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Conservator of Paintings, Murals and Polychrome Surfaces, Stefan Dedecek of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, shares his thoughts on a recent conservation treatment.

Art Conservation Cleveland Public Art
Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Polychrome Surfaces, and Murals of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory

The painting Rain the the Valley by Glenn Moore Shaw came to our attention via a descendant of the artist and it was a complete surprise to me. The painting is unusual since the artist is more known to me for being a muralist. He has created more than sixty murals and these are scattered in public buildings across Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The artist’s full name is Glenn Moore Shaw and he was born February 6th, 1891 in Olmsted Falls, Ohio and he passed away in 1981 in Arizona. Glenn Shaw taught mural painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1922-57.  During World War II he even taught classes in camouflage. 

Glenn Shaw is known for more ambitious grand compositions and there are great examples of his work in the former Frank T. Bow Federal Building in Canton, Ohio. The Canton murals depict scenes from the steel making industry and celebrate Ohio as a regional industry hub. These works were commissioned in 1937 under the Treasury Relief Act (TRAP) which operated between 1935 and 1938 as a federal relief program for unemployed artists. In 2011, the Frank T. Bow building was transferred to Stark County, but the U.S. General Services Administration retained ownership of the murals.

Glenn Shaw Painting Conservation
Rain in the Valley by Glenn Shaw before treatment

The painting we received was relatively small; only about 26 inches by 30 inches and it was a landscape. I have learned that Glenn Shaw was also known as a great watercolorist. The painting, Rain in the Valley, is executed in oil but it possesses the lightness of a watercolor. Not only is the subject matter unlike his other works known to me, it is rather different in its execution as well. The Steel Industry Murals are rather descriptive and precise depictions as they glorify workers and great machinery of the steel industry. There the artist skillfully used a combination of oil paint and hard-edged charcoal lines to define shapes and provide a strong contrast of light and dark as well .

Rain in the Valley was executed with a touch of lightness and an air of the atmospheric event. The view of the valley is from a high vantage point looking down at the landscape below. That vantage point is reminiscent of the Steel Industry Murals where it was used to capture the complexity of the industrial environment. The painting was executed on white-primed support. The paint application is thin, and again, atmospheric, depicting a downpour and hazy mountains in the background with a farm homestead in the foreground.

Glenn Shaw Painting Conservation
A cleaning test in the upper right corner shows the extent of the accumulation of dirt and brown tobacco smoke

The painting was obscured with an accumulation of brown tobacco smoke and airborne dirt. As the dirt accumulation was reduced, the paint was found to be in excellent condition with subtle and deliberate transitions of pastel-like colors such blues and reds. There were only localized surface abrasions mostly at the tacking edges. Corner draw distortions were also easily removed by properly adjusting the tension of the stretcher.

Glenn Shaw Painting Conservation
Rain in the Valley by Glenn Shaw after treatment

The painting was housed in its original flat molding frame which is no less important than the painting. The frame nicely complemented the picture, but it was damaged too. Though structurally sound, the surface had numerous losses and insecurities. It underwent careful conservation treatment in order to preserve its original surface.

After the conservation of Rain in the Valley by Glenn Shaw, both the painting and its frame are no longer obscured by dirt accumulation or minor damages. The seemingly dramatic, but all too familiar scene to those who live in Ohio, of rain clouds over farm fields once again shines through.

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