How to Conserve 400 Tiffany Drawings

A paper conservator, intently engaged in restoring the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of drawings from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studios, will discuss her work tonight during a lecture in midtown Manhattan.

Marina Ruiz-Molina’s presentation will focus on the various strategies employed to conserve about 400 Tiffany drawings so they can be properly studied and exhibited, for instance, at the museum’s rotation shows in the Deedee Wigmore Galleries .

Each of the drawings dates from between the 1870s and the 1930s. They consist of designs for windows, lamps and furniture – anything the studio was working on for church or secular installations.

“In some cases they’re loose sketches, while others are elaborate renderings of interiors or objects made during the design process to show to clients,” she says. “Many are signed or approved by Tiffany himself.”

Acquired by the museum in the 1960s, the drawings had been stored previously on Long Island, and were badly damaged by mold and stains.

That’s where Ruiz-Molina intervenes. She removes the staining and mold, then reconstructs the parts that are missing – respecting the drawing and bringing it back to a stage where it can be enjoyed as art.

“The other side of the role of the conservator is to closely examine and dissect the drawing in a way that science and technology allows,” she says. “Spectral technology identifies pigments associating a drawing to a particular project.”

The drawings – some are watercolors, and others use pieces of photographs in a collage-like way that could be called early photo-shopping – are highly complex works of art, made for presentation to clients.

“They reused images in different contexts, and used photography as a base for other colors, or to look more painterly,” she says. “That’s all discovered through the face of conservation, almost like detective work.”

Ruiz-Molina’s talk will be at 6:30 at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen Library, 20 West 44th Street.

Intrepid A + A readers, intent on learning more, will be offered a discounted $10 admission fee.

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