December 3, 2012

The art doctors

Fine-art conservators Bonnie and Domenico Mattozzi treat each of their 'patients' with equal care, be it a high-priced work by a famous painter or one man's beloved hunting camp heirloom.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

Project MEAC founders Domenico and Bonnie Mattozzi, whose nonprofit conserves 200 to 300 paintings a year. Some come from museums and libraries, but most belong to private citizens.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Senior conservator Katrina Jacques cleans a painting at the Maine Project for Fine Art Conservation, a painting restoration and conservation nonprofit in Portland.

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday as part of First Friday ArtWalk

WHERE: 142 High St., suite 420, Portland



The man didn't leave a name or number. He just said he had an old painting that needed fixing, and that he would call back.

He sounded skeptical, and maybe a little reluctant.

But he did call back, and when he did, Bonnie Mattozzi was ready.

As co-founders of the Maine Project for Fine Art Conservation in Portland (also known as Project MEAC), Mattozzi and her husband, Domenico, have grown accustomed to hand-holding and reassurance.

Their mission is serious. They wear white lab coats and latex gloves, and have trained at some of the most prestigious academies in the world. But fine-art conservation is as much about helping clients with their emotions as it is about fixing their paintings.

There are a lot of hugs and tears in this undertaking, Bonnie said.

"People come in, and they are distraught. They think their paintings are ruined and cannot be fixed," she said. "But we can fix almost anything."

On Friday, Project MEAC will open its Portland studios for the First Friday Art Walk for the first time and invite the public for a behind-the-scenes view of what they do.

In a town so richly endowed in the visual arts, few institutions operate behind a veil of mystery more than the Maine Project for Fine Art Conservation.

The Mattozzis, senior conservator Katrina Jacques and University of Southern Maine interns Aubin White and Yelena Fiske work in a suite on the fourth floor of the State Theatre Building on High Street. The Mattozzis founded their for-profit fine-art conservator corporation in 1997, but only since last year, when they became a nonprofit organization, have they pulled back the curtain on their work.

Each year, Project MEAC conserves 200 to 300 paintings. Many of its clients are historical societies, libraries and museums, but the majority are private citizens with family heirlooms that need attention.

The gentleman who called and declined to leave a message is a good example. He had an old painting of a trout that had been hanging in a family cottage for more than 100 years. It was grimy and dirty. The canvas was worn around the edges of its wooden stretcher.

According to an inscription on the back of the canvas, WN Norton made the painting in 1891. The fish was pulled from McFarland Cove at Moosehead Lake, weighing 61/2 pounds.

Today, we celebrate a trophy fish with a photograph. A century ago, our ancestors hired a painter to capture the moment.

It's a handsome trout, speckled in color and looking very much like the fighter it no doubt was. Is it a great painting? Sure it is. Is it valuable? Not likely. But that's beside the point.

"It probably has no fair-market value, but it's meaningful to this man, and it deserves to be conserved," Bonnie said. "We look at the paintings as patients. Each painting is unique. Each has a life of its own." 

OTHER PAINTINGS that the Maine Project for Fine Art Conservation restores do have value. For the First Friday ArtWalk, it will showcase three large canvases by Albert Herter.

The Herter name is familiar in Portland. Herter's father and uncle, Christian and Gustave Herter, were widely known cabinetmakers and interior designers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ruggles Morse hired the Herters to design the interior of the Victoria Mansion, his summer estate in Portland.

The younger Herter also produced furniture and tapestries as well as paintings. Herter, who was born in 1871 and died in 1950, painted the canvases that will be displayed on Friday around 1900. They depict three disciplines of the arts -- architecture, painting and sculpture.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Katrina Jacques cleans a painting in Project MEAC’s quarters in the State Theatre Building on High Street in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Katrina Jacques cleans a painting in Project MEAC’s quarters in the State Theatre Building on High Street in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Katrina Jacques cleans a painting in Project MEAC’s quarters in the State Theatre Building on High Street in Portland.

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