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tv   Art Conservation in the U.S. Capitol  CSPAN  September 19, 2015 5:00pm-5:55pm EDT

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that reince previous said can you tone it down on immigration. he did not. now donald trump has signed the pledge. it is a political document. we could see this year what happened with ross perot happen with donald trump. donald trump is unpredictable. he could run as an independent regardless of this pledge. >> next, kristy cunningham adams talks about the process of restoring original paint and paintings in the capital after years of overtraining. he describes best practices for how she got into the field of conservation.
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at the u.s.storian capital historical society. this is the third of our lecture what ever we want it to be about. i am particularly pleased to today speaker, christina cunningham-adams. i get to talk about her friends, the artists she has had the honor work on and analyze and serve over the course of her career.
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she has worked for clients at yale university and others. she is coming from a background that includes studies at harvard's art museum, germany, italy. , byse help me welcome -- oh way of gliding into the program, we thought we might start with a few questions about her background. how art conservators getting to the field today or back in the day. be kind ofhat would interesting, because some of us are coming from a
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non-professional background. is that all right if we start with that? by asking her to tell us more about her background. what about art conservation sparked her interest. and how people go about doing it today. christina: thanks a lot. school in boston, your hometown, after college. school.ed to art i became interested in conservation and preservation because my mother was involved in the preservation of historic buildings. her in her efforts to
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collect information about a church that had burned down in our town. became veryshe prominent in our town in preservation, arlington. she took over the preservation effort -- or she began it -- and of an oldt woodworking mill. mid-1800sautiful, old continuously operating round and oval picture frame mill in the united states. had all the machinery and leather belts on the ceiling
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and the machinery for turning the oval frames. i set up a studio on the top floor of that building. i then became involved with her in saving documents from the fire that i mentioned that happened. ofi became aware preservation in general. after my studies at the museum school, i decided to go to europe to visit a friend. i did. i got there. ever.anged my life for what i saw there did change my life. and teach learn more english lessons so that i could stay, make money and stay.
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berlitzing, i began at and learned how to teaching less, then i worked on my own. among students i got was an art conservator, one of the top conservators of the institute there. i learned about the restoration institute and got excited about it, and eventually i decided to get in. i studied for a year, working with various public conservators and took projects that would prepare me for the entrance exam. i took it and managed to get in. it was very competitive. they have 550 people who apply every year. , so iake 10, 5 foreigners was very lucky to get in.
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i had excellent training at the institute. among the things we worked on were the very best projects, the masters, and i thought that was a tremendous advantage. when i went back to the states, i found a lot of the training programs here don't work on really good things. they work on what we sometimes assume thebut they idea that you don't know what you're doing yet, so you don't get something important. in italy, they train you on how to work on important things and protect the work of art while you intervene in its history. i say intervene, because that is another difference between european and american approach. it americans called
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treatments, a painting that needs a treatment. where as the italians call it an intervention. i love using that word over here because it helps a person to realize and remember that they are intervening in history and life of this work of art. they must remember that. they are not a dentist going in and plugging a whole. hole.le they are intervening in the life of the art. then i started working privately. slide right into what i was going to talk about anyway. before -- >> i'm sorry. christina: a little closer?
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o close? before showing you some of the paintings that we have been working on, the landscapes we have been working on at the capital. i wanted to review with you first some of the basic conservation art and restoration. over the years, many people have asked me if restoring a painting simply means repainting it, or how i decide what to add to a painting if some details are missing. deciding what to do in treating a painting, today's in hisator is guided
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treatment by an internationally recognized set of guidelines that are designed to preserve the painting's true identity. , respect the paintings authenticity, age, aesthetic character, iconographic existence, and the nature and quality of its materials. the guidelines developed with respect for the criteria, and which are now part of an internationally accepted part of a code of standards and practice, were designed to artect the work of from losing its age and part in our history, or from being misinterpreted aesthetically by a conservator. those guidelines dictate that we are not allowed to alter original iconographic significance by adding, removing, or covering over any
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pictorial detail. we are not allowed to endanger any part of the original or do anything to a painting that cannot be undone in the future, so that the original, no matter how damaged it may be, can be exposed again readily if necessary without any repairs. the methods of treatments are followed strictly, whether a rembrandt or something your grandmother did. it is not our job to select in favor works of art that we like, but to respect all artistic it as itn and reserve is, not as we would like it to be. before developing a treatment plan for a work on a painting, we must undertake a conditions examination and analysis to
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determine its execution technique or how it was made and with what materials, what previous restoration work has been done on it, so we can tell the difference of what should be there and what should not be there, what the exact nature of its condition is, and what caused any deterioration or alterations present. this determination must be made for each of the primary layers of a painting, the support, preparation, and paint layer. i guess i have to point this out. there it is. so i have two pointed at the screen, or the computer. conservators use of laboratory analysis is often helpful in this process in identifying some of these elements.
