The Hidden Painting of Robert Frost Home
Unknown artist, “Lady in a Lace Bonnet,” located in Robert Frost Home in Greenfield Village, before conservation. / Photo by Marlene Gray
The same painting, after conservation. / Photo by Marlene Gray
It is that time again, as Greenfield Village opens this week for another exciting season! While you were away, staff at The Henry Ford have been busily cleaning and repairing objects throughout the village buildings. During the winter months, conservation staff move artifacts in need of repair back to our labs for a bit of TLC. Some of these objects are on full display while others hardly ever get the spotlight. One of the latter objects is a painting rarely seen by visitors.
View of Robert Frost Home with the parlor on the right. / THF1883
Within the Porches and Parlors district of Greenfield Village is the home of American poet Robert Frost. Originally located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the house was moved to the village by Henry Ford in the 1930s. As you enter the house, a parlor is on the immediate right. If you look inside on the left, you will see a frame on the wall. There hangs a portrait of a woman, “Lady in a Lace Bonnet.” During routine maintenance, our dedicated clean team noticed the painting had some paint losses, which you typically find with old paintings. The paint losses at the top and bottom of the painting were the most obvious. These types of losses can occur when the painting is roughly handled during framing.
Image courtesy of clean team member Teresa McCloud, who noted the damage.
Conservation staff then brought the artwork to the lab to give this hidden painting some much needed attention. Once the painting was removed from the frame, the next step was a good cleaning. Paintings trap abrasive dust and debris, both on the canvas behind and the painted surface. After vacuuming to remove the larger debris, a very mild cleaning agent was used to remove the surface grime collected over the years. What a drastic change that made!
Grime cleaning, with right side cleaned. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Still, the portrait had a yellow tint, visible in the sitter’s face, which is a tell-tale sign of an aged varnish. Various solvents were tested to see what worked best at removing the old varnish, and we selected one that did not cause harm to the paint surface. After the varnish was removed, the portrait looked much brighter and fresher.
Varnish removal, with left side cleaned. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Once our lady was cleaned, it was time to tackle the paint losses. Color-matching the surrounding paint is tricky and takes patience to get right, but when we do, it is so rewarding to see the complete image. Last but certainly not least, a new coat of varnish with stabilizers that resist the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation was added to protect the painting from light from the window on the other side of the parlor.
After securing the painting back inside the frame (being sure not to scratch the surface), we whisked it back to Frost home, tucked into its “hidden” spot. Now you know what hangs on the wall, and you may even be able to get a little peek from outside the parlor window on your next visit. The lady will be happy to show off her fresh appearance!
“Lady in a Lace Bonnet” returned home. / Photo by Marlene Gray
Marlene Gray is Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.
collections care, conservation, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Marlene Gray, art, paintings