History Nebraska Blog

Swing Landscape

A piece recently treated at the Ford Center is this study for a mural entitled Swing Landscape by artist Stuart Davis.  Davis was a New York artist who studied under Nebraska-raised artist Robert Henri.  The mural was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration for a housing project in Brooklyn, New York and depicts the Gloucester, Massachusetts, waterfront.  Influenced by jazz, radio, film and consumer products in America, Stuart’s work makes use of vibrant colors, rhythm and abstract shapes.  The mural is an oil on canvas that measures approximately three feet by 14 feet, and now resides at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, Bloomington.  The study treated at the Ford Center belongs to the Sheldon Museum of Art and is only about  21 7/8” x 19 3/8”.  The study is graphite, and gouache, an opaque watercolor medium, on paper.  It is signed, “STUART DAVIS 1936”, in black ink at the bottom right edge of the image. Also written in graphite at the bottom right corner of the paper is a scale given for the image, along with the paper’s height measurement.

painted study for mural, bright colors, abstract shapes, before treatment

"Swing Landscape" study before treatment.

The object was in fair condition. There were numerous areas of skinning or loss to the top layers of paper caused by removal of an adhesive placed on the back of a previous over mat. There were many small spots of shiny, yellowed adhesive remnants present on the sketch in the same locations as the skinning. The drawing had numerous scratches, scrapes, smudges and scuff marks overall, although they were in higher concentration at the upper and lower margins of the paper.

mural sketch during treatment, red marking in margin shows where the drawing has been cleaned to the left and where it is has not been cleaned to the right

Mural study, during treatment.  To the right of the red mark, the margin of the study has not been cleaned.  To the left, the margin has been cleaned.

The sketch was removed from the backing board. Due to previous damage from hinges along the top edge, it was not possible to fully reduce the adhesive residues there. Surface cleaning was done to the sketch to reduce soiling on the recto and verso.  However, the many scuffs and errant media marks, possibly from the artist were left alone and the margins were only cleaned to the point that the marks did not distract from the image. None of the marks were fully reduced so as not to reduce the historic value of the piece. Next, the adhesive residues in the image and around the margins were mechanically reduced to improve the overall appearance and prevent uneven discoloration from occurring in the future.  Skinning damage within the image was lightly toned to reintegrate the design.  The gray bands above and below the sketch had a fair amount of media loss from previous skinning damage. It was decided not to tone these areas as the damages show the function and history of the piece. Although treatment was minimal, the sketch is in better condition after being carefully cleaned and having the adhesive residues reduced.

mural study after treatment, margins are cleaner

Mural study, after treatment.  Not the margins are cleaner and the media loss in the window area on the right has been toned.


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