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Mending the broken art Finding old treasures to fix is a labor of love at Buffalo State clinic

It's not quite "Antiques Roadshow," but Buffalo State College has its own version of the popular PBS series.

The college's renowned Art Conservation Department held its annual art clinic Friday, during which a few dozen collectors brought in art, antiques and prized heirlooms in need of repair and restoration.

A broken glass vase.

An old silk banner.

Blueprints of an 1840s church.

Yellowing Currier & Ives prints.
Buffalo State's art conservation program is one of only three comprehensive, graduate-level programs in the United States, and some of the pieces brought into Friday's clinic provide its 20 graduate students with projects to help them master skills they'll need once they graduate and take jobs at galleries and museums.

"It's a wonderful painting that's worth giving attention to," said James Hamm, a professor of paintings conservation, peering down at an 1882 landscape painting of Silver Creek, which normally hangs in the village library. Sylvia Clarke, president of the library's fundraising group, brought it to the clinic.

"What we need to do is investigate it a little further," he said.

The painting appeared to have been restored in the past, Hamm told her.

"Really?" Clarke said.

"There's a lot of varnish that should come off the painting," Hamm told her. "This is a pretty big painting for us, so it will take a lot of work -- and a lot of time."

No appraisals of the items' value were offered. And not all of the objects and artwork brought in on Friday were chosen to be restored.
The department faculty looks for a variety or pieces offering just the right degree of challenge for a student to complete over the course of an academic year.

"I'm looking for paintings that are historically interesting, and have problems that we don't already have," Hamm said during a break from the clinic appointments. "It could be simple problems or unusual problems, but I need them in order to teach the students how to deal with those problems."

"We get all sorts of really, really interesting things," said Jonathan Thornton, professor of objects conservation. "Some of them are surprising in terms of their quality and significance."

Thornton stood in a room on the second floor of Rockwell Hall surrounded by several graduate students and Steve Moyer of Rochester, who had brought with him five pieces, including a small glass vase from the French Art Nouveau movement.

They all stared down at the antique vase on a counter top. It was broken in two.

"What is the technique used for this decoration?" asked one student.

"Well, you tell me," Thornton said.

"It's another layer of glass added on top," responded another student.

"That's right," Thornton said.

Thornton agreed to have his students restore the piece.

As with all the objects and artwork selected, the owner is charged a fee, which helps bring some money into the department, said Judy Walsh, professor of paper conservation.

Walsh and her students looked at six Currier & Ives prints brought in by Larry Scott, of South Wales.

"These are perfect projects for first-year students," Walsh said. "They need to be carefully washed in a way that preserves the watercolor."

She told Scott it would cost $100 apiece, and warned him it could take more than a year for the restoration to be completed.

"What do you think?" Walsh said.

"Let's do it," said Scott, a professor of computer information systems at the college.

A family member passed down the prints to Scott, and he was worried about the discoloration over time.

"They've got a good reputation here," Scott said, "so I brought them in to see what they could do."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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