, Adam Karpowicz.

Most venerable museums have artifacts in their care that require some attention. Sometimes significant objects that merit preservation are acquired even though they may not be in prime display condition. Oftentimes the material used by artists, either the varnish or glazes, can deteriorate or change over time. Sometimes the methods used to frame a work may compromise the structure and appearance. Occasionally an item might sustain some accidental damage. Whatever the reason, in order to ensure the long term preservation of the work, an intervention is necessary.

These photos show the paintings before and after Adam Karpowicz applied conservation techniques. His work breathes new life into these paintings, ensuring that the artist’s intention is once again visible.

1b1a
Kenneth Keith Forbes (Canadian, 1892 – 1980)
The Right Honourable Richard Bedford Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada (1930-1935), 1938
oil on canvas
Bequest of the Right Honourable Richard Bedford, Viscount Bennett, 1948 (1948.5)

2b2a
Attributed to Thomas Hanford Wentworth (American, 1781 – 1849)
Portrait of an Unidentified Man
(Possibly Charles Humphrey), c. 1835
oil on canvas
New Brunswick Museum Collection (X16481)

3a3b
John Christopher Miles (Canadian, 1832 – 1911)
Woodland Fishing Scene with Boy, c. 1880
oil on canvas
Gift of Kenneth Allison Wilson, 1954 (1954.165)

4b

4a
John Thomas Stanton (Canadian, c. 1815 – 1866)
after Richard Wilson (British, 1713 – 1782)
The Ruined Temple, 1856
oil on millboard
Purchase, 2004 (2004.13)

5b

5a
Artist Unknown (American School)
Bark Mary Rideout of St. Andrews, N.B., 1868
reverse-painted oil on glass
Purchase, 2010 (2010.36)

6b6a
Michael Anderson (Scottish or Canadian, 1824 – 1853)
Aaron and Hur Staying Up the Hands of Moses during the Battle with the Amalekites at Rephidim, 1850
oil on canvas
Purchase, 1958 (A58.30)

7b

7a
John Christian Schetky (Scottish, 1778-1874)
Battle of the Chesapeake and the Shannon, c. 1815
oil on canvas
John Clarence Webster Canadiana Collection (W1609)

8b8a
Albert Gallatin Hoit (American, 1809 – 1856)
Mary Ann (Maria) Street Berton Beckwith, 1837
oil on canvas
Gift of the Estate of Sir John Douglas Hazen, 1959 (1959.57)

9b9a
Albert Gallatin Hoit (American, 1809 – 1856)
John Adolphus Beckwith, 1837
oil on canvas
Gift of the Estate of Sir John Douglas Hazen, 1959 (1959.56)

10b

10a
Marion Elizabeth Jack (Canadian, 1866 – 1954)
Apple Trees at Burton, New Brunswick, 1922-1930
oil on canvasboard
Gift of Catherine Coombes, 2008 (2008.27.1)

From Shetland to the Miramichi – Uncovering a Bedcover’s Heritage

Dr. Carol Christiansen, Curator and Community Museums Officer at the Shetland Museum and Archives, in her latest book, Taatit Rugs: the Pile Bedcovers of Shetland (published in 2015 by Shetland Amenity Trust – ISBN 978-0-9932740-4-6) features an unusual New Brunswick Museum (NBM) artifact – an embroidered counterpane (or bed rugg). Originally donated as a floor covering by Margaret Keay and Janet Keay in 1961, its real function as a bedcovering was explained in the early 1970s when it was included in an exhibition on American bed ruggs at the Wadsworth Athaneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It was also featured on a Canada Post stamp in 1993.

Taatit rugs
Dr. Carol Christiansen. (2015). Taatit Rugs: the Pile Bedcovers of Shetland. Shetland: Shetland Heritage Publications.

The counterpane’s unusual production method – a double-looped embroidery with a short pile rather than the more common hooking – makes it a unique survivor among the New Brunswick Museum’s extensive bedding collection. Dr. Christiansen’s research on the “heavy woollen woven bedcover (rug) to which threads (taats) have been applied” led her to this wonderful early example.  Her interest has greatly expanded our understanding of the complex histories associated with heritage objects and has provided a revealing glimpse of Scottish immigration to the province.

At the time of the counterpane’s donation to the NBM, it was said to have been used by a Hutchison family of the Miramichi region of New Brunswick.  Further inquiry revealed that the great-aunt of the donors was Elizabeth Stuart (Stewart) Mackie (c. 1817-1867) who married Richard Hutchison (1812-1891) of Douglastown, New Brunswick, on 20 March 1843.  Richard Hutchison was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and immigrated to New Brunswick in 1826.  Elizabeth Stuart Mackie is said to have been born in Aberdeen, Scotland – her father was Alexander Mackie (c. 1781-1858) a native of Leith who had lived in Aberdeen and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (Stewart) (c. 1782-1854).  The 1851 census indicates that they had immigrated to New Brunswick in 1832. Though not conclusive, this certainly gives our bedcovering a very strong likelihood of originating in Scotland and it significantly enhances the New Brunswick Museum’s ability to represent and discuss aspects of cultural transfer in the mid-19th century in the province.

