“It’s conservation work on the paintings within a larger preservation initiative for the Old State Capitol building.” – Robert Lodge, President of McKay Lodge Conservation Lab, Inc. from Oberlin, Ohio.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (September 17, 2004) – In May, 2004 the Kentucky Historical Society was awarded a $74,000 Save America’s Treasures grant. This grant, matched by funds in the amount of $74,000 from the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation, will allow conservation of nine significant paintings in the Old State Capitol building, including Henry Clay, Daniel Boone, George Washington and others.
Conservation work began on these portraits earlier this week. The portrait of Henry Clay is the first to receive this in-depth conservation and preservation work. Preparation included the removal of the portrait from its wall location in the Senate Chambers; removal of the frame; and preparing a frame support for the canvas while it is being worked on by the conservator.
The Henry Clay portrait appears to have been restored twice noted Robert Lodge, who spoke to a small group of the Society’s staff on Thursday morning. In the 1920s it appears to have been cleaned. Lodge noted it was “cleaned quite harshly too.” He demonstrated that the background of the portrait is not original as he pointed to the canvas stating, “Someone has repainted the green background to match the color.” He noted the canvas has been supported with a wooden backing and pointed out specific points on the portrait where it appears to have worn thin because of the harshness of past conservation efforts.
The second restoration appears to have been completed in the 1950s when adjustments were made and additional retouching and repainting took place. The Clay portrait will be restored to “look of age, not restored,” commented Lodge as he continued to share the vision of the project and share the portrait’s history that was revealed prior to the beginning of the project. Lodge and one other conservator will visit the Old State Capitol one week each month over the next 12 months to continue the detailed work on each of the nine portraits.
Born in Virginia in 1777, Henry Clay came to Kentucky in 1797 where he established himself as a successful attorney. His great political talent led to his emergence as a national leader by the time of the War of 1812. A three-time presidential candidate, Clay finished his illustrious career in the mid-19th-century as a renowned statesman who sought to maintain national unity during a time of growing controversy.
The Old State Capitol, mostly restored to its mid-19th-century appearance, will continue to be restored to assure the accuracy of its 1850s heritage. Additional work to be completed through the Save America’s Treasures grant includes bringing back the second-level flooring to its original state. The floor is currently covered with a wall-to-wall carpet, which will be removed to expose the wood flooring underneath. It was noted that during the 1850s period the wood floor would have been covered with scattered rugs. The Society will explore restoring the floor to its mid-19th-century state.
Completed in 1830, the Old State Capitol was the center for Kentucky’s leaders for nearly 80 years, as they decided the course their state would take through the tumultuous 19th century. The building became the home of the Kentucky Historical Society in 1920 and served as its headquarters until 1999, when the Kentucky History Center opened. The Society continues to oversee the Old State Capitol and uses its historic past for educational and tourist opportunities through guided tours.
This portrait conservation at the Old State Capitol is one of 722 officially designated national projects. Kent Whitworth, Executive Director of the Society, commented, “We are honored to be among the four Kentucky projects receiving this significant award.” Save America’s Treasures is a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, dedicated to identifying and rescuing the enduring symbols of America tradition that define us as a nation.
The Kentucky Historical Society, since 1836, has provided connections to the past, perspective on the present and inspiration for the future. KHS operates the Old State Capitol, Kentucky Military History Museum and its five-year-old headquarters, the Kentucky History Center. Since 1999, the thirty-million- dollar History Center has welcomed almost one million visitors. For more information about the Kentucky Historical Society and its programs, visit the Web at http://history.ky.gov or call (502) 564-1792.