Art restorers play an indispensable role, fixing works that have gone through
wear and tear by applying a rare set of skills that combine art and science to match
the artist’s original intent. The unsung heroes of art conservation, they must be experts
at multiple levels, including understanding a piece’s background, context and the historical methods used in order to preserve it to the highest standards.
Three Bay Area women dominate this high-pressure, underappreciated field.
Tricia O’Regan, a painting conservator for the Fine Arts Museums, who received her master’s in the field from the University of Delaware Winterthur program, has been practicing her trade for a quarter of a century.
She also consults for local collectors and arts organizations and welcomes the emphasis that Fine Arts Museums Director/CEO Max Hollein and Claudia Schmuckli, named in 2016 to the new position of Curator-in-Charge, Contemporary Arts and Programming, bring to the field—a Julian Schnabel exhibition one might not previously expect from FAMSF runs through August at the Legion of Honor.
“It’s a mysterious thing we do, and it’s hard to get right if you haven’t had tons of experience,” she notes. “We have artists coming in to interpret and add their work to our collections in new ways. So, we have a whole passel of things coming up in the future that we have to start talking about so we can solve any problems that might come up with the exhibition crew years in advance.”
A graduate of SUNY’s highly selective conservation program, Ria German-Carter pursued her interest in modern art with an internship for James Bernstein during her studies there, followed by stints at SFMOMA and the Art Institute of Chicago, before returning to the Bay Area.
Her projects include work on everyone from Thomas Hart Benton and Edouard Vuillard to Clyfford Still, Ruth Asawa, Hans Hofmann and Richard Diebenkorn (the latter for SFMOMA). She has also worked for the John Berggruen, Anglim Gilbert and Wendi Norris galleries, as well as on Jackson Pollock’s massive Greyed Rainbow painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and a Julian Schnabel painting at a Market Street office building.
“The most rewarding aspect of treating ‘old’ paintings is removing a discolored (dammar/natural resin) varnish and seeing the dark veil lifted,” she says. “That, and repairing tears and inpainting the area so that they disappear. There’s nothing like sitting at an easel removing a discolored varnish!”
Anne Rosenthal has worked on everything from restoration of frescos in San Francisco’s iconic Coit Tower to multiyear repair work at the Maritime Museum in Aquatic Park (pictured above), a Diego Rivera mural at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Beach Chalet restaurant.
Rosenthal, whose studio is in Novato, belongs to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and has a master’s in art history along with a degree in conservation at the State University of New York’s Cooperstown program. Her father, Joe Rosenthal, was a famed San Francisco Chronicle photographer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his portrait of six Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
“Conservation is a special, unique area of art appreciation and concern,” says Rosenthal, adding, “Art lives longer than people, so it’s a matter of passing it down to generations after ourselves.”