1961-42(3)1961-42(4)

1961-42(13)
Maker Unknown (probably Scottish ?)
Counterpane (taatit rug or bed rugg), 1800-1850
Embroidered wool on tabby weave wool
221 x 157.5 cm
Provenance:  Used by the Hutchison family of Douglastown, New Brunswick [Probable line of family descent: Richard Hutchison (1812-1891) and Elizabeth Stuart Mackie Hutchison (c. 1817-1867); to her sister, Alexina Stuart Mackie Keay (1831-1909) and her husband, Reverend Peter Keay (1826-1873); to their son, Richard Hutchison Keay (1864-1944) and his wife, Ada Margaret Fraser Keay (1871-1957); to their daughters, Alexina Margaret Keay (1904-1987) and Janet Elder Keay (1913-2000)]
Gift of Margaret Keay and Janet Keay, 1961 (1961.42)
Collection of the New Brunswick Museum

Peter Larocque, Curator of New Brunswick Cultural History and Art, New Brunswick Museum

 

 

Cabinets of Wonder – Some Thoughts on Crustaceans and Molluscs

As New Brunswick’s provincial museum, the New Brunswick Museum partners with institutions and communities to collect, preserve, research and interpret material to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of New Brunswick provincially and globally. One such initiative is the Cabinets of Wonder exhibition at the Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, NB where a selection of the New Brunswick Museum’s collection of fine art, decorative art and scientific specimens complementing the exhibits from Mount Allison University’s collection are featured until 29 November 2015. The exhibition brings together art and science under common themes to showcase the fascinating relationships between these two disciplines.

Peter Larocque, NBM Curator of New Brunswick Cultural History and Art, curated the New Brunswick Museum display for Cabinets of Wonder. “The inspiration for the Cabinet of Wonder of the New Brunswick Museum comes from a small Jack Weldon Humphrey gouache painting, Crustaceans in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum”, said Peter Larocque. “Modest in its approach to abstraction, its shapes and colours suggest the creatures – crustaceans as well as molluscs – that are resident in the myriad niches found along the shoreline boundaries of Humphrey’s maritime painting places. Traditionally, within the conventions of various systems of symbolism, the attributes of tenacity, protection, fertility and resurrections are associated with the aquatic animals represented. One might argue that these traits also form a construct for considering museums themselves as well as the expectations inherent in their primary purposes – preservation, presentation and interpretation. The rationale for this tableau, then, is the relationship between the diversity of the artifacts and specimens found in the New Brunswick Museum collections and the institution’s role as a repository of material information, a maker of culture and as a place for the exchange of ideas.”

1
Jack Weldon Humphrey (Canadian, 1901-1967)
Crustaceans, 1952‑1953
brush and black ink with gouache on wove paper
support: 24.9 x 32.4 cm
Gift of Lawren Phillips Harris, 1987 (1987.21)

“The selection of objects for this cabinet speaks to the enduring part that the natural world plays as inspiration for styles and fashions in the fine and decorative arts”, said Peter Larocque. “The variety of ways that this is demonstrated is vast; objects might imitate natural forms, actual creatures (or sections of them) may be incorporated into an artifact, or natural items can be transformed by human agency.”

2
Belleek Pottery Company (Irish, founded in 1858)
Neptune pattern Tea Service, 1955‑1965
Porcelain            
Overall: 14.5 x 22.5 cm [teapot], 6 x 10 cm (sugar bowl), 8.2 x 11.5 cm (creamer)
Gift of Frances Meltzer Geltman, 1995 (1995.46.4.1-3)

The above tea service is indicative of the ongoing fascination with natural forms and technical virtuosity. The pattern of these pieces, Neptune, reminds the viewer of classical mythology and a close association with the sea.

3
NBMG 3636
Phylum Mollusca, Class Cephalopoda
‘ammonite’
Overall: 13 x 12.4 x 4 cm
Location unknown
Donor and date unknown
From the collection of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick

The coiled shells of fossil ammonites are common in rocks of Jurassic and Cretaceous age. New Brunswick has few fossils from this part of geologic time, but the New Brunswick Museum collection has a few ammonite specimens, mostly donated by members of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick in the 19th century.

“Some items were chosen for their aesthetic value; others for the contemplation of their function”, he said. “In total, these specimens and objects are brought together as a record of the passage of time. They reflect the evidence of past millennia, reference classical mythology and are signposts of our conspicuous use of natural resources. This evocative combination of items calls attention not only to their innate allure but also to their fragility. Implied in this gathering is the location necessary for the enjoyment of close inspection and observation. What better way to envision the role of the museum?”

4
Maker Unknown (Barbados)
sailor’s valentine, c. 1830‑1880
cedrela wood, paper, cotton batting and glass
25.4 x 49.6 cm
Gift of Frederick G. Godard, (7085)

Produced from the early 19th century and celebrated for their intricacy and sentiment, sailor’s valentines have become synonymous with the separation and uncertainty that characterize seafaring life. Produced in the West Indies, particularly Barbados, these souvenirs were purchased by sailors passing through as conspicuous signs of affection for sweethearts and cherished family members.

5
Mrs. Lolar (Passamaquoddy)
Sea Urchin pattern basket, c. 1908
dyed and woven ash splints with sweetgrass
overall: 9 x 21 x 21 cm
Gift of Mrs. H.R. Wilson, 1909 (5197.2)

Composed of the finest splints of ash and twining plaits of sweetgrass, this basket reflects the Passamaquoddy First Nation’s intimate knowledge of sea life in their traditional territory along the northern coast of the Bay of Fundy.   It is based on the shape of abundant green sea urchin whose habitat includes the intertidal zone of the rocky shoreline.

6
Maker Unknown (Japanese)
Presentation Gift to Commemorate a Contribution to the Building of a New Church, Umikami County, Chiba Province, Japan, before 23 November 1925
Carved shell
overall: 19 x 22 x 2 cm
The Loretta L. Shaw Collection, 1939 (32622)

The surface of this shell lends itself to artistic expression. The natural shape of the shell is respected and enhanced with the addition of koi subtly carved into the lustrous bands of nacre. The combination of imagery and material denote perseverance and strength – appropriate as a gift to a Canadian missionary intent on bringing Western-style education to Japan.