For the Love of Art: a Sonoran Journey


Carolyn Nelson has recently returned from another trip to Sonora, Mexico,
where for the past three years, she has been restoring important historical
paintings for the Regional Museum, at the Univeristy of Sonora, in
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. There are four that she has been working with,
three of which were painted and attributed to the painter Narchoit, who was
a young French adventurer during the Maximillian Campaine. He was pardoned
by General Ignacio Presquiera, who thought Narchoit was far too young to
die, at the end of the French/Mexican War in the year of 1862. The paintings
are from this time period.
When Carolyn went to the Museum at the request of the curator, Mr. Leo
Sandoval, she noticed the condition of the paintings. Advising Mr. Sandoval
at the time that the paintings appeared quite important, she asked why were
they so badly damaged, and displayed damaged, and torn. Mr. Sandoval
told her that there was no one there that knew how to repair these paintngs.
She then took a closer inspection, and when Mr. Sandoval asked if she knew
how to do the repair, she said yes.
The next day, she was invited to come to the museum and work on the paintings.
This was in the fall of 1993, and she went back down to Hermosillo in
January of 1994, where she started in on "El Nino del los Borrago". While
working on this painting, she was interviewed, and tested on her abilities
by INAH, which is the National Institute of Anthropology and History for the
country of Mexico, by their regional staff. Upon the completion of their
exam, she was granted permission by the government, through INAH, to work on
the artifacts. She is one of the few Americans that have permission to work
on the artifacts of Mexico.
Here are notes from Carolyn's journal.
It has been a difficult project, because so many things that an art
conservationist needs to have as equipment is not available there. I mix my own emulsions, and many times it is hard to even find the right forms of turpentine, or lineseed oil. One time I ordered some lineseed oil, and got back a large bottle of dark brown liquid that was of no use at all. There is no access to a hot table for lining the paintings, so I have to use a lot of imagination to come up with enough weight to press out the new liners.
The liners were important to put on the paintings, as this gives them reinforcement. I would make my own glue, using beeswax as a base. This had to be heated, and there wasn't any access to any kitchen, so I had to either borrow a hot plate from friends, or make a trip to Tucson, Arizona to get one. My space there is actually sharing an office with the curator, and it
is pretty much that of a store room.
The lighting is rather poor, and I have to bring in extra lamps. To weight
down the paintings, I am using whatever I can find in the storeroom,
that includes cannon balls, muskets, rifles, old clocks and typewriters, books,
whatever...on top of sheets of plexiglass. This tower is utilitzed once I have
taken an iron to the back and applied the liner.
I will work and manipulate the painting, without making changes, in order
to get it to work. Sometimes extra weight, and more pressing is necessary.
INAH ran an inspection on the completition of "El Nino del los Borrago"
and exclaimed, "Perfecto" after inspecting the area of which there was a
large tear. This area is from the corner of the right eye to the hip.
There were also many other tears and holes. The painting, before it became
part of the museum collection, was found next to a dumpster. "El Nino"
now is displayed in the main salon of the museum.
I am currently working on another Narchoit, that is part of the museum's
collection. This one has taken many months so far, as it was completely off
the stretchers for a period of almost 40 years. You can see me cleaning the
back of this one. I will be returning in the fall to continue the work.
As the summer months in the desert area for which Hermosillo is, is far too
hot at this time.
The project to complete these paintings has taken now three years, and will
continue. I am receiving very little in the way of money for this project.
The main focus is returning the culture back to the people that live there
and restoring their history. In 1994, my stay there was extended to include
a commission by a private client that supported my efforts at that time.
The client was the great grandson of General Ignacio Presquiera, to which I
give thanks, and indeed indebted to.
While in the states, I continue to work on commissions for conservation
in fine art, as well as paint and weave.

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rev. 11/22/10

This page was originally published in 1997 Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 10/28/11

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