This project is a good example of the following:
– long term collection care
– managing a project in a foreign country
– treatment of problematic modern easel paintings and wall paintings
– use of data loggers for environmental monitoring
The project is ongoing and began in 2010 when the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) invited me to assess the collection of the art work of the late Gladwyn K. Bush, known as Miss Lassie. The collection consists of 140 portable paintings, and the contents of Miss Lassie’s home in South Sound, Grand Cayman. She painted the walls, door and shutters of the house with biblical scenes and decorative motifs. She is recognised as a major cultural figure in the Cayman Islands. Her old and new houses are now named the Mind’s Eye Site and that is maintained by the CNCF.
The project began with an assessment and was followed by an extended treatment of the wall paintings in the house. Due to the extreme temperature and relative humidity conditions in the house (it is a traditional small building with no glazing), the wall paintings need monitoring and remedial treatments every few years. Flaking paint and deteriorating wood are the main problems. The portable paintings are re-assessed every two years, at which time, some treatments are carried out. The CNCF had no conservation facilities so I organised materials and equipment to be available on site. Slowly, the list of required treatments is being reduced with the goal being to bring all the works to a stable and displayable condition. The portable collection is in a dedicated room with racks and air conditioning. I installed environmental monitoring data loggers to ensure the proper levels are maintained. The old house at the Mind’s Eye site is also being monitored with the goal of mitigating the effects of the extreme environment.
The treatments and preventative conservation measures are challenging because Miss Lassie sometimes used various inherently unstable materials and techniques. For example, some pieces are on auto glass and the backs of old calendars attached with string to cardboard. She used oil/alkyd house paints, artists’ oil and acrylics, and other paints, such as poster paints, as they came to hand. Each piece requires a unique approach to treatment and display.
I also advise on preventative measures to preserve the wood and wattle and daub old house at the Mind’s eye site.
In October 2022 the ceiling paintings in the duplex at the Mind’s Eye site had to be taken down because the building was been treated for termite damage. The house is called the duplex because it was built in the 1980’s for her son and Miss Lassie to live in. Miss Lassie decorated the ceilings in her half of the duplex. I worked with the team of builders who were removing wall and ceiling panels to reveal the timber framework. The termite damage was recently discovered and work begun before I arrived so there was little planning. I recorded positions, applied some facings to high priority areas and advised on best practice. While on island I manged to carry out one of my planned tasks that was to survey the easel painting collection.