DIY Conservation Goes Viral

I’ve written for my work blog about DIY conservation and its consequences. This week we saw a DIY paintings conservation effort go horribly wrong, and then images of that “treatment” went viral on the internet. I think we have come to, as we say, a teachable moment.

In case you are behind in your news feed the short story is this: An elderly Spanish woman, concerned about the condition of a fresco in her church, took it upon herself to touch it up with perhaps predictable results. The news broke on BBC on Tuesday, and of course there is already a Tumblr called “Beast-Jesus Restoration Society.” Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner’s (University of Delaware) was interviewed by PRI’s The World and provided some perspective on what might happen next.

Left: A deteriorated version of the original (left) of “ecce homo” fresco of Jesus by Elías Garcia Martínez, a 19th-century painter. Right: The “restored” version of the fresco. (Photo: BBC)

First I have to say that I do believe that the woman had the best of intentions when she wanted to save her church’s beloved painting. As we laugh, make fun, and point fingers, let’s remember that she did this with a good heart, she is 80 years old, and we need to be empathetic.

Indeed, I think most of the time, people who attempt to repair their possessions are doing so because they value them and want to keep them whole. They probably also do it themselves because they either don’t know who to call or don’t have the funds to pay for a professional.

This story serves as a reminder of what happens when professionals are not called. But more importantly it reminds us that we have work to do to help people understand the complex nature of treatment decisions and what skills are needed to carry them out. Providing the public with information such as AIC’s FAQ page or How To Care For Your Treasures is a start. ALA Preservation Week (April 21-27, 2013) is also a good opportunity to provide information on how to find and work with a conservator.

I am disheartened at the truly awful comments and vicious name calling that is now on the web about this woman. I am sad at what happened to this fresco and wish she hadn’t done it, but I understand her intent…she just wanted to see this fresco treated and took it upon herself to do the work. Let’s be forgiving and take this moment to re-energize our mission to educate the public about what we do  and how they can best care for their own treasures, including knowing when to call a professional in for consultation.



3 Responses

  1. Very well expressed. The need to educate and inform the public as well as staff and volunteers is as present today as ever.

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