Jilliann Wilcox with painting by I-Hsiung Ju

Treatment FOCUS: Recovering the Work of I-Hsiung Ju

In fall 2017, CCAHA's Senior Conservation Assistant Jilliann Wilcox was part of a triage team that received a collection of badly damaged paintings by Chinese American artist I-Hsiung Ju. The artist's daughters, Helen and Doris, contacted CCAHA after the paintings were salvaged from a devastating house fire. To further complicate things, the artwork had remained wet and exposed to the elements for about a month before the family could access it.

"I thought, this is going to take a miracle," Jilliann admits. "I also immediately thought how heartbreaking it must be for the daughters to see their father's artwork so damaged."

I-Hsiung Ju painting after fire

Triage photograph of a painting by I-Hsiung Ju showing the extent of damage

Born in Xiangsu, China, in 1923, I-Hsiung Ju studied painting in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States in 1968. The next year, he was an artist-in-residence at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where he eventually became a tenured art professor. Throughout his career, Ju developed a style that synthesized contemporary and ancient techniques, interpreting present-day American landscapes in the style of traditional Chinese brush painting. Ju retired in 1989 and continued to paint until his death in 2012.

Before she started the treatment, Jilliann carefully mapped out every step she would take, beginning with spot tests to determine which surface cleaning techniques would work best.

Gillian under fume hood with fire damaged paintings

Jilliann examines the collection under a drying tent

"Unlike more common surface cleaning, soot and ash require a completely different approach, especially on a soft surface that was also water damaged. After the front was surface cleaned, only then could I lay it face down to start the backing removal of the multiple layers of severely distorted and punctured mat board and the dry mount tissue."

Jilliann removing backing

Jilliann removes a painting's backing

The treatment also required the careful removal of adhesive, as well as humidification and flattening. In some areas, there were significant punctures and material losses which needed to be filled and toned to match the original artwork. For Jilliann, repairing these losses was one of the most satisfying parts of the process.

Detail of pre-treatment puncture on a painting by I-Hsiung Ju

Before-and-after detail of a mended tear

"This was one of my most rewarding treatments, and fun once I was finished. I was extremely pleased with the results and learned a great deal from this particular treatment. This project became more personal knowing what heartbreak this fire caused. I hoped the family could again see this exquisite work and not the damage." 

Before- and after-treatment photos of a painting by I-Hsiung Ju

Before- and after-treatment reference photographs