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the initial examination analysis is very important, very key, and may include the use of chemical tests, observations under high card microscopes, ultraviolet, infrared, annex radiation to and radiation to determine deterioration. this shows the variations of blue, hidden by subsequent repainting. this is used as a confirmation when we are cleaning if we go down and find blue mixed in with gray. our suspicions that one is older than the other by having a sample analyzed in the laboratory. the treatment deals with two main issues. the structural stability of a painting, or its conservation,
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and the recovery of its original aesthetic character or its restoration. the first and most important step is to arrest decay and stabilize the painting. most elements that threaten a painting's stability have to do with how well the layers are sticking together. photographed, separation of the uppermost layer is visible, although it may be hidden from the surface. the stability of a painting usually depends on the cohesion of each layer or its adhesion to the layer beneath it. flaking, blistering, cracking,
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allbling, and powdering represent breakdown in the painting's cohesion and adhesion. these are my new flakes in the trophy room ceiling, and that was a big problem we had to result there. before starting treating the , we found the -- for any instability in the underlying plaster. failured any detected -- andally -- excuse me then treat the internal failure before working on the surface. this graphic is a typical theple of how we record worst sections in red, and and a secondary sections and
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blue. cleaning is sometimes part of the restoration. sorry. if the foreign material on the surface is threatening the stability of the original, then removing that foreign material is part of the stabilization. if the foreign material on the surface impairs the aesthetic, then removing the foreign material is part of the restoration. did i say restoration before? conservation if it is threatening the stability. restoration is when it is impairing our aesthetic enjoyment. in case of this landscape of the hudson and emile, the removal of
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the mill -- removal of the discolored varnish revealed extensive abrasion to the paint layers caused by previous aggressive cleaning attempts. ait --i hope, weigh you can notice those vertical lines in the mountain and sky where the scrubbing to clean it reduced some of the paint. this was not that visible until the discolored yellow varnish came off. in this case, the removal of
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foreign material is both a stabilizing measure an effort to recover the original aesthetic character. most of the paint is over paint covering the delicate original. the blue arrow in this photo points to the only original paint left visible by those who repainted the decoration years before. we call paint that is covering over the original "over paint." most time it was added by persons unaware of the code of ethics and standards and practices. unaware of who were the significance of the original. paint isase, the over also much stronger than the original, delicate tainting underneath, so removing it would
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so-- painting underneath, itoving it would be -- responds to changes in the surrounding environment. capital, we have found as many as 20 layers of over paint on the paintings there. an exposure where i have left a little of each layer i encountered visible. there. , kinds the original wall of washed out looking now, but this here is the first layer of over paint put on it. this is the second layer, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh -- green that alla
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the walls in the corridors were when we started, and now -- you can't see it here -- it is now a pinkish tan color. that's the color we returned them to. all of these colors were added. instead of cleaning the walls, they painted them, so the first time they painted this -- i showed you how dirty this original had become, and they just matched it. got dirty, and then matched it, and so on. then they decided to go green. that is how they became pea green, kind of incredible, but that is how it happened. we record everything now. extensive with the documentation about what we found, what we have done, what
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the causes were, execution technique, and so forth, so this will never happen again. hopefully they will look at the reports a four-week touch them again. this is another one i did in the trophy room. those are all the different layers that i encountered. green the one that we looked at for about 50 years or more. time on the painted decoration where the flowers, squirrels, and all the other decorative details, we find between two-six layers, as you see here. .hat is the original layer on top of that, you have these other layers that were added. off we restore it, we take
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all these and go down to the original 1800's color surface. as it got dirtier, they matched it, and so forth. sorry. landscapes in the senate reception area that we just restored two years ago, and where most of the landscapes that amy talked about last week are located, we found a variety of conditions. some of the oval medallions were heavily covered over with paint that required removal, and some found in various conditions of repair, but with minimal past retouching and varnish covering them, like this one. so pretty.
