Old Mauch Chunk Gets New Life

When Old Mauch Chunk Was Young (c1925) BEFORE conservation

1-When Old Mauch Chunk was Young 30x40 oil on linen 1925 William D White

This large painting is one of four illustrations William D. White executed in 1925 for a picture article titled, “A Century in Anthracite Transportation.” The scene depicts the transportation of anthracite coal from Summit Hill, Pennsylvania down the Lehigh River to Philadelphia. The completion of a canal beginning at Mauch Chunk (renamed Jim Thorpe in 1954) made the shipment of coal in barges commercially successful. (NOTE: The four-page article is reproduced below. Click on the image to enlarge)

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These image details reveal the overpainting, abrasion, buckling, and pigment tenting evident on the painting. Removal of the frame reveals tearing along the edges and a black coating applied to the back of the canvas. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.

I first saw this painting in 1991. A man rescued it from a clean out effort at a local library. He did some research on William D. White (1896-1971) and decided the painting might be valuable. He had an amateur painter friend “freshen up” (translation – overpaint) the painting and offered it for sale for $2,500. At the time, very few people had heard of White, as he had lived as a recluse the last 30 years of his life. I was shocked at the garish colors, unlike White’s typically sophisticated palette, and told the man he had ruined the painting. Twenty years later, I was preparing for the William D. White Retrospective exhibition and went looking for the painting. It had been sold for pennies to an auctioneer and stored in a warehouse without climate controls. Time had not been kind to “Old Mauch Chunk,” but I purchased the painting anyway. (NOTE: Click on the PROVENANCE link to read the complete account)

Overpainting occurred on the green trees, the red rooftops, in the sky, and the water. Outlines had been added to the figures. An abrasion resulted in some paint loss. When I removed the painting from its frame, I was horrified to discover the hidden condition issues.The back of the painting had been coated in black paint and plastic tape, causing the linen to shrink and tear away from the stretcher. The shrinkage also caused buckling of the canvas and tenting of the pigment, particularly in the lower left. (NOTE: Click on the PAINTING CONSERVATION TERMS link for definitions)


One Comment

  1. Nancy Carol May 27, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    The 1925 painting by William D. White, When Old Mauch Chunk Was Young, has been selected for restoration by Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, one of the nation’s leading conservators of paintings and murals. She will lead a team of interns accepted into the University of Delaware Preservation Studies Doctoral Program, one of only three programs in the country that train conservators of paintings. The work begins on June 1, 2016 at the Research Center on the grounds of the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. To view a PowerPoint program on mural restoration presented by Dr. Stoner at the William D. White Symposium, select SYMPOSIUM from the EXHIBITION tab drop-down menu on the home page.
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