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

(Continued from page 1)

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



With their arched tops, the panels were intended to be placed inside an interior window well, looking into a large room. In one, an architect looks over design plans for a client's home. The client is Herter himself, and the home being discussed is the Herter estate in the Hamptons of New York.

The others show artists at work -- a painter at the easel, his subject posing for a portrait, a sculptor working his material.

The three panels came to Project MEAC from a private out-of-state collector, who asked that they be cleaned and restretched. One had a small tear that needed to be repaired.

Project MEAC will show all three at the art walk. Conservation work on one has been completed; the other two are in various stages.

The process is painstaking. The first step is simply evaluating the work. What's wrong with it, and what can be done?

They write up a report that conforms to international conservation guidelines, and provide an estimate of the cost. That can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending not on the value of the painting but on the hours required to do the work.

Most smaller punctures can be repaired with a conservation adhesive and gauze patch. Paint can be matched. Canvases can be cleaned. Stretchers can be replaced. The only damage that sometimes cannot be fixed is that from heat and fire.

It's complex, meticulous and science-based. Tears are fixed with tiny amounts of conservation adhesive. Solvents and detergent solutions are used for cleaning. Color matches are precise and done under natural light. Project MEAC farms out work for new stretchers to local cabinetmakers.

The most common tool of the trade? A cotton swab.

After a painting is hung in a museum or private home, it is verboten to touch it. The oil from fingers can damage the surface. In a perfect world, an art conservator is the last person to lay a hand on a painting.

"After we do our treatment, nobody is going to touch it," Domenico said.

GENERALLY, THE MATTOZZIS take a conservative approach. Other conservators are more aggressive, preferring to make an old painting look like it just came off the easel.

The Mattozzis prefer doing the minimal amount of work necessary to conserve a painting.

"You want to halt the deterioration process. That is the major goal. Then you take a light cosmetic approach," Domenico said.

The Mattozzis trained for years. Domenico was born into an artistic family in Naples, Italy. His father was an artist and an architect, and Domenico spent his childhood in the museums of his hometown.

He graduated from an art academy in Naples, and came to the United States to study at Fordham University and Hunter College. He has earned the rank of professional associate with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Bonnie is a New Yorker with a similar story. Her interest in art began at age 10, and she attended her first class at the Art Student League in New York when she was 11. She studied at Syracuse, the Fashion Institute of New York and New York University, among others.

The couple met at a conservation studio in New York, and moved to Maine in the 1990s to raise a family. They founded their fine-art conservation practice in 1997.

"Our kids were growing up, and we wanted to live in an urban area. We thought there was a need for conservators in Maine. There were few here at the time," Domenico said. 

FOR THE MOST PART, the Mattozzis have worked quietly at their trade, interacting with curators and private collectors, but not in any significant public way.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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.

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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