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that is after restoration. varnish is removed, previous losses in the paint to cleaning efforts become visible. , this isn see here supposed to be a nice, smooth purple mountain, and it has abrasions because it was thinly applied. when somebody scrubs it, that is going to pull up to that happens a lot in the darker colors and ts.lence -- fil representede that damage, it had damage
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throughout the whole section of wall that it was on. through all the damage you see here, this is a battered -- the whole section have been repaired several times over the past 100 years, as evidenced by many layers of over and different types of material used to fill the holes. the landscape was riddled with losses. in our documentation, those losses were carefully recorded and look like this. are old losses, and the blue ones are new. this is quite extensive. most of the other landscapes in -- hadea did documentation that looked more
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like that. you see those places where i abraded. the paint was by in painting all of those losses, especially in the one i , with aou a minute ago multitude of tiny dots, we were able to get back much of the ofginal aesthetic character that landscape. nearby north entrance corridor, the landscape there also presented a variety of conditions. the landscape with the most .atter change was this one in removing the over paint, a simple each with pine trees, i was never able to discover why er completely change
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the scene. au can see where i reveal wonderfully delicate and detailed portion of the original painting that had been covered over. the brushwork is refined and specific, elegant, highly skilled, with exquisite minute detail. that is the aftershock. you can see the lovely waterfall overd, suspended bridge the luminous body of water, a specific place, not a generic beach. corridorrth entrance were some prominently featured animals set against a gloomy landscape background. with the close inspection
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associated with our 2008 restoration, the brushwork seem to be very awkward and unskilled. at thenature appeared lower left of one of the pictures. added histe that he over paint in 1924. in beginning to remove his 1924 over paint, i was surprised to find that the original background was black, and the rams were placed only on a sliver of ground. with the complete removal of all the over paint, the striking beauty and distinct character of added impress of an dramatic punctuation to the overall decoration of the north corridor entrance.
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the unskilled and careless over picture also this render the scene sadly generic. split down the middle, how much overpaid and gratuitous dabs with the brushstroke, changing this lovely, delicate mountain into this mess over here and all of this confusion down here. the gratuitous and random brushstrokes covered very distinct detail, which you can see in the wall itself. sorry, i'm just not very good at that. you can see here close up what a mess that crazy, obsessive over paint was, just sort of dabbing
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away with no idea of what they were trying to create and robbing the painting of that luminous, simple gracefulness of the painting. with all of the over paint removed, you have a beautiful picture with luminous water, sky, and mountains in a very specific place. landscapes that had not been dramatically altered by heavy over paint, there were numerous losses due to scratching and gouging, and a thick layer of varnish and dirt. had phenomenal results on the other paintings as well. in this one, you can see up beautiful, skilled brushwork that created the
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effect of these craggy rocks and lovely mountains in the distance. landscape, when the darkened varnish was removed and minor repairs made, a multitude of minute details were revealed along with the true palette of the original painting as it communicates the light and , theess of the aqueduct water, and the blue skies. we are so lucky to have such provocative and sophisticated works and the united states ,apital, and in restoring them we have done much i think to recover the original elegance and sophistication of the building. [applause] thank you. [applause] christina: any questions? no. yeah?
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>> do we have any idea what was in the minds of the over painters in so drastically altering these paintings. by darkening them, it makes them look antique and older, is that what they were trying to do? >> they were never trained, it appears. when i went down with a microscope through the layers with my scalpel shaving off layer by layer of the over paint, i showed you in those graduated exposures, each time they are matching a dirty surface, so i think the darkness and dirtiness -- it is usually associated with a layer of dirt. it's not that they take a bright painting and try to make it look old. it got dirty, so when they repainted it, they keyed into
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that palette. soto why they changed dramatically some of the pictures, just changing the scene altogether, i think that our appreciation today of the --nificance of these scenes amy has discovered in the reception area that those are not just scenes of. countrysides countrysides. today there are strict malls, baseball fields, but we have a very precious collection in those landscapes that grace the walls of the reception area. i know that she is working on researching those in the north interest, and i am pretty sure in looking at them that these are not just fantasy scenes.
