The Restoration of Art

The painting, that tall one in the photograph, was damaged at The Southern Vermont Arts Center. An accident of course. They were holding it for a members show that is running as I write this. Somehow, amidst all the other artwork, something fell on it and tore a section.

They were quite nice about it, offering to pay for its repair, or pay me for the painting. They let me put in two smaller ones (I didn’t have another tall one. This painting is four feet tall) so I would still be in the show.

Frankly, I had no idea what to do. I love this painting, Cairns of Love. Truly, it is one of my favorites. I had no idea how to have it repaired, who does that kind of thing, or what it costs. And if they bought it, likely their insurance would pay for it and it would end up in a trash bin somewhere.

So, I just brought it back to the studio. Left off a couple others for the show. Each day I would come into the studio, and just look at it. Think. Do a little research on how to repair/restore art.
look at it some more. Let it soak into me. Dig through my paint to find the same tube of paint as the torn part. (I never realized just how much paint I had until I started doing that). I experimented on a small little canvas, tearing it and repairing it again and again and again. Then I would look at those repairs, look at Cairns of Love and experiment some more.

This morning, I came in. put some of the right colors of paint on a plastic palette, laid out the painting on one of my worktables. Took a deep breath, and began.

It went well. I don’t think you could tell there was a tear there unless you looked at the back, which has a bit of paint over bare canvas to mark the spit. I feel good about it. I had been thinking I’d have to mark the painting way down because of the damage, but in reality, I don’t think I will. You can’t see it.

Years ago, starting in my twenties, I took up the art of graining, creating “wood grain” with paints. I did a fair about of it, mostly repairing old grainwork in my own house, or in my grandparent’s house. I did a whole door for one of the oldest churches in Virginia.

There was a magic in that work, of making the work blend in, making it disappear and blend perfectly with what was still there. I had forgotten, until this morning, how satisfying that is. To make something new so perfect, it disappears.

So, what started as a horror, turned out to be a wonderful thing. A reminding. An unexpected joy. I found myself asking how often has that happened in my life, and the true answer hit me: Way more often than I’d like to admit.

I am not one of those who thinks God makes everything happen. But I do think he’s there when it does, and if we work with him, good, beauty, something wonderful can be made of most of our disasters. There’s a consistency in how often that has happened in my own life that it would be hard for me to think anything different.

Today, it was a recalling and enjoyment of one of my own lost arts. Another day it might be another kind of restoration. But it is always there, always available to us, and always possible,
and I a grateful for the reminder.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. An allegory perhaps that Love to can be repaired with enough care, attention and the right colors of paint. That’s something I needed – thank you.

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