Repair of a Massively Ripped Painting of Heber C. Kimball, Quality Tear Repair of Artwork … Why is the canvas so brittle?


First of all, a valuable lesson for art collectors: If you collect or own paintings from the 1800’s you are possibly aware that the canvas is extremely brittle or fragile. Its interesting that I have a 400 year old piece of linen canvas in my lab that is as strong as a new canvas today. Why the difference?

In the 1800’s industrialization or mass production of canvas required additives that breakdown the cellulose fibers as it ages by producing acids. So, a painting from the 1800’s is very likely to be very easily ripped when a painting from another time period would only be dented.

This canvas of the painting of Heber C. Kimball was so brittle that you could poke your finger through it. So, when it got a small poked hole in it… and then was put into storage, the small rip quickly grew when something was leaned against it.

A few more things were piled against it and the rip grew and grew. Add insult to injury, water drained into the storage area badly damaging the frame and dripping down the middle of the painting. BTW, canvases from the 1800’s are also notorious for shrinking badly if they get wet.


I hope you found the above video interesting showing professional rip repair in a canvas painting and the quality tear repair of artwork. It can seem a bit like magic to imagine that damage like this can not only be made to vanish but that the art conservation work can last generations into the future. There are two parts of art conservation: 1. The stabilizing of the deterioration and damage (consolidation of flaking and lining) and 2. The painting restoration portion of the work to restore the aesthetic integrity.

Heber C. Kimball was one of the original twelve apostles in the early Church of the Latter Day Saints, and was first counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) from 1847 until his death in 1868. This painting is a posthumous life sized portrait of Heber C. Kimball, signed and dated 1893 by John Willard Clawson. This history of this painting is presently not known to the author.

The painting is accompanied by a gorgeous 4” period frame with compo iconography of corn and other motifs from Utah. The finish is water and oil gilding.

The artist, John Willard Clawson (1858-1936) Was one of the most successful Utah artists of the late nineteenth century. After completing School in the Utah school system, Clawson studied with great success at the National Academy of Design in New York City, receiving acclaim and awards from his instructors. After a brief period in Utah, Clawson left for Paris, France, to enroll in the famed Academie Julian where he studied under such artists as Constant, Laurens, and Lefebvre. In addition, Clawson studied at Fernand Cormon’s Atelier and was accepted at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. He was one of a select few who received criticism and instruction from Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. While in Europe, he spent nine months studying under Julius Stewart in Venice and a short time studying in England, where he completed several portraits for members of the English Parliament. While he continued to be a financial success throughout his life, Clawson reached his peak as an artist during this time in Europe.

In 1896 Clawson returned to Utah where he opened a studio for a few years before leaving for California, where he established a studio in San Francisco. In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fires destroyed much of the city including Clawson’s studio along with $80,000 worth of paintings. He was forced to start over again and left the ruined city of San Francisco for Los Angeles, then for New York City, and finally, back to Southern California. Though Clawson preferred landscapes it apparent that portraits were going to make his financial success. Many famous movie and theater stars in Los Angeles and New York City sought after him to paint their portraits. By 1933, Clawson had made enough money painting portraits of movie and theater stars to retire to Utah for the remainder of his life. Visit the Springville Art Museum website for an interesting article from which these details were taken.

Why patching a painting is not a good idea:

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Videos showing the work of Fine Art Conservation Laboratories
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About Scott Haskins

Scott M. Haskins has been in the field of professional art conservation since 1975. He studied and worked doing mural and painting conservation in Italy until 1979. He headed up the painting conservation laboratory at Brigham Young University for the BYU Permanent Art Collection and the LDS HIstorical Department until 1984. He works from Santa Barbara, CA providing art conservation services nationwide. He is also the author of "How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster."
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