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these are specific places, wouldn't you say, amy question mark they are. ? they are. they are just to specific. it was only this year that amy found the source. it has always been thought that they are scenes, landscapes, but they are not. so i think they didn't have that knowledge or really be appreciation. today, we see -- conservators do original as sacred , and that's why a lot of these ofes that i mentioned a few our in place to save absolutely everything of the original until the day when we can understand it. a lot of times we do not understand things and tell years andr when we see it
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understand that that is the aqueduct in the place in montana or something like that. so i think that is a reason. yes? >> people did attempt to clean crewed them up whenm u they clean them as well, right? >> the evidence we found under weren'toscope, they putting a darkened, antique look on top of the surface. they scrubbed down, repainted it, and it got dirty, and the whole thing started again. yes? >> you mentioned working through you0 layers of paint, could describe the process that you have got to follow to be that
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precise. ? layers of paint, could you describe the process that you have got to follow to be that precise? the seven on corridors in the ground floor of the senate, the technique was something of a modified fresco. like a fresco in a wash. the walls in the corridors are , and weoth, like glass were able to remove the over paint with a scalpel, inch by -stamp size at aam time, going down to each of the layers. at the beginning, we went layer by layer. couple of, after a
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years, we knew it very well and were able to go down to the original right away, so i might carve off two layers at once. the process on the walls with a scalpel was also necessitated by the fragility of the walls. also, their ability to absorb paint that was put onto it. used compresses of solvents, which being in the capital is difficult anyway because of all the people there. you can't have smelly things going on, but it was perfect, because if i put the over paint into solution, it would have made the paint wet again and let it wick into the original and stay in it, so i originally wanted to take it off dry, and that is what we did.
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many many years with scalpels inch by inch. now we areings working on, we can't do that, because the ceilings are rough, so if we use the scalpel, we would be , so we off the bumps can't use the scalpel. we have to use gels or compresses, and at the moment we are using a gel, and it is like a vaseline, except it has a solvent in it, and we spread it on and let it stay for half an hour, then we can wash it off with a brush, lifted off with useon or something, and we our extractors to take away any also a gel that
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does not smell very much, so that is good. -- i mean, the process has to be followed very carefully either wait with gels, solvents, scalpel, and it takes a while to get used to it. when people first, and work with -- and we have seen our team change over the years -- the first thing they do is not clean. it is usually get into the work through retouching or --ng something a little less and slowly build up the familiarity with the original and theirtechnique ability to see the original. you have to train your eye on every different piece to see what the over paint is and what is their original -- the
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original. yes? about sub find out layers much younger or older than other layers -- how precise -- the method? christina: i said 20 because it is true, but that is really only true and the outer walls. in the corridors, the decoration is a series of panels with flowers and so forth inside, and each one is surrounded by a border. outside of that is the surrounding wall. it is the wall surrounding, six inches wide, that have the 20 layers, because that is the easiest thing to repaint. we have found that there were six major interventions or
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restorations sense these things were painted in 1850's. we were able to identify that through the laboratory analysis a number of layers, but the outer edges restored many more times than that because they tend to get gouged, furniture goes up against them, and so forth, and they are the easiest thing to repaint, so they are the 20 layers. when i took off the 20 layers there, first i went down with a microscope, and you can see the different colors under the microscope when you shave it down. different color, different color, different color, and when i became familiar with the variety of colors and so forth, i could put some kind of solvent compress on it to soften maybe
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get them all once, soft and mushy and wipe all of that off. it is really fun. it is. for allchallenge, but those years we went with the scalpel, i know people went by thinking, what kind of nerds are these that would spend eight hours a day going like this, but honestly it is fun. it is very challenging, every inch, you never know what you'll find. i have found a few things like a squirrels had down and took it off and there was nothing , then i kept going and found that he was looking down, and some restores said --t he should look up rs said that he should look up.
