Conservation and Restoration of Fine Furniture and Objects
Conservation of Pieta Wood Relief by Malvina Hoffman
Detail of Malvina Hoffma's Pieta, Wood Relief


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In the summer of 2008, the Midwestern United States endured some of the worst flooding in history. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s collection was in danger of rising waters. Among the artwork at stake Malvina Hoffman’s 1960 Pieta, a prominent and rare piece carved upon walnut paneling. Pieta was exposed to a number of threatening elements: growing levels of relative humidity, temperature fluctuations, and standing water. Sections of grain had begun expanding and cracking with water-staining, creating a hazy white cloud of built-up wax within the relief. The presence of moisture had even prompted growth of mold at the piece’s bottom.

Bernacki & Associates jumped into action, first stabilizing the panel and allowing moisture to level off. For the next four weeks, Pieta was monitored in climate-controlled conditions until expansion cracks could be safely inspected and filled. Next, residue was removed using custom-blended solution, with conservators carefully avoiding pencil sketching on the original piece. Finally, Pieta was re-set in a newly-fabricated steel frame to control movement of wood for safe future exhibition. Both rescued from potential disaster and prepared for years more enjoyment, Pieta made a triumphant return to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Read the full version of “Conservation of Pieta Wood Relief by Malvina Hoffman” on the Conservation & Design International Website

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