PERRYVILLE — The large room that is Mary Girard’s Merchants Row office has a gorgeous view of the Chaplin River. Sunlight filters through the open office where Girard works her magic with certain often-very-old objects.
Girard is an art conservator who moved into the Perryville space in October. She moved back to central Kentucky in January from southern Florida, to be closer to family and to raise her son with her husband.
She says as an art conservator she works with the “conservation and restoration of paintings and works of art on paper.” Girard can, for example, take in a painting with a tear in the canvas, and work on it to “minimize its chances of getting torn again.” She also might add hardware to the painting; many paintings have been saved with a 30-cent piece of hardware, Girard added.
She also works on documents. Currently, she has a large batch of documents relating to Perryville on which she is working. Girard says the documents are in really good shape, particularly considering most date from the 19th century, and one dates from the 18th century.
Girard gives the documents a surface cleaning, and, according to the wishes of the owner, might encapsulate them between two pieces of mylar.
“This allows (the owner) to read and handle (the document) while also protecting it from dirt and grimy fingers,” she explains.
She also is working on a portrait of a young man, an oil on canvas, that is coming apart at the seams. It also has “fly specks,” or fly feces, on it. Girard says the specks are acidic and eat through the paint. Thus, to repair it, she must level out the paint using a tiny brush, dotting in the paint where the feces has been. “It’s called fill,” Girard explains. “It’s like wall spackle.”
She adds the painting won’t look new, but it will look well-cared for.
Girard says likes the feel of having an office on Merchants Row, where the history of the area infuses it. This year has been an interesting time to be in Perryville because of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville. More people recognize where Perryville is, she notes. “And when you work with antiques, it’s nice to have that recognition,” she says.
Phone calls are rolling in now to her office to the tune of about one a day, Girard says. “Kentucky does not have a lot of conservators,” she notes. “There are five in the state who pay dues to the American Institute of Conservation.”
Three of the conservators are associated with institutions of higher education. One is a student. And there’s Girard.
Colleagues with whom she’s worked in Louisville told her once potential clients get wind of what she does and where she is, she’ll have more work than she possibly can finish. Because of the large number of documents, portraits of families and other historical materials, there is a “huge need” for Girard’s expertise.
“Even a painting kept in the best possible condition will need work ... in 500 years. It will need TLC,” Girard notes.
She cites a quote from her former boss in Florida, Jim Swope. “Benign neglect has saved more artwork than well-intentioned intervention.”
“Conservators spend more of their time undoing (inadequate or shoddy) work,” Girard adds. “Whatever (I) do can be undone with a minimal amount of hassle. ... I do what the art dictates and use materials that can be reversed.
“I’ve worked on more than one thing that’s been thrown around the house by children.”
Girard loves her job and her work. She says she works with paint and her hands, and uses tools.
“It’s a very exacting job. I like the detail-oriented aspect to the job,” Girard explains. “There is something very satisfying (about) bringing something back to life that means a lot to someone.”
The American Institute of Conservation website is www.conservation-us.org.
SO YOU KNOW
- Mary Girard Art Conservation is located at 406 S. Buell St., Perryville.
- The phone number is (859) 332-0202.
- Girard’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Her website is email@example.com.