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Roberto M. Lopez Conservation Center: The hospital for paintings

Conservators from left Larry Makasiar Rod Enano Grace de Leon Maita Reyes MLV Marga Villanueva Kristine Pastrana Ric Calizon Gerald Solano

(Story mirrored from Lopez Link, go here for more photos) 

Nicknamed by its employees as “the hospital for paintings,” the Roberto M. Lopez Conservation Center of the Lopez Museum is one place where you can send your Amorsolos when they become “ill.”

Maita Reyes, the center’s chief conservator, said a doctor for paintings doesn’t just restore but also conserves them. A restorer simply patches things up, but the problem returns.

How to heal a painting

Before a painting enters the laboratory proper, something has to die first—the molds and other foreign elements that have developed on its surface.

The painting goes into a fumigation chamber, a special creation of Reyes. When the molds have been removed, it is time to bring out arm-length cotton swabs, dip them into solvents and use them to remove the dust, dirt and accretions (as they call insect or bird poop) that have accumulated on the paintings.

Cleaning the painting is the first step, but the artwork can have problems hidden from the naked eye. “Like a person, you might seem okay, but your blood sugar is high,” Reyes said. That is why one has to make sure the artwork is chemically stable—meaning, there are no acids cutting the painting’s fibers and making the artwork brittle and thin.

There’s no need to fear, the humidifying dome is here! Resembling an incubator big enough to cover grand portraits, the transparent dome is lowered over a painting lying atop a table and seals the painting within the dome’s controlled environment. Then Reyes’ assistants bring out a machine that pumps moisture into the dome.

We see the dome fogging up, and Reyes opens one of its vents and puts in a hygrometer which measures the amount of moisture in the dome. Once the measurement reads around 80%, they open the dome’s vents to release the moisture.

The painting is placed on top of blotting paper to absorb the acids from the painting. This process is done several times until the pH level of the painting hits seven—the neutral reading—and the painting is no longer acidic or basic.

The ‘Vicki Belo’ stage

Chemical stabilization is not enough as a painting also has to be physically stable, meaning the cracks and tears are patched up. To address this problem, Reyes places Japanese tissue paper in a blender, reducing it to a pulp, coloring it the same shade as the area near the crack and uses it to patch up the painting. If the painting as a whole is too weak, the entire artwork is reinforced with lining at the back.

Then comes the “Vicki Belo” stage, which is called aesthetic unity. “This is optional,” Reyes said. “If there are brown spots on the artwork, we can remove the cause of that, which is the molds, but we need not remove the brown spots. It’s like if you have freckles, you can have it removed by Vicki Belo, but it doesn’t mean that if you have such marks then you are (physically) unstable.”

The last step is protection, which means putting coating or varnish to shield the painting from light.

Once the painting is clean, chemically and physically stable, enhanced if need be, and protected, then your painting gets a new life. (Excerpted from