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it is delightful, it really is, every inch. yes? question abouter a section in the corridors, not the railroad paintings. it is the east entrance where the security guards are, and it looks like there is a piece that has been removed very that exposes what might have been carved marble on the ceiling. as evidence to support future restorations, or you have plans to go ahead and explore that area? .hristina: yes that is part of the big project we are working on now. -- the architect of the capitol put together a big rfp for finishing the senate wings -- public spaces, because we worked for years on the wall piece, and they put one big
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contract together to finish everything. and that is the last piece. we started and did the trophy room, the zodiac room, the refectory walls. we did the path and corridor patton corridor last year. .e are doing the west corridor next year, we will do the north corridor. saw is exposure you something that i did up on a scaffold on a weekend, memorial day weekend a few years ago, looking for what was there and the feasibility of recovering it. so when i was able to recover that, fantastic decorations, that became part of this project could so, yes, that is something
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we will be doing. it is absolutely spectacular. seeou go there, you will above one of the elevators -- it is about this big -- and it is a very subtle, beautiful, bluish graed -- in a y - any restoration been done -- we have been working mostly on the senate side. i don't know what is going on over there. yes? -- when the question you show the slide of the 7-8 over paints, 175 years after the
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toginal, were you able pinpoint the amount of time between each of the restorations or conservations or over paintings? christina: that is a good question. that is a question we ask ourselves all the time. to do. what we try of course, you can't do carbon dating. we are constantly trying to identify and pinpoint the sequencing and tie it with various efforts, various activities that were scantily recorded. no, they don't. no, they have very scanty records, and they are usually things like funding requested of
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cleaningfor washing or or attending to the walls of the basement, because the first wall was referred to as the basement. to --aid attending washing -- you don't really know what they were referring to. we do see evidence of this aggressive cleaning, and also evidence of painting. that some of the washing or tending to was actually repainting, but i think that when we did the first study did an, my husband and i extensive study throughout the corridors trying to figure out what had gone on their and what situation.
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we determined there were six major interventions, which means about every 25 years, which makes a lot of sense, lots of primarilypairs, but there were these six major interventions every 25 years or so. not every surface was redone every time. -- usuallyou can see the background was done, and that is how it turned from being a bright white to a dark yellow, but sometimes birds had feathers added to them. it -- you have to look very carefully, inch by inch. >> [inaudible] christina: yes. efforts atsimilar the same time.
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question?sk a extentthat to a certain -- every building's interbeing different, but is there --ething about the capital interior being different, but is there some thing about the capital that makes it difficult? the humidity of washington? christina: no, but i could say that a lot of these paintings were done while the building was being finished, while the senate wing was being finished, and of course they did not have air conditioning. the windows would be open and dirty air would come in, and i think in some cases that they could not get a consistent source of calcium carbonite or
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hydroxide to do the frescoes with, or they couldn't get pigments that didn't have too much clay in them, and so there were circumstances of the time that hindered some of the execution, and so there were a number of problems that arose from that. a greenfor example that pigment that was used is frequently very underground, and it may be that it had too much clay in it and the clay was absorbed into the surface of the plaster, and we have trouble well, andw ocher as there are some paintings that have a general breakdown in the
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application of the white background. we have had a number of reports -- we have special graphics to show the problem white background problem. so there are circumstances of the time when they were painted consistentlyfavor adequate technique. then the building, as i said, the windows were open and there were during the civil war soldiers camped in leaning up against the walls, and they were subject to a great deal of mechanical damage. then, krause and crowds of ,eople going to the building and when i first came 20 years ago, there were mobs before 9/11, kids going down with their
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backpacks dragging against the walls, crowd problems. buildingsall public -- the have a lot of the same problems that other public buildings have. one of those is the tradition of maintenance of that they have. they want them to look spiffy, clean, and pulled together for the public, and so they often get painters to come and repaint them. as i said, people often ask me if restoring a painting means repainting it. it shouldn't, but it has in a lot of cases because of this interest in -- no scratches so i don't think the capital has more problems than other buildings of the tiat
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time. >> was mr. whipple of professional artist or maintenance worker? christina: i don't know. there weren't really conservators at that time, so if you had a beret and you could stand like that -- i think he was probably a painter. i don't know anything he did around with the pictures in the capital. i haven't looked into that. yes? >> i'm wondering if your work has elicited interest from curators or preservation offices in states who had scenes depicted in the capital. christina: amy, you can speak to that. interest from curators and
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historic preservation officers in states with the scenes in the capital? inquiries. many i'm with the senate curator's office. field several calls a year asking for information about it. christina: thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] >> i was reminded by my colleague, who has helped put this together, that we have copies of a book called, to make beautiful the capital. show over the the last week or so, you will enjoy buying this book. if you are home, you can order it online.
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we are midway through the series. i hope you will join us next week. the next week, the curator's office will be sending someone over to speak with us, so thank you for coming. [applause] good evening, ladies and gentlemen. i am speaking to you tonight on a very serious moment in our history. the cabinet is convening, and leaders meeting with the president, the state department and army navy officials have been with the president. the japanese -- at the exact time there were bombing our ships in hawaii and the philippines, nk


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