Photographs by Richard Kerschner
In December, just as Hanukkah was ending, so too did the autumn period of preparing the mural for the final phase of cleaning and restoration, and the intensive testing needed to plan and budget that process. Beginning after Sukkot, painting conservator Connie Silver returned to Burlington to work on the scaffolding close the mural, newly installed at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.
First she removed the silk facing and much of the synthetic varnish that was holding the facing in place. This facing had been applied last summer to protect the painting surface during the move. That work required use of a solvent and ha to be scheduled around the regular use of the building.
Then Connie got to work on cleaning three test areas totaling about 6 1/2 square feet on the left panel that included nearly all the major colors and she made great progress on deciphering the mural cleaning, filling, and inpainting process. She tested many different cleaning materials and combinations. What works well for one color does not work for another color. The yellows and light purple are quite stable, as is the red curtain (surprisingly!). The dark blue curtain and brown boarder contain very sensitive glazes and are quite difficult to clean. The techniques will be perfected as the cleaning progresses.
You can see the work in these photos – and see the incredible difference and how vivid the colors of the final restoration will appear.
The first cleaned area shown below exposes the light purple curtain and brown boarder against the yellow and green rays from the sun. Contrast the cleaned area to the partially cleaned area just above that still shows some varnish and dirt, and to the uncleaned green/brown area to the left before any discolored varnish or dirt was removed.
The second cleaned area shown below reveals the red and blue curtains after removal of the final layer of old varnish and dirt and grime. The dark red in the cleaned area is a sensitive area of varnish that still needs to be carefully thinned.
The third cleaned area shown below reveals the true colors of the Prussian Blue curtain and the purple/pink/tan curtain that the blue curtain is drawn back to reveal.
The same area is shown below with the paint losses filled and unpainted to a near-match to the surrounding colors. Connie glazed those areas for a closer match just before she left, so this photo actually shows the losses better since once the colors were better matched, one could not identify the losses from the surrounding colors.
Below you can see the the specular light highlighting the heavy varnish layer that has not yet been removed.